You’d have to be an idiot to predict what’s going to happen in 2021…wouldn’t you?! Given what’s happened over the past year, you might be thinking that we wouldn’t even want to try and second guess what’s coming next year.
But, actually, I’m not so sure that’s true. The reality is that most of the shifts we’ve seen in learning over the past year, have been building momentum for the last 10 years. Nothing radically new emerged in learning technology in 2020. But what did change (beyond anyone’s predictions) were the context and drivers. On the whole though, the successful solutions in 2020 had already been part of the ‘old normal’ for many organizations.
So, in predicting next year, I feel pretty safe. (Short of someone productizing neural downloads…which sound like science fiction, but early experiments are actually showing they could be real and the research indicates they could enhance skills development by a third).
1. Increased flexible resourcing in L&D teams
Even with the promise of vaccination, COVID-19 is going to cast a long shadow into 2021, putting budgets under pressure. ‘Doing more with less’ has been a consistent message from L&D leaders for years. But whilst learning technology has been the default answer to achieve this by scaling delivery, it rarely addresses how L&D teams are resourced.
But headcount is changing not least through furlough and redundancy, and it is likely we will see the growth of more gig work for contractors working on projects than simply hiring back full-time employees, be that through strategic outsourcing or engaging with an expertise marketplace.
Fosway Group – Digital Learning & COVID-19 Research 2020
There might be a core internal L&D team, supplemented by a virtual team of specialist designers, copywriters, graphics and video editors, and administrators who are not necessarily employees but are contractors and gig workers.
The right balance will vary from project to project and business to business, but as a trend, I expect this flexible resourcing to grow over 2021.
2. A surge in skills centered learning
Skills are in fashion – again. This is partly driven by World Economic Forum Research, partly by the increased importance of organizational agility – underpinned by greater talent mobility. This is harnessing AI to match people’s skills to important projects and ultimately realizing more of the potential of our employees. So, joining up your people’s skills with your learning agenda in 2021 will be increasingly important.
Organizations need to connect the skills story across their employee life cycle – from hiring & resourcing, career and employee mobility and learning. If you treat these as silos, it won’t work. It is also crucial to understand where to start with skills. Do you begin with transformational skills or specific transactional skills? You need to work hard with leaders to define your journey with both.
Remember, building skills do not explicitly involve digital learning. From an L&D perspective, when you look at the top approaches for bridging skills gaps, none are about e-learning content or technology. They are about managers, formal training, face-to-face events, coaching & mentoring and on-the-job assignments. So, if you are looking to integrate technology, blended learning seems to be the order of the day!
3. More video and faster, lower-cost video production
Given the ubiquitous nature of video and mobile today, video is going to become even more pervasive in learning. Whilst the effectiveness of video only has its limits, the use of video for just-in-time performance support is likely to grow again in 2021. The addition of automated transcription tools to support better search and tagging, along with simplified translation through subtitling, will add to the attraction along with its potentially low cost and speed.
4. Another good year for bite-sized microlearning
A shorter form of content has been a consistent trend for the last 15 years. Even in traditional longer form e-learning content, modules have steadily declined in length. But as learning also looks to support on-the-job, just-in-time, or learning-in-the-flow-of-work, a wider and more targeted adoption of microlearning is inevitable. Microlearning was rated third as the most successful form of content to supporting organizations through the pandemic. Combine this with video and you have an agile and winning combination.
5. Automated curated content gains more momentum
Curation by hand is an expensive approach, so automated solutions are going to become standard, particularly as cost pressures grow because they harness:
1) The opportunity to source ‘free content’ from the web and
2) Personalisation – especially for professional and emerging topics where your content portfolio may be weak
6. Greater learning systems convergence
The learning systems market for ‘LXPs’ and LMS are likely to see greater convergence in 2021. LMS solutions are upping their game around the user experience which will cause the LXP-only argument to fade. Ultimately the battle for L&D budgets will come down to the systems that can harness the greatest amount of user data/insight to drive the best user experience.
Because data is the experience. Once you realize that, and your solution is connected in the touchpoints of work across your organization, learning is only a nudge, a push or a touch away – in a way that is uniquely relevant to you! If you can make learning surface where the eyeballs are, then it’s as much about how you surface the learning in content as it is about the LXP or LMS as a destination. Being in the corporate workflow – something Fosway research highlighted as long ago as 2011 – is becoming easier – even if few systems do it well today.
7. More human, more coaching, more wellbeing
Another prediction for 2021 is the emergence of more ‘human’ learning. Learning technology has traditionally been about self-starting, self-paced, self-study, but now comes some push back around the learning isolation this model creates. In addition to connecting learners to content, I expect to see the growth of more coaching and connected peer-to-peer learning and collaboration.
Collaborative learning has been one of the most successful approaches for L&D teams to navigate the pandemic. The need to gather feedback, support continuous performance management and encouraging more agile learning sprints should become stronger again in 2021. Not just to create better learning, but also to foster stronger teams, more effective working and better wellbeing – in what will likely be a more fragmented world of work.
8. Resurgence of the (virtual) classroom
As we transition into a post-COVID-19 world, it is inevitable that face-to-face classroom-based learning will see a resurgence. Without the pressures of social distancing, people will want to be together.
But the pandemic has ensured the presence of virtual classrooms, remote connections and eventually even hybrid sessions where some people are in a classroom and some dialed in remotely, are here to stay. But this technology – and indeed the physical classroom – are about so much more than just content delivery. It is about opportunities to collaborate, reflect, gather feedback, apply skills in practice.
In short, we need to make sure we blend learning through the full learning cycle. It is a huge opportunity, which I hope we don’t ignore.
9. Value add & stakeholder management will matter more than ever
With economists predicting that it will take two years for GDP to return to pre-COVID-19 levels, many will need to survive depressed demand. Budgets will be tight. The L&D teams that flourish in 2021 will be those that can best demonstrate the value they add. Most still find it hard to link data to business results, but there has never been a more important time to try to prove how much of a difference you are making.
Copyright Fosway Group – All Rights Reserved.
Whilst linking learning to outcomes might be too big an egg to crack for most, starting to link learning and skills to business performance is something you should do – if only to understand what stakeholder KPIs and OKRs you need to be your priority.
10. So, what’s number 10?
That’s for you to decide. Ultimately, we know that if you envision the future, you can think about how you’ll make it better… So, consider, what do you need to change to make your learning more valuable, more effective, more efficient, more relevant? What is important to you and your stakeholders and learners? If you don’t know, now is the time to ask and for you to make happen.
To quote a seasonal tale from Dickens, “Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of the things that May be only?” That’s for you to decide.
About the author – David Perring
David has been a learning professional for over 30 years. Over that time, he has always been at the forefront of learning innovation and has retained a strong sense of optimism, energy and passion for transforming organizational learning and performance.
Today, he holds a truly unique and privileged position. As Director of Research for Fosway Group, he independently explores the experiences of practitioners and suppliers to understand the realities of what’s happening in corporate learning, talent development and HR. Inspiring change by sharing what truly makes a difference.
You can contact David via @davidperring and find more of Fosway’s research via @fosway or www.fosway.com.
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