Founder and Business Director, Digital Learning and Apprenticeship Expert Quantum Rise Talent Group Ltd
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2021 reflections
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Five learning and development takeaways from 2021

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From hybrid learning to virtual reality to new terminology, Erica Farmer shares her thoughts on the last 12 months in L&D.

9th Dec 2021
Founder and Business Director, Digital Learning and Apprenticeship Expert Quantum Rise Talent Group Ltd
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Is it too bold to say that I think 2021 has seen the largest acceleration in modern learning and mindset on record? Is it also too bold to say that with the 4th industrial revolution, web 3.0 and the metaverse on the horizon, we still have a long way to go?

Credit where credit's due

Before we get too technical, we should appreciate the progression which we’ve seen in the digital space during the last 18 months, with even the most digital unsavvy feeling more confident about the changes which digital learning brings.

But 2021 has not just been about great online learning and shifts in perception. This year has been, in my opinion, the first year I’ve seen learning and development start to believe that it deserves that seat at the table. For many years we’ve fought long and hard for it, but with the leadership demonstrated with digitisation and digital transformation, enabling most businesses to carry on trading when the world had effectively closed down, we should give ourselves a bloody big pat on the back.

So, let’s take a minute to understand what that looks and feels like, and remind ourselves of the quick wins, and what we still are to work on with those slow burners. These are my top five takeaways from 2021:

1. Time to step up

More importantly, don’t ping back when it comes to digital learning. According to CindyHuggett.com, over 90 per cent of organisations have delivered more online learning in the last year than ever before. Some of this has been out of necessity, some out of curiosity and some out of innovation.

Like our journey from in-person to virtual and remote, hybrid brings a new world of methodology challenge and benefit

This journey in itself has been rewarding to watch (and be part of) from the starting point of getting training teams logged into Zoom, to the majority of training teams committing to online as part of a blended approach, and some creating full blown blended programmes, with a mastery in the methodology of live instructor led learning find its rightful place online. This type of learning has proven the myth that micro, or bite sized, is best, and cognitive overload is not just a myth.
 

2. Hybrid

The term, and the structure. Surely this is one of the industry's ‘words of the year’ and has developed a new way to looking at how we design and deliver training. Many training teams are now ‘testing and learning’ in this space and would probably admit that if they thought a year ago that this new way of connecting and collaborating would be one of their top challenges in 2021, they wouldn’t have believed you.

Like our journey from in-person to virtual and remote, hybrid brings a new world of methodology challenge and benefit. And who is better placed to deliver this than L&D?

3. The rough and the smooth

For many in L&D it’s been pretty rough. The experience of those in corporate learning and development roles, particularly those who have been impacted by furlough and redundancy due to the panic, is something that, although not personally experienced, is something I spoke about with a huge number of practitioners. From a month’ s flexible furlough through to a full-scale amputation of learning functions, we saw it all.

Innovation and collaboration are two of the most inspirational terms in my book and seem to be to be part of the language of L&D

Some very short notice and questionable decisions were made and ironically these organisations are those now advertising for similar roles and are struggling as L&D candidates are now reaping the rewards through the ‘great resignation’. Today’s environment is enabling candidates, both active and passive, having the opportunity to select their terms and conditions like never before.

This ‘turn of the tables’ was always on the books, however, has seen functions like learning and development hardest hit, and now best rewarded. Talk about a test of our metal.

4. Dreams becoming a (virtual) reality

Innovation and collaboration are two of the most inspirational terms in my book and seem to be to be part of the language of L&D. Pipedreams of sophisticated learning tech is something that can be aspirational and considered to be something out of reach.

However, 2021 has seen a shift in this dream becoming and reality as we have seen more suppliers come to market with an affordable proposition which can benefit learning organisations. From virtual exhibition halls to augmented reality projects, this tech now feels that is part of the learning solutions conversation and more importantly, within budget.

5. Binning the ‘L’ word

And I don’t mean what you think! Ironically the term ‘learning’ and how this is perceived has become more of a conversation starter (and finisher depending on your preference), with more overt challenge to value, performance, impact, and output.

What organisation would query the impact of the team who were there to drive performance, value, profitability, and output?

Perhaps this is a consequence of what is outlined in point three, however I see this more as an enlightenment of out positioning in organisations, the experience we have gained through leading organisations into digitisation, and taking the best of what we currently do, and future proofing the rest. What organisation would query the impact of the team who were there to drive performance, value, profitability, and output.

We often say this is what L&D is there to do but struggle to articulate this is real terms. What’s in a word, you might say? A whole lot considering what we’ve just been through, would be my answer!

Building the foundations

In summary, many of us probably feel that we’ve lived the experience of two or three years in the last 12 months, with the fatigue of Covid-19 restrictions and the agility of change which has been driven by this.

But my argument would be that L&D have felt this more than most. However, we now have the credible foundation to continue evolving organisation process and culture, by collaboration, language, and partnership. Let’s not continue to spend our time on outdated training cycles, or the need for creations of lengthy and outdated learning programmes but turn our focus on the area we can add most impact and value. 

This for some maybe the customer, for some maybe the bottom line, or for some maybe something else, but whatever it is for you, give yourself a big pat on the back, and take some time out to appreciate your journey this Christmas, as the spirit of learning past is now long gone, and the spirit of learning future has only just arrived.

Interested in this topic? Read TrainingZone's 10 most popular reads of 2021.

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