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Positivity and Progress: 3 Key Learning Goals for L&D in 2021

This blog article was written prior to LEO Learning becoming part of GP Strategies.

We’ve heard a lot about the challenges of the pandemic in every area of our lives. But at iVentiv Learning Futures, USA East 2021, GP Strategies Senior Director of LX Strategy, Andrew Joly, and Senior Director of Content Design, Sophie Miller, discussed the positive changes we’ve seen in the industry. In addition to focusing on the positives themselves, they asked members of a breakout session to explain their top learning goals for 2021.

Among all of the challenges we’ve seen over the course of the pandemic, one thing we’ve seen and heard consistently is how adaptable people are. Of course, this applies to adapting our way of life outside of the workplace, but L&D has been rapidly transformed in many organizations.

At the start of the global lockdowns in 2020, we saw our customers’ needs fall into three primary categories:

  • React – companies urgently needing help converting face-to-face training into virtual or distance learning
  • Optimize and Enhance – organizations that are comfortable with virtual, but want to deliver meaningful, powerful learning experiences
  • Scale, Sustain, and Transform – those that need to expand their virtual learning offerings in a scalable way

At the time, we saw many organizations, understandably, in the React category. We helped organizations of all sizes move their learning strategy online and for some, it was the first time they had done this kind of digital transformation.

While at iVentiv, Sophie and I took part in a number of interesting breakout sessions, one of which asked the attendees: What is your mission for 2021? If you haven’t got one, what do you hope to achieve by the end of the year? 

From the responses, we saw three keys trends emerge:

  • Evolving learning strategies
  • Measuring the business impact of learning
  • People and culture

Theme 1: Evolving Learning Strategies

The first theme to emerge from the responses was evolving and, in some cases, overhauling current learning strategies. With the major pivots necessitated by the pandemic, a large number of organizations are still progressing with the initial adaptation of learning content to virtual-only. These are the organizations that sit within the React and Optimize categories we spoke about earlier.

Some of the responses in this area focus on digitizing the learning they currently have. In this case, we’re looking at the initial conversion from face-to-face to live-online learning or virtual classrooms and workshops. Other responses focused on bringing in more modalities and technologies into their learning design. This could be things like virtual whiteboards, breakout spaces, group chats, or more social learning practices.

Overall, in this area, we saw a focus on reimagining learning in their organizations. This is where organizations step into the Optimize and Enhance stages of the model discussed earlier. For this cohort, the initial conversion to online learning is complete and now it’s time to reassess priorities and transform learning strategies in line with business needs, learner needs, and the technology ecosystem available to them.

Theme 2: Measuring the Business Impact of Learning

Measuring and proving the business impact of learning was a popular response. In a year that has seen L&D adapt and pivot so successfully across a wide range of organizations, we’ve seen an increase in need across both our clients and the wider L&D community to focus on measurement strategies.

Responses from attendees in this area focused on both proving the business impact as well as the learning impact. They also spoke of balancing meeting business objectives and needs with managing resources in the L&D function. It’s our experience that ‘resources’ refers to both staffing and the tools and technologies available to them.

Measuring the business impact of learning has been a key strategic priority for many of our clients, especially in the last year. And it’s great to see this priority among other senior leaders in the L&D profession. In this year’s LEO Measuring the Business Impact of Learning survey report, 94.9% of respondents said they want to measure the business impact, and 60% said they feel executive pressure to do so.

Theme 3: People and Culture

As well as measuring impact, we saw some respond with hopes of increasing impact and expanding the reach of learning initiatives. A key underlying theme here is changing the learning culture within their organizations. From focusing on people and community to unlocking the potential of their people through learning, driving cultural attitudes and behaviors are a top priority for a number of organizations in 2021.

Creating a genuine shift in learning culture is one of the more challenging goals for any L&D department. It’s no small feat. However with the right top-down and bottom-up strategy approach, and oversight of the bigger picture, transforming learning culture is definitely achievable. We’ve seen shifts in learning culture from our clients over the last few years and with the events of 2020 (and, I’m sure, 2021), circumstance has created a definite ‘moment for change’.

Building a learning culture, specifically in response to recent events, involves considering and centering learning deeply within the overall working experience. It’s often about finding ways to create blended learning journeys that work at a distance, which can integrate easily within the flow of work. 

These organizations are looking to include more social learning practices, perhaps pivot towards a more coaching-led culture, or create a culture of recognized and rewarded continuous learning. We’ve already seen how much both L&D professionals and their learners have adapted in the last year, and look forward to seeing how our clients and the wider L&D community continue to do so.

Some Thoughts on What Positivity Means for L&D

In the webinar, Sophie and I discussed how we each see positivity and the good things we’ve seen come out of mass working from home and sudden pivots in L&D strategy. We came at it from two very different perspectives but I think both are valuable.

Sophie explained how she sees positives in this for the learners. There’s a real focus on trust-building and vested interest for facilitators to get their learners into a positive mindset in the early stages of a session. Virtual learning is providing an environment for people to connect with each other and prioritize creativity and teamwork.

I looked at it from an organizational perspective. We’ve seen an overwhelmingly optimistic and adaptive response to the events of 2020. Organizations of all shapes and sizes have adapted marvelously to all of the challenges we faced. Last year, we heard stories of L&D professionals successfully rolling out social learning initiatives, using learning experience platforms (LXPs) to enhance their virtual learning and tales of innovation in learning across countries. 

So if you ask me, I think we have stepped into 2021, despite everything, with a real sense of optimism about the future of digital workplace learning.

If you’d like to speak to any of our other learning experts about your virtual learning strategy, get in touch.

About the Authors

Andrew Joly
Andrew leads the strategy and consulting faculty in the Learning Experience team, which is at the frontline of delivering creative, innovative and effective learning solutions. He focuses on his personal passion: how technology-enabled learning experiences and communication blends can transform behaviors and performance in the workplace. Andrew has a passion for exploring how new modes and strategies for learning and connection can make a real difference to people, teams, and global organizations.

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