Head of Learning Innovation, Huthwaite International | Senior Consultant, Learnworks Ltd
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What does 2021 have in store for learning and development?

Making predictions for the year ahead is a tall order given the events of 2020, but Robin Hoyle has risen to the challenge. Here, he not only outlines key L&D trends for 2021, but also suggests useful alternatives to the quick-fix solutions created while in crisis mode.

4th Jan 2021
Head of Learning Innovation, Huthwaite International | Senior Consultant, Learnworks Ltd
Columnist
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Dilok Klaisataporn/iStock

After our experience of 2020, anyone making predictions for 2021 is taking something of a chance. In a previous article published towards the end of last year, I reflected on how the world of learning had changed as a consequence of Covid-19, and which practices we should and should not continue into the new year.

Looking forward, what do we need to develop to face the uncertainties of 2021?

Let’s start with compliance

Training people about what to do and when to do it to ensure they are in line with regulations and legislation is a duty of every employer. Last year, a lot of face-to-face training shifted to tedious virtual lectures or hours of elearning. In a world in which remote working continues, there are some options to improve how we fulfil the duty of compliance training.

Compliance content needs to be stripped back to ‘why?’

Introduced where possible by a member of the senior team. After all, recording video has never been easier – set up a Zoom and hit record. The only other content should be the responsibilities of the individual and the circumstances in which these are necessary. 

Assessments should be scenario based

They should give people circumstances and situations and ask them to make a judgement about what they should do. Most important, this provides the much needed context often missing from one-size-fits-all compliance programmes.

Using confidence ratings gives the organisation an indication that people not only know what to do and what not to do, but also what they are likely to do in those circumstances. The process of asking how confident the individual is that their answer is correct, after a multiple choice question also – crucially – helps identify those who are more likely to enthusiastically make the wrong choice.

Managers should follow up with their direct reports

Including compliance issues on regular team meetings and one to ones – especially if people are working alone, remotely – provides another reason for human contact which we know is vital if people are to be properly supported in enforced working from home.

We have all been required to innovate in 2020 and the start of 2021 maybe allows that time to pause, reflect and review in order to ensure what has been produced in trying circumstances remains part of our tool kit in the future.

What about getting rid of the Zoom lectures?

As outlined above, video is now easier to produce than ever and perfectly acceptable for those used to Zoom calls and Teams Meetings. As well as working tirelessly to improve the skills and confidence of those required to facilitate online, strip out as much content as possible and host that on your own YouTube channel or Vimeo site, or build it into short digital modules.

By recording these inputs, often presenters get visceral feedback about what they are presenting and how they come across. Chastening for some, but valuable in improving online performance.

By asking people to watch the videos before the virtual session, the facilitator can actively facilitate – prompting discussion, managing group tasks, and setting up workplace activities and action plans to support learning transfer.

The flipped classroom works and is more important than ever. However, it won’t just happen. Individuals expected to participate need to be given the time and space to participate properly. Just because the videos and reading list is available doesn’t mean people have the time and head space to access the content and think about the implications of what it means to them and their work. Set expectations and protect the time required to read, view and reflect.

After a period of rapid and enforced change, it is inevitable that some of what has been created – quickly – is going to be less than perfect. As those involved in agile development know – creating a minimum viable product, trying it out, reviewing it (with the target audience) and re-building to more effectively meet requirements – is the very essence of how innovation happens.

Who thought we could do what we have done in 2020? 

Trends for 2021

We have all been required to innovate in 2020 and the start of 2021 maybe allows that time to pause, reflect and review in order to ensure what has been produced in trying circumstances remains part of our tool kit in the future.

However, as well as fixing things where we are less than satisfied, there are some other trends I predict may well be part of 2021.

1. A return to the classroom

Starved of face-to-face contact with colleagues, as soon as it is safe to do so, I predict there will be pressure to return to the classroom or conference room. However, let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. Use of just-in-time digital inputs, asynchronous discussions via learning platforms, spaced group activities over weeks – rather than everything being condensed to the time we can arrange in an off-site meeting room – have proved their worth and should be maintained. 

There will also – inevitably – be some reluctance to return to the classroom. Organisations have found they can deliver learning activities and interventions without the expense and logistical upheaval of physically bringing people together – so short, interactive virtual learning sessions will endure and have earned their place in our tool set.

Of course, like all things involving technology, those at the top of our organisations will be first in the queue for the expensive face-to-face activities where lunch is provided and networking opportunities abound.

Going to a course or a conference may well become a status symbol enjoyed only by the few. This should be resisted. Use the medium which most effectively meets the need, not which massages the self-importance of those who may feel themselves to be above a Zoom call. If it’s justifiable for the top team, it's justifiable for everyone. 

2. MOOC style learning journeys

Remember Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)? They seem to have dropped out of favour, and in some cases rightly so. But the idea of a disparate, large group, accessing content; sharing their comments on their experiences; and following a learning path over a number of weeks, supported by a library of resources and insights, may have found its reason for being in the corporate world.

Imaginative use by some organisations may plot a new way forward to end the ubiquity of the one-off, event-based learning programme.

3. Digital journeys and apps

I also think many of us have learned new things while locked down and to do so, we’ve turned to apps and digital resources. Is it time to make the leap from crafts, baking and gardening into learning for work? This has been much heralded in the past without really ever breaking through.

Maybe, just maybe, the experience of 2020 has created the conditions in which this type of programme can flourish in 2021.

A time for optimism

I fully expect to be re-reading this in December 2021 while being amazed at my naivety and wondering how I missed whatever it is I failed to predict but which has become the next big thing in the world of learning. 

But between now and then, I shall enjoy my optimistic take on our industry and our profession. After all, who thought we could do what we have done in 2020? 

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