The 7 Top Learning and Development Challenges to Expect in 2021

learning and development challenges 2021

For many of us, 2020 was the most challenging year we’ve ever had to endure. But the challenges we faced throughout a global pandemic are not over yet. Not only are social distancing policies and work from home initiatives likely to stay in place until Covid-19 is fully resolved, but the ripple effects of all the change that has occurred over the last year have created a brand new set of learning and development challenges in 2021 that L&D teams need to prepare for in the months ahead. 

But with every challenge comes an opportunity to adapt and improve. Being prepared is the key to meeting learning and development challenges in 2021 head on. Here are seven themes and obstacles to watch out for in 2021:

Moving from Reaction to Transformation

The change that occurred in 2020 was so sudden that people and businesses were left reeling from the shock of travel restrictions, event cancellations, social distancing policies, and widespread lockdowns.

For learning and development teams all over the world, the speed of the shift to our “new normal” meant that a highly reactive response was needed to ensure continuity in training programs. For some, this meant quickly moving instructor-led training sessions to virtual environments such as webinars or virtual classrooms. For others, eLearning solutions needed to be put in place and rolled out quickly. 

But the velocity of this change meant that training teams and learning leaders did not have the time to strategize and fine tune solutions in the way they would have liked. While this reactionary response was entirely necessary in 2020, the year ahead will require L&D to move from reaction to transformation.

This means identifying opportunities to improve upon reactionary change in 2020, even if that means rolling back on it and implementing more suitable and effective solutions. Training needs may also have shifted wildly for the business on the back of all the organization-wide change that has occurred. The challenge in 2021 will be to focus on transformation, whether that means catering to organizational transformation, digital transformation of training solutions, or both. You can learn more about digital transformation for L&D in this free ebook.

elearning challenges 2021

Providing Training for the Hybrid Workplace Model

Apart from frontline workers, a huge proportion of the population found themselves in a temporary work-from-home situation that quickly evolved into an “until further notice” policy. While it looks like working from home will remain in place for much of the year, it’s anticipated that offices will start reopening as vaccines continue to be rolled out in the months ahead.

But even when it’s safe to return to the office, many companies have already committed to maintaining an optional work-from-home policy for employees who prefer to work that way. This presents, for many training teams, some novel learning and development challenges in 2021.

For learning and development, this means creating training programs that work for both at-home employees and an office environment. That includes creating training to show teams how to work most effectively under a hybrid workplace model, training for leaders to best motivate and monitor their teams across multiple work environments, and communication training to ensure effective collaboration is still possible.

Upskilling and Reskilling

A McKinsey report published in 2020 showed that nearly 90% of executives were currently dealing with skill gaps or predicted that they would be within the next couple of years. The shortened half life of skills has only been accelerated by Covid-19 and the change that has come with it. 

Skills are becoming redundant more quickly than ever before, but 2020 saw job requirements shift and the need to train employees on new processes and skills massively accelerated. As businesses continue to adapt, so will the demand for new skills.

To enable their organization to stay ahead of the curve, learning and development teams will be challenged with quick upskilling and reskilling of the workforce in 2021. 

Keeping On-The-Job Learning Alive

Now that many employees can no longer jump over to a colleague’s desk for informal learning (and with the hybrid workplace model on the horizon), learning and development teams will be challenged with keeping crucial on-the-job learning opportunities available.

Although communication channels such as Slack can be used, it remains to be seen how big a toll working-from-home will take on remote workers when it comes to informal learning opportunities from experienced colleagues.

Learning and development must find ways in 2021 to ensure as much subject-matter-expert knowledge as possible is captured and converted into digital training. Social learning and mentorship programmes can also help to fill the gap of previous in-person learning opportunities. 

2021 challenges for L and D

Doing More With Less

Although many training teams expect their budgets to return to normal at some point in 2021, a lot of training teams will be faced with higher expectations that must be delivered with less resources.

Redundancies and budget freezes may still be a reality for many training teams throughout the year ahead. So, doing more with less will be a top challenge to overcome. L&D can focus on productivity and technology solutions to help streamline processes and increase team capacity. Prioritizing organizational training needs effectively will also be a core focus. 

Free eBook: The Training Manager’s Guide to Team Productivity and Meeting Training Demand
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Soft Skills Training/Empathy

Another core challenge that surfaced throughout the pandemic was the need to train effectively for the development of soft skills throughout the workforce. After all, employees and customers alike have all been affected by the pandemic to varying degrees. So the development of soft skills is equally important for management dealing with employees, colleagues working with each other under strained circumstances, and customer facing teams dealing with the general public. 

In a recent webinar, Fernando Sanchez Arias of the CLICK Institute discussed the importance of placing empathy at the core of all training efforts and understanding the real world circumstances that learners face every day. In dealing with the fallout of 2020, this focus on empathy and soft skills will be front and centre for L&D teams in their efforts to support organizational success. Learn more in the full on-demand recording of the webinar here.

Change Management

The role of learning in organizational change management is pretty well established. But with learning environments changing so rapidly, L&D need to focus on their own competency for internal change management within the department. 

Whether it’s a switch to Agile Learning methodologies or a brand new learning delivery method, training teams are experiencing as much change as the rest of the business. And since organizational performance rests so heavily on the efficacy of training programs, L&D need to ensure they’re equipped to handle change management on a departmental level in order to fully support change on an organizational level. 

Make sure your training team is aligned with organizational needs with this downloadable L&D 2021 strategy toolkit.

Learning and development challenges in 2021 present learning leaders with difficulties they have not had to overcome before. But they also present a great opportunity for radical change for the better.

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