2021 was a year of reconnection. Going back to the office was for many the highlight of the year. And you might recognize yourself in the enthusiasm, positivity and warmth coming from getting back to the office while seeing fewer COVID-19 restrictions. Unfortunately, December 2021 saw a rise in COVID-19 cases and increased restrictions as a result.

2022 is here. Let’s a take a moment to reflect on 2020 and 2021 so we can help learning and development (L&D) teams take the driver’s seat in the new year.

From “Respond” to “Repurpose”

In response to the coronavirus pandemic and on the back of virtual workplace models and remote working practices enabling business continuity, L&D teams stepped up: an immediate response was the redesign of classroom sessions for virtual and digital learning. In the early days of the pandemic, this was often supported with small operational investments in optimizing the use of existing learning management systems (LMSs) or procuring off-the-shelf content libraries, technologies or materials to support a better virtual learning experience (e.g., investments in webinar platforms, green screens and high-quality video recording materials). Gradually transitioning out from this “respond” phase required experience with the new ways of virtual and digital learning.

When COVID-19 restrictions gradually were lifted, the focus shifted back to in-person learning (ILT). Repurposing classroom learning meant rethinking the why, what, how, where and when of classroom learning. Seeking benefits that lie less in knowledge transfer and more on practice, experience sharing and networking.

As the wider talent priorities in organizations arose around purpose, well-being, growth mindset, 21st-century skills, and talent acquisition and retention, this served as a great starting point to repurpose L&D to be:

  • A talent differentiator in a competitive talent marketplace, for attracting new talents and for rewarding high performers.
  • An enabler of business transformation, leveraging the success of L&D’s role in enabling business transformation projects.
  • A catalyst for collaboration across teams, functions, business units and/or geographies.
  • An innovator, running digitization experiments and investments associated with the future of work and the future of learning. Examples are investments in targeted skill-building to address in-demand skills and new roles, digital twins for technical skills learning, or investments in augmented or virtual reality (AR or VR) to enhance the onboarding experience.

In 2021, the views from many talent, L&D and business leaders started to shift toward the future of learning in a post-pandemic workplace.

What Does 2022 Have in Store for L&D Teams?

While the business is defining how its future will look like, talent and learning teams will continue to work around the future of work — and learning. Key questions for L&D teams to address in 2022 include:

  • How will I develop the right set of skills we need to transform our business and to survive and thrive given the organization’s mid- to long-term strategic direction?
  • What is our curriculum for the next years? What did we learn from delivering our curriculum virtually, and how can we leverage the good of it?
  • What are our learners’ expectations for 2022 and beyond?
  • How should we design learning experiences in 2022 to address the post-pandemic reality? What is the future of digital learning? How will the return to in-person classroom learning evolve in the months to come?

Action is required as we return to a new post-pandemic hybrid workplace and need to merge the need for reskilling and upskilling with adopting new capabilities in L&D.

1. Reskilling and upskilling as the driver for L&D priorities in 2022

The 2021 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report revealed that 72% of surveyed executives consider “the ability of people to adapt, reskill, and assume new roles” as either the most important or second most important factor in their organization’s ability to navigate future disruptions. However, only 17% of these same executives said that their organization was ‘very ready’ to adapt and reskill workers to assume new roles, pointing to a substantial disconnect between leaders’ priorities and the reality of how their organizations support workforce development.

In the context of the urgent global call for reskilling and upskilling, L&D has arrested the attention of the C-suite, which demands new ways to meet the challenge. Taking a learner’s perspective, the challenge for L&D teams is to find ways for linking reskilling and upskilling efforts to the different moments of need. This is where learning in the flow of work comes in: Empowering people to actively develop throughout their work and lives would require learning to be weaved into employees’ workflows. This has been popularized as the next big thing in the future of learning.

2. Accelerated learning transformation to strengthen the L&D team

In an article on the future of learning, I formulated the need for organizations to accelerate their learning transformation, one that focuses on the connection between continuous re/up/outskilling, on the one hand, and actual work, on the other. I wrote: “To make such a transformation is to embark on a journey involving several well-calculated steps, and the only place to start is at the beginning”. At the end is a “super” workforce that is resilient and adaptable to current and future disruptors.

Successfully integrating learning into the flow of work will bring L&D’s value to a much wider audience and many more contexts. At one end of the evolution is “pull” learning, whereby an employee must search for and sign up for content within one or multiple systems. At the other end is “super learning”: a feedback loop; content updates that are informed by real-world cases, feedback or experiences; and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that make it easier to find content, provide contextual relevance and streamline editing to ensure content matches the target audience.

In anticipation of a future of learning that revolves around skills and capabilities, is data powered and integrates learning in the flow of work, L&D teams must set out a new vision and a holistic strategy to realize it.

The future of learning is not reached in one swift leap. Such a learning transformation requires careful, multi-step orchestration in key capability areas: digital and human. We previously we extensively described the different digital and human-centered perspectives:

Source: Deloitte analysis. Adapted from Luc Lutin, “Superlearning: Reskilling, upskilling and outskilling for a future-proof workforce,” Deloitte Insights, 2020.

Evolution over revolution

It is recommended to focus on an orchestrated progression over the different capability areas as they reinforce each other and bring it all together to a “super learning” level.

In 2022, I hope to see many L&D teams focus on:

  • Maturing their learning organization, processes, data and technology landscapes.
  • Advancing the skills of the L&D team to be prepared for the next step toward the future of learning.
  • Encouraging a culture of L&D in their organization.

A call for action: Embrace evolution over revolution, but with the necessary agility to have the speed to deliver impact as of today and really transform learning.