Workplace learning and development does not take place in a vacuum. It is influenced by at least three different needs—the needs of the business, the needs of the team, and the needs of the individual. And in recent months, all three have been subject to upheaval as COVID-19 closed workplaces, shut down supply chains, and sent entire industries, with their corresponding labor markets, into free fall. Here are some trends which are creating significant disruption in workplace learning, now and into the near future.
The great online shift
Now that COVID-19 has put a stop to physical classes or at least made them very difficult to safely conduct, learning and development has had to leave the classroom for the Internet. Combined with the drive to upskill and reskill, this means that online learning is superseding its physical predecessor at a tremendous rate. OECD research suggests that just between March and April this year, interest in online learning as indicated by searches for 'online learning' and related terms shot up 400 percent, and LinkedIn's 2020 Workplace Learning Report shows that 57 percent of L&D professionals expect to spend more on online learning.
The implications for employers and the providers of learning content—who may occasionally be one and the same—are significant. On employers' end, they need to digitalize their learning strategy and make it agile in much the same way they have done for their business strategy. Learning providers, meanwhile, need to digitize content and make it suitable for online delivery. This can involve overhauling everything from the medium—making use of multimedia and interactive design, for example—to the type of platform used, to the structure of training and the technologies employed, even to breaking courses down into smaller bite-sized chunks that are easier to pick up online.
Technology is offering new ways to learn
Trainers and educators quickly realized that online learning is not just a matter of conducting a workshop or course via video call. As Marc Remond, VP of meeting and learning solutions with Barco APAC, told People Matters, the video platforms that most organizations have turned to over the last nine months are "designed for meetings, not teaching and learning." Edutech companies are rushing to fill the gap with solutions ranging from the purely hardware-based—full studio setups with multiple video screens—to platform-based offerings, to cutting-edge technology such as augmented or virtual reality that might even be delivered via smartphones.
Automated learning, without trainer involvement, has also become much more sophisticated. Analytics and AI are driving the increased personalization of learning, with platforms able to track a learner's progress and automatically tailor available content to their needs and interests. What's more, technology increasingly enables highly targeted micro-learning, enabling learners to quickly and efficiently acquire knowledge as and when they need it, rather than being tied to traditional classes and workshops or the trainer's availability.
The move towards self-directed learning
The typical top-down approach to workplace learning, where employers decide what skills employees should have and then assign them to training, usually leads to a mismatch between what employees want and what is available. For instance, one Randstad survey from March this year found that over half of employees across three different markets say their employers' training programs are inadequate.
Combine this with the pressure to maintain employability during the pandemic downturn, and self-directed learning is starting to supersede employer-directed learning. It might take the form of people picking up their own training independent of the employer: one survey by TalentLMS found that 42 percent of employees were pursuing training over and above what employers had provided, even though the employers themselves had already increased their upskilling and reskilling efforts after COVID-19 broke out.
"This can only mean one thing: Employees want more. And according to the same report, they want more because they feel that it will positively affect their job level and/or salary," said Aris Apostolopoulos from TalentLMS.
Peer and group learning is also on the rise. LinkedIn’s Leading with Learning report shows that globally, there has been a 301 percent increase in professionals joining learning groups this year. People are also sharing courses more frequently and contributing to online Q&A discussions more.
Rapid shifts in the most needed skills
Even as the structure of learning—the when and how—and the underlying motivations change in response to the pandemic situation, the what is changing as well. New skills are constantly needed for today's and tomorrow's workplace: earlier this year, as a wave of digitalization followed the pandemic's spread, technology-related skills became critical and also highly desirable, considering that the tech industry has been one of the better performers during this downturn.
Now, within less than a year, the emphasis has shifted to broader-based cognitive skills—skills that let people function in the "next normal" of remote work and a volatile economy, skills that help them maintain their mental and emotional health. One survey by Emergenetics APAC, for instance, found that time management, communication and self-discipline were the top three skills respondents thought they required for remote work. And in a recent forum on building talent, former UK Culture Secretary Baroness Nicky Morgan pointed out that in a non-traditional working environment, skills such as resilience, organization, self-motivation, or the ability to think about others' well-being are needed to continue working "on a successful and productive ongoing basis."
There is no telling what skills will be needed by the time 2021 comes around; which simply emphasizes the need for employers, trainers, and learners alike to be agile in their learning strategy.
What do these mean for employers?
It's been clear for some years now that training and development contribute significantly to employee engagement, with strong correlations found between a company's investment in employee development and the level of engagement and performance displayed by employees. However, the kinds of investment that companies make is going to have to change: from classroom-based training to on-demand, independent learning, from a top-down learning syllabus to a bottom-up, self-directed approach.
Some companies are doing this by learning into their key performance indicators: Shafaq Kamran, Head of People and Culture at Roche Pharmaceuticals Singapore, told People Matters that the goal-setting approach used by Roche actually gives 20 percent weightage to individual ‘development’ goals. "Having a growth mindset and one’s learning agility play crucial parts with regards to performance," she pointed out.
Others are turning to the technology that is ubiquitously available today: Roselin Lee, vice president of human resources for Shiseido Asia Pacific, suggested the use of AI to generate personalized learning suggestions based on employees' individual aspirations, so that they can integrate learning with work and skill themselves. "In today’s environment, we have to adjust to how our employees want to learn," she said.
And most importantly, companies need to invest such that their L&D strategies can be pivoted as quickly as their business strategies, to help them keep up with today's volatility, uncertainty, and the chance of still more disruptions emerging in the near future.