The Times They Are A’Changin’. What L&D Leaders Should Focus on in 2021.

“Disruption” has (ironically) become a standard theme during the last several years in business. Keynotes, sales meetings, Ted Talks, pitches ꟷ this word even migrated to popular culture in a 2014 episode of the television program, Silicon Valley.

But trends and buzzwords aside, our world has been truly disrupted by Covid 19 in 2020. Almost all companies have had to grapple with how to continue functioning in the (buzzword alert:) “New Normal.” Covid has intensified the corporate world’s need to imagine new ways of learning. It has forced companies to determine the best methods to rapidly adapt existing assets.

These needs are based on an already existing perception that some type of disruption is necessary, as borne out by two findings by Deloitte. In 2019, 86% of the respondents to 2019’s Global Human Capital Trends survey believed they must “reinvent their ability to learn.” Another survey, conducted in the early part of 2020, reported that “improving learning and development is a critical initiative for 86% of companies.”

Prior to the onset and during the pandemic, Performance Development Group (PDG) has witnessed and supported companies in shifting learning strategies to accommodate remote work requirements. Companies who have not been swift to anticipate and embrace this transformation to alternative learning modalities are now scrambling to make up for the lost time.

All of this leads to the question: what should L&D leaders be focused on going into 2021? What leadership qualities and practices will enhance the uptake and application of new skills and behaviors, minimize the “forgetting curve,” and quickly drive positive business results?

Here’s what PDG thinks L&D leaders should focus on in 2021:

Ensure learning is easy to access, efficient, and effective

Adapting to working remotely was not a gradual shift for most people in 2020. Instead, almost overnight, employees had to set up temporary workspaces at home. The “temporary” status of these workspaces was replaced by “until further notice.” For many people, their work environment is also shared by offspring who are in virtual school. In these harried and stressful times, training must not be perceived as an onerous, unnecessary duty to check off.  At a minimum, all learning methods should be evaluated and improved to ensure that they are efficient, effective, and easy to access. In an interview with HBR, Ann Schulte, Chief Learning Officer at Procter & Gamble (P&G), shared the corporate view of learning at P&G.  In short, they believe that “the fastest learner wins.” Speed to mastery is not only a win for the learner, it’s a win for the company.

Leverage mechanisms for individualized learning

Speed to mastery is not served by one-size-fits-all learning. “Personalized Learning” refers to practices that tailor the pace and focus of instruction to the needs of each learner.  One method is called “Adaptive Learning.” It uses artificial intelligence to shape content and practice opportunities for each learner’s specific knowledge of a topic.  After knowledge acquisition takes place, a quick quiz measures the employee’s level of content/application mastery. Based on the individual’s answers, the employee is automatically channeled to additional time on that topic or seamlessly moves to the next.  Companies who offer Personalized Learning will differentiate themselves from their competitors by making a bigger business impact, increasing revenue, and hiring top talent.

Support employees with engaging, point-of-need solutions

Another way to support the individual needs of employees is to make point-of-need solutions available. Through this, learning and reinforcement seamlessly blend into the flow of work.  These solutions can be as simple as a short Zoom recording, YouTube video or checklist, or as elaborate and detailed as augmented reality. The key is to identify, for example, where employees stumble in day-to-day tasks or the tasks that are completed infrequently. This analysis yields areas that would benefit from point-of-need solutions. The result is that employees access and use performance support, as needed ꟷ individually, easily, and within the context of real work.

Invest in gamification and social learning

Gamification is nothing new in the L&D space, but in 2021, you can expect it to gain even more traction. Your ability to deliver bite-size learning in a highly interactive and appealing delivery format, potentially paired with innovative social elements will enhance performance.  Such experiences also increase teamwork and collaboration. Measurement, always important, can be built into the game experience. Some companies who use measurement decide to spur participation through integrating a healthy competition.

Social learning is also bringing to light the concept of “anywhere learning.” Social learning in its various formats, such as user communities and cohort collaborative experiences, allows employees to learn from one another without being confined to one room. Social learning supports all the variables previously discussed ꟷdelivering learning that is easy to access, effective, individualized, and at point of need.

Focus on upskilling and reskilling

A final critical focus should be on accurately monitoring employee skill gaps in the context of the shifting environment, and then providing appropriate training to support the new requirements. In 2020, McKinsey reported that almost 90% of executives said that they were either currently experiencing skill gaps in the workforce or expected to within a few years. COVID-19 has added a new layer to this need. Job requirements and needs change with shifting restrictions. Work practices and expectations morph to address the ensuing ripple effects.

Focusing on upskilling and reskilling employees is critical in terms of succeeding in this dynamic environment. It enables the company to retain valuable employees. Upskilling and reskilling build a climate of engagement and loyalty. Employees see that they are appreciated and respected, even as their role and the needs of the market evolve.


In order to lead effectively in this time of unpredictability and instability, focus on the areas discussed: keep learning easy to access, efficient and effective; leverage mechanisms for individualizing training; support employees at the point of need through engaging solutions; and invest in gamification and social learning.

What other learning and development trends do you expect to see in the upcoming year?