2021 was a year of resilience, perseverance, and — dare we say it? — optimism. Together, we entered our "next normal" where hybrid work environments and virtual learning reign supreme and there's a universal need for agility in the workplace. While the year ahead will undoubtedly contain many of the same challenges we faced last year (and the year before that), we are seeing several new trends emerging that will influence the roles, responsibilities, and priorities of L&D teams everywhere. Here's what we're predicting:
1. Blended learning is here to stay.
While many of the organizations (and participants) we've talked to would love for in-person learning to resume, it's clear now that virtual learning will forever have a place in every L&D team's curriculum — and with good reason. When done effectively, virtual learning can be as impactful as in-person learning and the cost savings can be immense for large, global organizations. The rise of social learning experiences during the pandemic has also created another unique opportunity for L&D teams. Social learning platforms, like Entelechy partner NovoEd, allow participants to meaningfully collaborate and engage with each other just like they would in a classroom environment. In 2022, organizations will be experimenting with a range of blended learning options to keep learners engaged. That might include in-person events, but L&D teams will really need to justify the expense and possible health risk of those events.
2. So, you better make it more engaging and valuable for the learner.
Gone are the days of leaning on mediocre presentation-heavy webinars while we all wait for the pandemic to disappear. This year, organizations everywhere are trying to figure out how to make their virtual learning offerings more dynamic, interactive, and results-oriented. Luckily, there are some tried and true virtual learning methods we've tested and refined in 2021 that will serve you well in 2022:
- Flipped classrooms: Share reading and video assignments with participants in advance and request that they come to class prepared to actively discuss the materials. This approach allows you to maximize the time spent in your virtual learning sessions for discussing real-world applications, role-playing activities, valuable discussions, and reviewing case studies. Social learning environments, like Microsoft Teams and NovoEd, can help organize and facilitate pre-course assignments.
- Networking and peer support: Lacking a traditional office environment, employees at all levels are craving meaningful interactions with peers. Leverage breakout rooms and social learning platforms to create opportunities in your training for learners to make connections with new people and hear unique viewpoints.
- Participant choice: Leverage polls to tailor your content to align with the majority of participants' needs and interests. This "choose your own adventure" approach ensures that learners leave the training feeling seen and ready to apply key lessons in the real-world.
- Frequent (and varied) engagement: When designing our virtual learning programs, our best practice is to directly engage with the learner every 3-4 minutes. This could take the form of a poll, a direct question to the class, a pop quiz, a chat window discussion, a hands-on activity, or a breakout room. These engagement points should be thoughtful and support the program's key learning objectives — don't just ask random questions for the sake of engagement or you'll lose interest and credibility.
- Application, application, application: It can be challenging for facilitators to be sure that participants have understood and retained key lessons and skills in today's virtual training environments. Successful programs will incorporate ample opportunities for learners to apply the skills they learned in training in a real-world environment where they can receive valuable feedback from peers and facilitators. Whether it is through mentoring, assignments with postings, or capstone projects, skill retention and application are two critical areas we will focus on in all of our programs this year.
- Expert facilitation and production: None of the previously mentioned tactics would be possible without expert facilitators and producers who can effortlessly switch gears to keep learners engaged throughout the training. Our experience has shown us that facilitators can make or break the virtual learning experience.
3. Organizations will pursue full-scale L&D solutions (versus one-off training events).
Another reality of our next-normal is that people are exhausted by one-time learning events. They just don't have the time of the energy for another webinar or training video. People everywhere — but especially leaders — are craving meaningful, productive experiences where they can practice skills that will have an immediate impact on their ability to do their job. And, they are seeking more robust learning opportunities that allow them to develop those critical skills over a longer period of time for maximum impact. Advanced or abstract skills training, like leadership development, has been put on the back-burner these past two years. In 2022, we will see an increased focus on providing leaders with full leadership development programs. Organizations simply can't afford to put these business-critical initiatives off any longer.
4. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging will be woven throughout all L&D programs.
Historically, organizations have presented Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEI&B) training as stand-alone, and often optional courses. This year, organizations will weave the core tenets of DEI&B throughout all of their available courses. The key learnings of DEI&B work impact every area of an organization. You can't talk about leadership skills without addressing the unique social and emotional needs of each direct report. You can't teach hiring best practices without addressing the implicit biases that all humans have. In short, you can't teach any key concept without first acknowledging that all parties involved bring their own unique lived experiences to work every day. While we might all be different, we can all learn something valuable from others around us if we have the social know-how. And, we all play a role in making sure that historically marginalized communities have a seat at the table.
5. Training must be accessible for ALL learners.
In the same spirit as the previous prediction, accessibility will continue to be a top priority for instructional designers as they develop interactive and engaging virtual learning programs. While accessibility has always been a key factor in design work, more learners today are participating in training outside the office and on a wide range of devices, which can lead to an increase in technical issues. There is also a much greater awareness today of the learning differences impacting learners as they navigate through a training program. In 2022, instructional designers will need to be incredibly thorough in thinking through all of the possible challenges learners might have accessing and absorbing course content. Examples include, but certainly aren't limited to, color blindness accessibility in content design, subtitling or transcripts for learners with hearing impairments, or adapting virtual classrooms for differently abled participants. Luckily, many virtual and social learning platforms have accessibility standards and best practices programmed right into their default design settings. At Entelechy, we also take particular care to outline the optimal system settings and help troubleshoot any audio/visual issues the participant might encounter before they even happen. We also have an expert virtual training producer on every session to help overcome any accessibility issues in real-time.
6. Employees will continue to seek appreciation, meaning, and deeper connection to their work.
The "Great Resignation" isn't just a phase and it won't necessarily end as the pandemic ends. The global pandemic has fundamentally changed our attitudes about work and the day-to-day experience of doing that work. Employees at all levels in every industry are handing in their resignation letters and leaving for opportunities where their talents are valued more or that more closely align with their personal passions and priorities. Some employees, particularly in education, retail, service industries, and healthcare, are experiencing unprecedented levels of burnout. Others, often primary caregivers or people close to retirement age, are removing themselves from the workforce completely.
In 2022, talent acquisition, employee engagement, and retention will be top priorities for organizations. L&D teams will need to think about their offerings as a way to increase employee engagement. Onboarding, new skills training, leadership development, and high-potential initiatives can all help employees feel better connected to their work and more deeply appreciated. Employees who are fully supported in their roles and can see a clear career path are more likely to stay with their organizations. As a result, comprehensive leadership development programs can play a powerful role in an organization's ability to weather the Great Resignation and emerge stronger and more successful.
While we predict the six trends above will be high priorities for L&D teams everywhere in 2022, we want to hear from you. What are your main predictions for the L&D space as we head into a new year? What challenges are your team hoping to tackle? What priorities are being set by the C-suite for your department? Please share your insights in a comment below or contact us directly. As always, we would welcome the opportunity to support you in the great work you're doing to develop leaders at your organization.