With every new year that rolls around in the Learning & Development (L&D) world, many changes take place. 2020 was especially remarkable with the rapid makeover L&D had to undergo. Going into the new year, we’re seeing efforts from increased sensitivity to diversity and inclusion, to a greater need for accessibility of learning, to curating spaces for better collaboration and on-the-job learning. L&D is taking great strides with the change initiative.

This seems like a good time to look at what is going to stick from the previous years, and what new trends are going to arise. Here are a few predictions:

1. L&D department’s influence expanding

Given an increasingly volatile world, we’ve seen executives looking to L&D leaders for solutions to their problems. For instance, when executives realize that the organization is failing at handling change, they turn to L&D for training solutions that will convert their managers and stakeholders to change champions. As an example, I’ve seen this happen from a seed of an idea L&D planted early, that then grew in the leaderships’ minds. Fortunately, the leadership realized the benefit of L&D and it led to change management training of executives, the creation of change champions, a focus from the Project Management Office and enterprise support and accountability.

When realizing that employees are burning out, business leaders become curious as to how L&D can provide support. In this case, I’ve seen how it was offered by facilitated wellness webinars. When the executives discovered that employees have tangible skill gaps, they look to L&D to address the situation (as an example, by training on how to virtually coach). Across the board, I’ve also seen L&D push back against being an “order taker” to stand firm on what is right for learners. Clearly the L&D roles extend beyond creating on-the-job aids and rolling out training.

Overall, we’ve seen L&D being asked for pro-active solutions to issues, not just being “order takers”. And this will continue to increase in 2021. We’re seeing shifts from traditional, to agile change approaches to provide effective training in new formats. We’re also seeing more efforts from L&D in aligning with the business and edging their way into a seat at the stakeholders’ table. The key to maximizing these efforts is identifying critical skills, creating the right learning strategy and executing with an agile mindset – start quicker and smaller, scale successes and collect data to inform evolution.

2. Diversity and Inclusion

This is not a trend but a long-awaited breath into an important topic that has taken too long to get the attention it deserves. It’s not enough to ensure you pick diverse pictures in your training, it’s about realizing that your internal photo library of employees ISN’T diverse because your organization isn’t diverse!

Hopefully, D&L and unconscious bias learning initiatives that support wider organizational strategies are already in place. If not, L&D needs to support HR in these priorities while also properly ensuring all training initiatives are respectful and inclusive. Simple case in point – do your virtual classes acknowledge the Indigenous land the speaker is fortunate to be standing on? Does the speaker and the participants even understand land acknowledgements and what it represents?

If 2020 was the long-awaited wake up call, 2021 needs to be the year for traction. It’s time to respond to these challenging conversations with their increasing levels of complexity.

3. Accessibility

Besides the diversity and inclusion elements, this is the year when accessibility in L&D finally gains momentum. Emerging technologies and platforms are being tasked with getting serious about not leaving anyone behind, especially people with disabilities (PWDs). While the accessibility requirements are not new for 2021, I think this year, organizations will have an increased focus on looking at whether training programs are fully accessible and if not, do they have a plan in place.

For the sake of more inclusive learning design, items like colour contrast, alt-text, tab order, screen readers, full keyboard controls etc. should be well established. The overall user experience of learning solutions should be tailored to accommodate those who are usually left out. This is hopefully paired with the increased time and testing efforts required to execute this properly. Without this realization, the accessibility efforts will fall flat.

4. Collaborative, digital workspaces and learning in the flow of work

Teams. Slack. Collaborative spaces are evolving from the social network enterprise and siloed use. These tools are no longer relegated to just the IT team using Yammer amongst themselves. As an example, with the roll-out of MS Teams, organizations are adopting collaborative methods of simultaneously working in organized channels (e.g., working with a peer on a cloud-based document and using the Channels in MS Teams to communicate about each project in an organized format).

Employees have made it evident that they require just-in-time, personalized training on the job. They want access to knowledge when they need it, and the traditional talent development systems are seen as time wasters. The digital collaborative spaces are here to cut out this time wasted and allow learners learn in the flow of work.

It’s no longer about relying on email for communication and their desktop applications for work. With this new technology and data informing, supporting and shaping the flow of work, there are opportunities for training with embedded jobs aids, just in time videos and tips and learning at the point of collaboration. It’s a completely different way of thinking about training when collaborative tasks are no longer siloed, and training is not seen as a separate entity.

5. Bringing focus to learning ecosystems

A learning ecosystem is a comprehensive blend of tools and systems assembled to deliver, manage and track your training programs. Learning ecosystems consist of every strategy, content, tool, technology, person, culture, etc. that contributes to the end-goal of delivering quality training (formal and informal) within an organization.

Think of the various tools L&D and the rest of your organization have had to adopt for effective work, learning and collaboration. As it stands, your regular LMS/content library cannot be your whole learning ecosystem. There are LXPs, mobile learning , adaptive learning, assessment, collaboration and analytical tools, etc. that need to come into play for more flexibility in learning. The content library provides professional recommendations, but there are other provisions that need to be made. Self-directed learning should be supported in any way possible and mobile learning for the modern, digital nomad learner should be made a priority.

The number of moving parts in a learning ecosystem might sometimes lead to asynchronism if not managed well. Going into the new year, we’ll be seeing more efforts go into examining existing learning platforms and technologies, forming integrations where applicable and overall, curating a smoothly functioning ecosystem. There will also be more focus on analytics and management of learning as it pertains to the learning ecosystem.

As the years pass, we see the role of L&D broadening in organizations and the training function is obviously integral to the stability of the organization as change occurs. This past year reminded us to expect shake-ups of any magnitude, at any time. For 2021, these are the emerging trends that we’re seeing as L&D works to remain agile for organizations to stay afloat.