The recent years have dramatically shifted the direction of learning and development (L&D) initiatives. A growing rise of eLearning and remote work has encumbered training professionals with unanticipated challenges as they search for new technologies and methods to track employee performance, retain employees and adapt to the changing nature of how we work and learn.

To sustain company alignment amid turbulent change, L&D leaders must develop proactive training solutions to prepare for unforeseen trials. Monitoring industry trends can help learning leaders plan for future development opportunities to enable long-term business success. Let’s examine some trends influencing the future of learning.

Training’s Role in Change Management

The role of L&D in managing organization-wide change became evident in the wake of the pandemic, as many learning leaders worked to adapt training to a changing work environment. At the Opal Group’s Learning and Development Virtual Summit, Cecil Johnson, an L&D leader at Johnson & Johnson, spoke on how the role of L&D amplified during these times of accelerated change. He shared how this past year influenced organizations to not only give L&D leaders a seat at the table, but also a voice to be heard as organizations turned to them for training solutions in unprecedented times.

2021 was “the year of L&D,” said Johnson. “L&D leaders always had a strong role in change. Learning is change,” he added. One of the responsibilities of an L&D leader is to anticipate change, because it has consistently been a vital part in the training and learning process. L&D leaders must provide reassurance and create learning stability, Johnson explained.

Reskilling and Upskilling

Reskilling and upskilling to fill skills gaps continues to be a focus area for many organizations. Training Industry’s 2020 trends report cited a gap in soft skills across all roles and function. The pandemic accelerated the need to close that gap, especially in leadership roles where skills like emotional intelligence, communication and coaching are critical to supporting employees.

As we move into 2022, reskilling and upskilling are going to be integral to adapting to a changing work environment. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), 50% of employees will need to be reskilled by 2025. However, many leaders are challenged with identifying skills gaps.  According to the 2022 trends report, without an accurate understanding of the skills employees are lacking, training will be inefficient and, in some cases, unnecessary. Assessments of specific skills at the task level are needed to measure proficiency moving forward.

Managing a Remote Workforce

Many organizations are managing learning experiences for a dispersed workforce, requiring new modalities and techniques to engage and support learners. The pandemic has brought attention to this learning curve, as employees shift to working from home. According to Gallup, 45% of full-time U.S. employees worked from home either all (25%) or part of the time (20%).

The rise of remote and hybrid work has disrupted the traditional method of observation for tracking team productivity. Johnson says that leaders should seek alternative ways to track team performance remotely, so they can feel more comfortable managing remotely. Identifying key performance indicators (KPIs) to track and measure performance can replace observation and help leaders manage their teams remotely.

L&D’s Role in Talent Retention

The benefit of improving employee performance isn’t solely to fill skills gaps, but also to solve the talent retention crisis. The Great Resignation, another trend we touch on in the 2022 trends report, has presented many challenges for organizations in retaining talent. With 48% of the workforce actively looking for a new job, employers are scrambling to maintain a fully staffed workforce. L&D experts are realizing the direct correlation between employee engagement and retention.

Engaged employees are least likely to quit their jobs because they feel the impact they are making. L&D initiatives have the power to change the nature of work to improve the employee experience. If employees feel valued, they are more likely to stay. According to McKinsey research, the top three reasons employees quit their jobs are: not feeling valued by their organization (54%), or their managers (52%) and not feeling a sense of belonging (51%).

Value can be built through training. L&D initiatives can impact the employee experience by providing a track for career growth and future planning. Employees with a clear career pathway in their company are more likely to stay long term.

Learning in the Flow of Work

Taking time out of the day to train can be time consuming. It can also lead to information overload. Designing methods in microlearning is a new trend we anticipate in 2022. Microlearning, or learning in the flow of work, allows employees to digest bite-sized chunks of content at a time that can instantaneously be used on the job. This dynamic way of learning provides instant gratification as employees actively implement their training at work, incentivizing them to learn more and allowing the mental capacity for retainment.

Digital tools powered by artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to deliver targeted learning on specific areas. This can relay adaptive and personalized content in the flow of work. CRM ‘triggers’ can be sent to an employee’s learning management system (LMS) with targeted training based on employer observation. This mitigates the challenges of having to block days or even weeks for training and promotes individualized learning. Easy, digestible chunks of learning maintain employee engagement and teaches on-the-job skills, thus adding value to the organization.

Building an Equitable Workplace

Another trend to look back on this year is the building of an equitable workplace through diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. With the nationwide social unrest in the wake of an increased awareness of police brutality and systematic racism, a social movement has begun with a call to action to end racial injustice.

With the increasing awareness of discrimination, companies are introducing DEI initiatives to their business goals. Organizations are taking a step forward by reexamining their cultures and values in regard to equal opportunities for employees, leadership demographics, hiring practices and decision-making processes. Johnson encourages L&D to partner with DEI leaders to develop learning plans that make an impact and to facilitate an environment in which all voices are heard.

While 2022 will undoubtedly bring new challenges and opportunities for L&D, companies that recognize and plan for the trends outlined above will be positioned to thrive … no matter what the new year has in store.