The Top Six Learning Trends for 2021

top elearning trends 2021What will learning and development look like in 2021?

While our focus is on moving forward this year, we can’t do that without looking back and acknowledging the myriad ways that 2020 changed the working world. More people than ever before worked from home. Customers needed additional support. Companies had to change the way they worked — and, in some cases, their whole business models.

Learning drove and helped to manage several of those changes. So, what can we expect to see in the next year? Many of the trends in the learning industry are driven by last year’s sea change in the workplace.

Learning trends to look for in 2021

1) Migrating learning to a 100% digital learning program

While there’s been a gradual shift to online learning, up until last year, most companies have preferred in-person training sessions, relying on instructors and conferences for development. It’s simply been the standard: research from Brandon Hall Group showed that pre-pandemic, 96% of companies provided instructor-led training, and according to Training Industry, most learners say they prefer training that’s delivered in person.

That’s changed dramatically in the last year. While many organizations quickly launched digital programs in 2020, this year will be one of digital transformation in the coming year.

Every single training organization we’ve talked to, their number one priority is digital transformation,” said Ashish Rangnekar of Benchprep, interviewed on the Talented Learning podcast this month. “Finally we’re seeing that every single training organization is taking a step back and embracing an end-to-end digital transformation.”

What does that mean? Digital-only and digital-led learning, rather than simply including digital learning as part of an instructor-led live training program, content developed to be consumed digitally rather than simply converted, and a strategy that prioritizes online learning.

2) Learning will be used to drive change

Last year, many office workers found themselves working from home. They had to learn new skills and the shift to remote work highlighted some of the technical deficiencies of employees. Training helped to close those skill gaps.

As companies move forward in 2021, learning will be used to manage change — helping workers adapt to new situations and succeed, despite the fact that their job may not look the way it did at the start of 2020.

Training can be used to teach new skills, highlight changes, and communicate with a remote workforce, aligning an entire organization with the same goals and priorities.

3) Customer training will need to change

If companies are operating differently these days, so are customers. Organizations can no longer reach out to their customers in the some of the ways they’re used to — people can’t try or test products in person, and may not feel comfortable in brick and mortar stores.

With online commerce taking precedence over in-person shopping, companies will rely on learning to reach their customers, educate them about products, and — if a business’s model is changing — explain those changes and what they mean to people outside the company.

4) Reskilling will be a priority

The last year changed many organizations’ personnel needs, and training will reflect the need to reskill and upskill employees who may be moving into roles that didn’t exist at this time last year. Ginni Rometty, executive chairman of IBM, interviewed on Fortune’s Leadership Next Podcast, likened the upheaval caused by COVID-19 and remote work to tossing a deck of cards in the air — not everyone will land in the same spot they were in before.

According to research from Brandon Hall Group, 56% of companies are concerned about reskilling workers who might return to different jobs than the ones they’d left while 43% of businesses are concerned about determining whether employees will be returning to their old jobs, or whether their new jobs will change because of new business conditions.

5) Soft skills will continue to be a priority

Changing roles and changing ways of working mean that while the skills employees will need to do their jobs are changing, soft skills will be more important than ever.

Soft skills, also called people skills, are the skills that allow employees to do their jobs well. Skills like grit, communication, timeliness, and the ability to learn are soft skills. A recent study found that going into 2021, more employers are looking for skills like teamwork, communication and time management — not surprising when many teams are working remotely.

While soft skills can be found in the wild (some people really are born with it), these skills can also be trained. As employees are shifted to different roles within organization, or adjust to working from home, they’re going to need their soft skills bolstered so they can adjust to their new normal as easily as possible. 

6) Well-being courses will become important

This past year has been stressful for all of us. Working from home isn’t easy, the pandemic has been scary, and many employees are both working and caring for family members at the same time.

“There is tremendous fatigue in the workforce right now and maintaining the mental health of our workers has to be the top priority,” says Greg Pryor, executive director at Workday, quoted in Human Resources Executive. “How will we address loneliness, fiscal wellbeing, belonging, inclusion, psychological safety for all?”

Training can help with those areas, by teaching learners how to cope with tough situations, manage stress, and simply by acknowledging that the organization values its employees’ wellbeing.