The year 2020 had been one with extraordinary challenges. As the coronavirus spread across the world, no country was left untouched. India too is dealing with its share of unprecedented challenges, not the least of which has been the dramatic shift of the business ecosystem from in-person (or physical) to virtual processes.
This transition in the business ecosystem has opened interesting opportunities for organizations to innovate and explore new methods of operations and delivery in the foreseeable future – be it remodeling the existing business models; streamlining processes; or redefining customer and employee experience journeys. This change is also encouraging organizations to adopt artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and digital technologies that not just require professionals to have technical skills, but also social and emotional skills to ensure they are able to map and provide a positive customer and/or employee experience.
Given these tectonic shifts in the business landscape, ‘Talent Management’ is now among the top five priorities for most organizations, irrespective of their industry or market position. Hence, in such a scenario, Learning and Development (L&D) needs to take a more strategic and proactive role to ensure holistic development of people resources. The idea is not to just up-skill an individual, but also to ensure that the learning strategies are well aligned with the organization’s key business priorities and performance.
Over the last three decades, the concept of L&D has become increasingly significant for businesses. As is evident from the fact that the market size of the global workplace L&D industry is over USD 370 billion, while the average annual spend per employee on L&D worldwide is in the ballpark of USD1,300.
Let’s look at some of the key trends that will define the L&D segment in 2021.
Learning becomes an everyday activity: Learning has become as important as any other routine business task. Where earlier the inclination was towards holding workshops and seminars periodically to provide an opportunity to employees to hone their skills, the prevailing pandemic has given an impetus to the need for continuous evolution and adaptation.
Regular assessment of one’s own skills is the primary focus of present-day learning programs. In fact, demonstration of newly acquired skills is not just an end-of-program objective, but it also needs to be showcased in the form of continuous and productive engagement in various activities.
Unprecedented situations demand that appropriate L&D programs enable individuals to grow into an autonomous entity, while at the same time becoming an invaluable asset to the organization. Employees realize that learning is not an exercise solely aimed for the growth of the company, but a prized tool for expediting self-growth; and, thus, should be part of one’s daily routine rather than a periodic activity.
Focus on building resilience and growth mindset: While learning has always been about improving, it is now being associated with the ability to adapt quickly to ever-changing business needs. However, the challenge will be to nurture talent pools that will be able to succeed even in ambiguous situations.
The pandemic has led to multi-hatting. Traditional roles are taking on new dimensions and now, more than ever, there is a felt need for resilience and rapid adaptation to the changing scenario.
This has also highlighted the emerging gap between the expected and actual soft skills of employees. Thus, the pandemic has effectively shifted the focus of organizations towards bridging this gap and developing the behavioural skills of their employees.
Help dealing with the pressure of delivery: With people not just working from home, but also learning and playing right out of their living rooms, the idea of keeping a work-life balance has taken a completely different meaning. On one hand, it offers a tremendous amount of flexibility, on the other, it is difficult to decide when the workday ends and personal time begins. This is where relevant soft skills will come in handy to balance out and manage this delicate balance.
Additionally, with uncertainties owing to the pandemic carrying forward, there will be a growing need for empathy and emotional intelligence (EQ), especially in senior roles . The role of L&D in creating an expedient learning environment and ensuring that all related activities are aligned will only continue to expand.
Need for learning and upskilling will become baseline: As the business world is increasingly taking on a digital avatar, learner-centric experiences targeted at imparting relevant technology skills – aligned with the organization’s key expectations – will form a core area of L&D strategies, going forward.
The most successful organizations will be the ones that will effortlessly transition with the changing face of business. This can be achieved by providing equitable learning opportunities to all employees in the garb of personalized training with adaptive learning modules. Structured training will keep employees meaningfully engaged; facilitate their reskilling and upskilling; and aid them in taking on more specialized responsibilities.
Learning experience will become more significant: As learning technologies are constantly evolving and there is a need to ensure a seamless and hassle-free learner experience, we should expect a significant investment going into learning platforms.
With on-demand learning becoming a norm, the use of AI and machine learning (ML)-based tools is becoming commonplace, as they aid in rationalizing the training overheads. Emerging technologies will provide personalized learning experiences and prevent resources from being wasted on irrelevant efforts.
Enabling community learning: The advent of AI/ML in L&D will also lead to a change in the methodology of group learning, whereby employees will gravitate to learn from each other and prioritize their learnings. For instance, concepts like flipped classroom, cognitive apprenticeship (watch me code), co-learn, multi-channel learning will be preferred over conventional classroom learning for groups.
Bit-size nano learning: This kind of learning will be targeted at imparting the relevant skills that are aligned with the organization’s key expectations in bite-sized learning units with just the necessary amount of information to help learners achieve a goal.
It will also enable employees to learn to relearn multiple times, multiple technologies, and domains, giving them the agility that is much needed to navigate today’s world. Organizations are also pushing learning to the Edge where it is much more accessible to the employees, across the different channels, across devices. As businesses leverage technology for L&D, the concept of bit-size nano-learning is catching momentum.
Going forward, the L&D segment will take on a more integral and strategic role with deeper alignment with organizational priorities and business operations. Therefore, the L&D team will play a significant role in driving self-help education programs to enhance the pace of learning within the team. More importantly, beyond multiple technologies and domains, the ability to see the interconnected big picture is becoming key where organizations are increasingly leveraging learning to trigger employees to be on the lookout for finding innovative solutions to challenges old and new.