It is safe to say the learning and development (L&D) landscape has changed more in the last year than in the two years before it. Further, the rate of change has forced L&D professionals to rethink how they manage corporate learning. The term “VUCA” took on new meaning with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many organizations found themselves in unfamiliar territory.

The responses organizations took regarding corporate learning were as varied as the organizations. The typical reactions included training budget cuts, postponement and later cancellation of training, conversion of instructor-led training (ILT) into virtual instructor-led training (VILT), and leveraging of learning management systems (LMSs).

Organizations were quick to respond in one of three ways to the rapid shifts happening globally. Each response correlated to the organization’s approach to learning: reactive, agile or progressive. For instance, the progressive or forward-thinking organizations were not waiting for something to happen for them to react to. Instead, they had considered the future of work in earlier years and aligned their learning strategies with that anticipated future. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, therefore, they experienced minimal disruptions to the corporate learning programs.

Rethinking Corporate Learning

Corporate learning is not dead. However, L&D professionals must rethink how and why they train. Early in the pandemic, a McKinsey article titled “Adapting workplace learning in the time of coronavirus” highlighted a key organizational imperative: Learning must go on. Despite the havoc the pandemic has wrought on the world, L&D is critical to organizations’ survival, as employees face new challenges that only learning can bridge.

The shifting workplace calls for new learning strategies. Before the pandemic, the idea of remote work was only marginally accepted, let alone implemented. Organizations that promoted and supported remote work saw it as a perk. Those days are long gone, as the pandemic forced organizations to rethink how they worked to safeguard employee safety and well-being while ensuring business continuity.

The New L&D Landscape

In the new L&D landscape, organizations and L&D professionals must account for the future of work in four areas, namely:

    • Technological advancements, including in artificial intelligence (AI), which mean more opportunities to explore and expand learning delivery.
    • The changing role of the employee from an in-office worker to a remote worker (possibly permanently).
    • The war for talent, in which the focus is on availability of desired skills and competencies rather than the location of that talent.
    • A multigenerational workplace, which demands creativity to ensure learning continues and institutional knowledge is retained and passed on to the next crop of leaders within the organization.

Further, the new L&D landscape must promote:

    • Shorter learning cycles (which might mean the death of the annual training calendar).
    • Training for future in-demand skills.
    • Learning anchored on three characteristics: strategic, innovative and learner-centered.
    • Emerging technologies, such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

L&D professionals seeking to remain relevant in the new landscape must shift their mindset on how learning ought to look. Historically, learning has happened in the confines of a classroom or boardroom. Last saw a shift to virtual instructor-led training — but not all training can happen virtually. Therefore, there is a need for the strategic conversion and adaptation of learning.

There is a case for adopting learning technology, and training professionals should familiarize themselves on what is available in their market. Knowing what is possible will enable them to make a compelling business case for learning technology.

Because of the change in the L&D role, learning and development teams need to bridge their own skills gaps in areas such as design thinking for learning. Moving away from the long-known training facilitator and administrator, L&D professionals must now embrace a multi-faceted role that requires competency in strategic partnership, future thinking, content curation and culture transformation.

The Imperative for Training Professionals

Learning is still relevant and critical for business growth and transformation. Organizational learning, therefore, should be a key business strategy for competitive advantage and gain. But L&D professionals must lead the charge in rethinking how corporate learning is implemented as it seeks to meet rapidly changing business needs. To help organizations thrive in the new landscape, L&D professionals must equip themselves with critical skills such as innovative thinking, adaptability, and strategic and entrepreneurial thinking. These skills are no longer a good-to-have but a must-have.