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2021 Will Accelerate Learning Trends Driven by the Pandemic

HR DiveFebruary 10, 2021

A year ago, leaders weighed in on what learning and development trends they thought would be most prevalent in 2020. The prediction? Just-in-time learning, cross-skilling, and upskilling — trends that had long been on the radar — would be critical. 

But no one knew the immediacy these learning trends would take when the world of work transformed because of the pandemic. Retail and restaurant businesses closed or retooled to focus on online capabilities and pickup services. Office employees were sent to work from home. Frontline employees took on multiple functions to keep essential businesses open. 

Interestingly, many of the learning trends predicted for 2020 held true. But they came into play urgently. Growing trends eyed by leaders accelerated from end-of-year aspirations to end-of-month imperatives. 

Now, venturing into 2021, the learning trends that became so vital last year are likely to continue; but they’ll develop faster and require a focused approach, experts told HR Dive.

Continuous reskilling, upskilling for technical skills

The world is entering the fourth industrial revolution, Coding Dojo CEO Richard Wang said. This is an era of technology-led disruption and innovation as organizations develop a digital presence — a need accelerated by COVID-19. “If you don’t have a digital footprint, you’re done,” Wang said.

But companies cannot find enough tech workers to fuel this revolution, he said. “We are seeing an imbalance of supply and demand of qualified workers on the labor market.”

Upskilling and reskilling current employees can help, he added. The most needed skills are for coding, web development, and data analytics, but a basic understanding of computational logic, such as that used in email tools, is helpful, he said.

Such learning initiatives may sharpen businesses overall. “Reskilling and upskilling the workforce is a competitive advantage,” LinkedIn Learning Solutions Senior Director Amy Borsetti said. COVID-19 has accelerated the need for the workforce to be more agile, so employees can be deployed to do different things, she said. 

Long-term learning focus remains key

Cross-skilling and upskilling may focus on skills for immediate use, but that doesn’t mean employers should lose sight of long-term learning, said Borsetti. “It’s and, not or. You need to think about long term, but the rate of change in organizations and the workforce and the needs of business makes the shelf life of skills shift way faster,” she said. 

Some of today’s jobs didn’t exist three years ago, so people need to adjust their skill development to keep up with the pace of business, she explained. Still, there will always be some skills that are harder to master, such as creativity, innovation and inclusive leadership, that will require a long-term approach, she said. 

Remote work requires new learning

With the sustained need for remote work, companies will face new challenges related to learning and development, Hibob Chief Marketing Officer Rhiannon Staples told HR Dive in an email. 

Many businesses and managers are still learning how to operate effectively in a remote world, from onboarding to day-to-day management, she said. “Employees will need to learn how to do their jobs remotely from the outset,” Staples said. “This was not a prerequisite across all organizations before the COVID-19 pandemic, but will now become especially critical to business growth and success.”

Companies must find new HR tech tools that facilitate L&D cross-functionality, and HR teams should take the lead to ensure leaders and managers have proper training, Staples said. 

Credentials gain ground

The requirement of four-year degrees is fading, according to Wang. Tech giants such as Google, Apple and Netflix don’t require them. A graduate of a traditional college may lack the specific skills needed for a job, Wang said. 

Institutions granting micro credentials may offer candidates the opportunity to gain the skills they need outside of a typical university experience, Wang said.

Finessing better L&D

Companies are tasked with modernizing L&D, Borsetti said. E-learning can be very passive and courses can be too long. Companies are looking at ways to change that with microlearning and social learning to connect people to experts and create a more involved experience, she said.

Onboarding is another area for improvement. Staples said that companies no longer see onboarding as a one-size-fits-all experience. “The days of an in-person, classroom-style onboarding session are gone, or at least limited, for the time being. That’s why organizations need to find ways to facilitate personalized, informative, and timely remote onboarding.”

The turmoil in the workplace in 2020 have erased all doubts about the necessity of L&D, said Borsetti. “Businesses need to invest in employees because businesses depend on them, not just because it’s the right thing to do,” she said. Additionally, L&D teams added value by partnering closely with businesses, breaking down silos, strategizing and co-building. As the spotlight shone on employee concerns about wellness, diversity, and equity, the need to invest in employees became obvious, Borsetti said. 

As business needs accelerate and evolve, ensuring employees have the skills they need is a trend that will undoubtedly continue. “The seat L&D has at the table isn’t going anywhere,” Borsetti said. 



This article was written by Pamela DeLoatch from HR Dive and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to