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. Plus, don’t miss our infographic, “5 Tips for Turning 2020 Disarray Into 2021 Direction: Insights From Learning Leaders,” which shares insights from the series.

To say that 2020 was not an ordinary year is a clear understatement. Exceptional and unexpected events created significant challenges pertaining to managing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, global protests related to social injustices and well as other major geo-political events around the world. Organizations that failed to adjust did not survive, while organizations that did faced a new reality with lockdowns, social distancing and limited time in large groups.

New protocols forced companies to create innovative measures, processes and strategies, including reimagining how employees learn and develop across industries. Training Industry research found that over half of learning and development (L&D) professionals have retooled or repurposed learning programs in response to the pandemic. This article highlights some of the key shifts in the learning landscape last year (and moving forward).

The Impact on Training Budgets

The first noticeable change for many organizations involved their budgets. The two obvious scenarios were decreased or increased budgets for talent and learning teams. Due to business challenges, some companies have had to cut their overall spending, including talent and learning investments. In many cases, these cuts resulted in the reduction of those teams and their training offerings, requiring L&D professionals to be more innovative with fewer resources.

Here are some considerations and opportunities:

    • Can you leverage any new features and functions in your current learning management system (LMS) or learning experience platform (LXP)?
    • Can you use more collaborative or social learning methodologies?
    • Would a peer coaching program create a more supportive environment for employees?
    • If the team is low on resources, can you give interested colleagues stretch goals to help with a learning project or two?

Organizations on the opposite end of the spectrum, which were able to increase their talent and learning budgets, had the opportunity to expand their team to support the changing learning needs of a remote workforce, address reskilling or upskilling needs, and improve digital transformation. This expansion and increased focus on learning may have provided training functions with a “seat at the table.” By being involved in strategy conversations up front, L&D leaders could facilitate a well-planned, impactful learning strategy that enjoyed increased stakeholder buy-in and resulted in a better learner experience. When learning strategy is an afterthought, there is more risk to learning effectiveness, overall outcomes and the sustainability of an offering.

The Impact on Diversity and Inclusion

Another effect of the events of 2020 is an increased awareness of the need for stronger diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs. These initiatives become embedded within an organization’s culture over time and require cross-functional teams for implementation. Focus areas include components that touch every phase of the employee life cycle (from recruiting and onboarding to training, performance reviews and promotions to exiting employees).

Talent and learning teams are important functions that inform, influence and support D&I program success in a variety of ways, at all levels of an organization. Examples of learning topics include unconscious bias, inclusive leadership, diverse practices and thinking, and inclusive hiring and interviewing techniques.

The Impact on Remote Work

The next main change in 2020 involved requiring employees to work from home. Many organizations have decided that this change will be permanent, especially as they have grappled with lost business, slashed budgets and increased costs due to the pandemic. The permanent “working from home” mindset is different from a temporary “remote work” state, and this mindset shift requires learning teams to review and update their offerings in four ways:

Converting In-person Training

The most obvious change here is redesigning classroom learning to fit a variety of virtual training options, including online courses, blended learning and virtual instructor-led training. L&D professionals have had to come up with creative ways to engage colleagues remotely, including investing in more tools to communicate virtually. Gamification tools are another option, and learning leaders can also leverage their existing learning platforms to promote more online learning.

New Training Topics

All employees may benefit from learning about the changes they may face when they are working from home permanently. Suggestions include how to set up a home workspace, how to approach work/life balance, how to engage with one’s team and stakeholders for stronger working relationships in a remote environment, and how to grow and develop one’s career while working remotely.

Training Remote Managers

While all employees must adapt in order to be productive at home, according to Mckinsey & Company, “Leaders have an essential role to play in developing solutions to tackle these challenges.” Managers will increasingly need to rethink how they work with their teams, measure performance and engage remote colleagues. Learning professionals have an opportunity to provide training in alignment with their organization’s shifts in policies and to address gaps they observed in 2020.

Consider creating training on the following topics:

    • Measuring employee productivity when the manager cannot monitor each colleague in person.
    • Resetting expectations in a remote team environment.
    • How to support colleagues and be flexible with them to enable success.

Curating Digital Content

Last year also created a tremendous opportunity to curate and promote digital learning content as never before, for two main reasons. Firstly, remote workers often feel less connected to co-workers, teams and managers. Additionally, employees are increasingly self-directed in their learning with the availability of YouTube videos, massive open online courses (MOOCs), and other resources, including their organization’s LMS or LXP. In fact, Fosway Group reports that in 2020, there was a 71% increase in demand for digital learning.

Learning leaders can measure increased content access to drive investments in additional learning opportunities. In addition, they can promote some of the most successful learning technologies and approaches used during the pandemic, including video content, curated content, mobile learning and blended learning.

Creating a Learning Culture

The reality is that for some organizations, last year posed tremendous challenges that will continue. Therefore, it’s critical for talent and learning functions to have a seat at the table with leaders to help influence and guide decisions around organizational learning needs and planning. It’s also important for leaders to try to retain their learning teams and keep or create investments in remote learning technologies and tools. All of these activities will contribute to an impactful learning culture.

Finally, some of the most significant shifts (apart from the pandemic itself) we observed in 2020 are within the training space. In order to create and maintain alignment to business strategy, organizational leaders in many industries recognized the importance of improving the employee learning experience, increasing training for the gig workforce, focusing on soft skills (that artificial intelligence does not have) and data literacy, and investments in cutting-edge LXPs (as summarized in Training Industry’s report “Trends 2020: The Broadening Role of L&D”). These shifts have resulted in even more ways for learning professionals to shine and created momentum that will continue well into 2021.