Editor’s note: As we ended a difficult and unique year and entered a new one, the Training Industry editorial team asked learning leaders to write in with their reflections on 2020 and predictions for 2021. This series, “What’s Changed and What Hasn’t?: Taking Stock of 2020 and Planning for 2021,” is the result.

2020 was a year of change. Learning professionals had to flex their skills, rising to the challenge of supporting their organizations in new ways. On top of this challenge, learning and development (L&D) teams still needed to focus on some basics — but where do you put your energy, and how do the changes of 2020 alter your planning for this year?

If you can’t flex your plans, your team may run the risk of becoming irrelevant or obsolete. However, if you can quickly align with what your organization needs, you can become a strategic partner who helps drive your team and your company to success.

What’s Changed?

Safety First

Many learning professionals had never before encountered a training emergency, but if there ever was a case for a “drop everything” approach, it was the COVID-19 pandemic. Many L&D teams had to react quickly to create or procure safety training for employees, customers and workplaces in order for businesses to stay open. If your L&D team has been able to keep up with the ever-changing safety requirements, you’ve done an amazing job!

Working From Home

In 2020, many organizations asked most employees to work from home, including learning professionals — and, as we learned, many employees and leaders were unprepared for what this change meant. For example, leaders had to rethink how they onboard new employees. How can you create a welcoming, inclusive culture by sharing screens? From supporting employees with training on some of the online technologies they needed to training their leaders on how to engage their teams, L&D teams have had to find ways to support our virtual workers.

Diversity and inclusion became a huge topic this year, and leaders are trying to find ways to promote diversity on their teams and to let everyone on their teams feel like they belong. Mental health is tied strongly to that sense of belonging, and L&D teams this year also provided resources and training as employees struggled with the pandemic crisis, isolation and uncertainty. In short, in 2020, L&D teams helped provide order and calm in an ambiguous world.

Virtual Training

It’s hard to know just how many classroom sessions that were canceled this year. Has your team been able to adapt to a virtual format? As you know, it’s not just a matter of taking an in-class session and facilitating it through whichever virtual platform you use. In fact, some teams had no virtual platform at all and had to scramble to find a provider.

Once you had a platform, you needed to reengineer the content to make sense in a virtual environment. An eight-hour session might have made sense for a classroom filled with engaged, energetic participants but many L&D professionals discovered the hard way that continuous engagement is much more difficult to achieve through a screen.

What Hasn’t Changed?

People still need development, from onboarding to skills training and leadership development. The way you deliver training may be different, but the foundational elements remain the same. Organizations still need to achieve their goals, and in many cases, these goals have had to change. How aligned is your team? A successful L&D team is able to align its training with the company’s strategy, making sure it’s in lockstep with any changes.

Planning for 2021

Virtual teams and virtual training are here to stay, which is a watershed moment for many L&D teams. Take the opportunity to change your training programs — for the better — leveraging the benefits of remote work. Instead of asking, “How can we survive this time?”, ask, “How do we thrive?” Your programs can be even better than they were.

Now is the time to plan for a virtual-first approach, making better use of more technology. There are many resources that can help; from video practice tools and virtual collaboration tools to online quizzing and survey tools, the list goes on and on. When researching these tools, keep in mind whether you need the training to synchronous, the complexity of what you want to do and your budget. If you’re on a tight budget, it’s OK — many of these tools are available for free or at low cost. Find virtual ways to engage participants, measure performance and encourage collaboration.

The pandemic has given L&D the impetus to make some major changes in how we work with our stakeholders and businesses. By continuing to develop innovative solutions, you’ll become a better strategic partner with your organization, and your team will have the success story it deserves.

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