Learning and Development Trends for 2021

December 1, 2020 David Witt

The Ken Blanchard Companies just completed analysis of its 2021 HR / L&D Trends Survey and will be sharing the results during a webinar on December 16 with Jay Campbell, Blanchard’s senior vice president of products and content. One thousand leadership, learning, and talent development professionals took part in this year’s survey, which looked at the biggest challenges L&D professionals expect to face in the coming year.

Top of mind was the impact COVID-19 had on learning and development efforts in 2020. According to Campbell, “Leadership, learning, and talent development professionals pivoted quickly in 2020 and shifted their focus to digital and virtual in order to keep the development train rolling. While they made the pivot to ensure learners weren't left behind, they recognized the quick efforts they put in place didn't always create perfect solutions.

“Our first look into the survey data collected last month from hundreds of L&D professionals showed that although 65% of respondents have converted or are converting their face-to-face training to digital or virtual formats, they are experiencing some challenges with design, delivery, and technology. Specifically, respondents called out a need for more learner engagement, more social interaction, and more learning touch points over time.

“When asked about the one thing they wish they could improve about the learning and development program in their organization, 31% want to address a lack of resources for holding people accountable after training, 19% would like to improve the quality of adapted training programs, and 11% want to improve the digital skills of trainers.”

The Future of Face-to-Face Training

Face-to-face training was hit especially hard in 2020 and is certainly on the minds of L&D professionals looking into next year. While most respondents expect to have classroom training available again sometime in 2021, they are preparing for a big shift in how it is used, says Campbell.

“Face-to-face workshops have always been the dominant modality in the L&D space. Our survey results show that pre-COVID, respondents estimated 63% of their delivery was in-person instructor-led training (ILT). During the past ten months, that percentage has plunged to 9%. The hero here is virtual instructor-led training (VILT), which grew from 10% to 53%, and self-paced digital, which rose from 14% to 24%.

“COVID-19 created a discontinuity in the normal evolutionary path toward digital and virtual. It has accelerated the shift—possibly by as much as a decade!

“Face-to-face training still has its place, but it will be a modality that L&D people will use selectively. It’s no longer the default. According to our results, 56% of respondents say the physical classroom still has a role, but mainly as a part of a blended learning experience. Most survey participants expect that blend to be about one-third ILT, one-third VILT, and one-third a combination of self-paced learning, coaching, and mentoring.

“We are currently cross tabulating our data for publication later this month. Right now it looks like face-to-face will be used in select situations for specific skill training, individualized for certain roles or levels in the organization—senior leaders, for example. My expectation is that L&D experts will tailor the use of face-to-face with a specific learner profile in mind.

Skills Gaps Identified

L&D professionals pivoted so quickly to new modalities in 2020 that they actually outpaced their own capabilities, developing virtual and online offerings in a “quick and dirty” mode. Many respondents feel that those offerings are in need of upgrade—and that their teams need some new skills as well. One-third of respondents believe their team does not have the skills and capacity to deliver on 2021 expectations.

According to Campbell, “The proficiency gaps people identified most centered on virtual facilitation, instructional design, and using elearning development tools. We salute these L&D people for doing what was not comfortable but what needed to be done. And we will support them as they backfill the skills and experience necessary to make digital and virtual learning more effective.

“At Blanchard, we are doing a lot of experimenting with different types of learning experiences that spread out the learning over time. The idea is to give people more time to internalize new mindsets and practice new skillsets, to increase the degree to which they apply their learnings at work. We’ve been delivering virtual and online training for well over a decade, but making our sessions highly engaging and leveraging the latest platforms is a continual focus.

“We’re also experimenting with new content meant to help people adapt to emerging work challenges, the increasing pace of change, a heightened need for collaboration, and for employees to be self-driven, empowered, and innovative. Our goal is to find the best mix of content and learning experiences so that people can develop their leadership skills as quickly and deeply as possible. Organizations succeed when employees succeed.”

Would you like to learn more about the results of Blanchard’s 2021 HR / L&D Trends Survey along with suggested action steps for the coming year? Then join us for a free webinar!

2021 Trends: Learning and Development in a COVID World

Wednesday, December 16, 2020, 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time

What’s ahead for 2021? Join Jay Campbell, senior vice president at The Ken Blanchard Companies, as he shares the results of Blanchard’s 2021 L&D Trends Survey. Over 1,000 leadership, learning, and talent development professionals shared their concerns, plans, and action steps on topics such as:

  • The #1 challenge they are facing heading into the new year
  • How and when they expect to use face-to-face classroom training again
  • The technology and strategies they have in place now and expect to carry into 2021

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn what your L&D peers from around the world are doing—and planning to do—as they deal with a changing learning environment!


About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for Blanchard®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

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