Failure can become our most powerful path to learning
if we’re willing to choose courage over comfort.
Organizations are demanding more from learning teams. Ways of working, customer needs, and competition are constantly changing. Business leaders are looking to learning and HR partners to help build adaptability and agility into the workforce and organizational structures. All industries are having to do something different from what they did in the past. It’s critical for learning leaders to choose courage over comfort by learning new skills, rethinking design and delivery, and creating new ways to enable performance improvement.
The future of learning is to become a more integrated strategic partner to business leadership.
Across GP Strategies, we put together seven learning trends based on what we’re seeing with our customers and partners that learning teams should consider adding into their strategies for 2022.
Learning Trend 1: Enabling the Hybrid Workforce
The dynamics of how, when, and where we’re working are changing. When we think about this year and what’s next for the future of learning, the focus must be on enabling the hybrid workforce and those who support that workforce. The key to support the hybrid workforce is the concept of intentionality. This means learning practitioners shift how they design learning for what the audience needs and how the organization approaches those needs.
Working virtually isn’t new. Learning has had a virtual component for some time, from virtual instructor-led training (VILT) to web-based training (WBT). But organizations are transforming the concept from what was once an accommodation to an intentional strategy they now embrace at scale. When working and learning virtually, employees used to bear the responsibility of making up the differences in productivity. Companies are now working through how to design for a remote and local workforce, creating a more shared responsibility.
A challenge of hybrid working and learning is designing to drive productivity in a way that doesn’t lead to burnout. Learning practitioners need to help establish equity in the experience for those who are at a distance and those who are in the room. It’s not about having one session for virtual and one session for local or in-person. Learning needs true hybrid experiences with both virtual and local.
When WBT started, many organizations wanted to move all training to WBT. Although WBTs have many learning benefits, relying only on them creates issues. In a similar way for hybrid, it’s about how we work and perform together, finding the right mix, and bringing in enabling technologies and strategies to work for all learners. It’s critical not to simplify learning to focus on only virtual or in-person learners. Learning practitioners need to create a robust, equitable experience for all participants.
Learning Trend 2: Evolution of Learning in the Flow of Work
We’re starting to get more visibility and access into workflow data with the rise of employee experience platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Viva, and Salesforce Slack. These platforms are broader than learner experience platforms; they provide a connection point between learning, work, and talent engagement.
These technologies help create virtual rooms with collaboration and productivity tools. Learning teams need to take advantage of these tools and design and evolve how learning can be used with them effectively. Instead of employees leaving their work environment to learn, these tools bring learning into the work environment.
Using calendar data, performance data, and more, these programs can help predict what tasks employees need to know or learn, and when. They also provide opportunities to access and build performance networks, which can create opportunities for crowd-sourcing solutions to problems, micro-coaching and mentoring moments, and more. However, it’s important to be mindful of collaboration overload. Learning teams need to design with a careful balance so these programs don’t become draining, overwhelming, and counterproductive.
Learning Trend 3: Focus on Upskilling for Learning and Development
One of learning and development’s main goals in any organization is to build programs to upskill employees. But it’s important to also look inward. In 2022, it’s critical for learning practitioners to upskill themselves. Learning practitioners need to deepen their skillsets and move outside of comfort zones. The following are four examples:
- Data analytics and measurement: Develop skills to set up a measurement architecture that is repeatable and helps answer complex business and performance questions.
- Learning technology and cloud-based platforms: Learn how to use user data, share it securely, and get the most out of existing and new systems.
- Business and commercial acumen: Integrate best practices and understand from other areas of the business to outline how we compete and how we win.
- Marketing and communication skills: Implement skills to improve enrollment, build adaptable learning journeys, help employees take ownership, and get employees to understand the system.
Skills like these will help to both prove learning worked and improve future learning while building in adaptability as demands change. These skillsets will continuously evolve and it will help to start learning new skills now.
Learning Trend 4: Expanded Application of Immersive Realities and Play with Purpose
VR and extended reality (XR) offer ways to explore difficult concepts and tasks in safe environments. The immersive and collaborative learning aspects are moving into more soft skills applications, including team-building escape rooms, problem-solving, critical thinking, and teaching empathy and communication.
The VR and XR space will evolve quickly in the next year. As organizations build custom virtual spaces, designing these experiences with storytelling principles will help organizations develop them and learners connect with them.
Learning Trend 5: Designing for Inclusion as a Competitive Advantage
Accessibility should not be an afterthought. In the United States, 26% of the population and 19% of college students self-identify as having a disability. Ensuring equitable, inclusive, and accessible programs starts with identifying any barriers that prevent a learner from accessing information or performing job functions. Once learning teams identify the barriers, they can shift the way they provide access to learning opportunities.
Accessible design doesn’t have to be a major undertaking. There are small steps that can help, and implementing them at the beginning of the design process will have a large impact. Accessible design should be collaborative throughout the journey to make corrections as issues arise.
As part of the idea of learning trend 2, building performance networks is an excellent opportunity to provide accessibility and to crowdsource capabilities across the entire employee base. These networks can increase connection through micro-coaching and mentoring. Bringing people together with different experiences and experience levels creates opportunities to learn, develop, and apply skills in new ways.
Integrating accessible technologies, strategies, and resources is critical to engage the entire talent pool.
Learning Trend 6: Rise of the Boundaryless Academy
Corporate academies and universities are coming back, but not just for the internal employees. Companies form these academies by bringing in industries, higher educational institutions, and other corporate entities together to build relationships, fill skill gaps in advance, and potentially reach target new hires before they have even applied for a position.
This idea flips the concept of protecting learning and intellectual property to become a tool to educate, attract, and retain talent. The boundaryless academy brings in both internal and external expertise to reach across traditional boundaries. Some organizations are even incorporating accreditation and are designing these academies with micro-credentialing and certifications.
Learning Trend 7: Sustainable Integration of Innovation as a Capability
Not everything needs to be as innovative as the assembly line, but with the rate of change increasing regularly, organizations need a process for sustainable innovation that builds agility. When putting a process in place to explore and test innovative solutions, organizations can move from reactive to proactive drivers of positive change.
The following are three key considerations when establishing a process for innovation.
- Set realistic expectations for innovation. Challenge assumptions and create a set of realistic goals to achieve.
- Integrate a scientific, repeatable process with testing or pilot projects.
- Adopt new strategies and technologies with deliberation and care.
The Future of Learning
The first rule of a modern learning experience is that learners must take accountability for the learning journey and learning practitioners need to foster that idea. Top-down learning won’t satisfy the needs of the entire workforce. Learners need to feel like part of the process. Learners need to be empowered.
To empower learners, learning practitioners need to design and deliver learning with more open-ended journeys in mind. Programs need to deploy learning and resources in creative ways for when and where they are needed. And these methods and needs will constantly evolve.
By building new skills, designing for modern learners, and implementing a process for innovation, learning teams will build the programs of the future.
If you found these helpful, Matt Donovan, Chief Learning and Innovation Officer elaborates on these learning trends and the future of learning in his recent webcast, delivered with our friends at ATD.