Likely Training Trends for 2021

The appreciation of a holistic approach to training, multiple learning styles, and the expanding dependence on cloud storage will continue its upward path.

As the calendar turns to a new year, it’s time to consult my crystal ball and predict what we in the training industry should anticipate over the next 12 months. The great thing about annual predictions is that I can’t be proven wrong until this time next year (hopefully after most of you have long forgotten my prognostications). With the usual caveats about force majeure or unanticipated technological leap or pandemic, here goes.

vILT Conquers ILT

I’d put this likely trend in the “I’ll bet the farm” category. In 2020, almost all “information workers” (what we used to call “white-collar employees”) were sent home to quarantine from COVID-19. Approaching a year later, most are still remote. Once-exotic Web conferencing is now the de facto tool for meetings, sales calls, interviews, town meetings, etc. This led many organizations to think, “Our people can’t travel for training, so let’s take our live training and teach it using Zoom.” An obvious choice, but one that takes more thought than changing delivery methods. Most of the virtual instructor-led training (vILTs) I’ve seen are not taking full advantage of the tool’s capabilities. For example, many organizations simply convert live training into a Webinar consisting of slides and talk, talk, talk interrupted by the periodic poll question or raise of hands. An effective vILT takes advantage of multiple call-in numbers to approximate breakout groups. Digital whiteboards can be provided to each isolated team and collected and collated by the facilitator for group presentations and debriefs. Role-plays are possible—and effective if kept short and clearly stating each role’s strongest objective in the activity directions. Plus, even when organizations welcome more of us back to the office, vILTs save on travel costs, workshop catering, and time away from the job, while imposing the physical distancing we have all grown to…well, if not love, at least appreciate its necessity.

Sims, Sims, Sims

Simulations can be effective when replicating real-life situations, challenges, and decision-making. Due to the massive increase in remote workers, fewer organizations want to spring for a live simulation requiring paying facilitators and their travel costs, printing, renting a meeting room, and A/V equipment. The good news is that the increase in remote learners comes as online simulation and gamification technology is becoming more cost-effective and, with a little help, relatively easy to design, develop, and deploy yourself. Look forward to more sims. Before development, make sure you can assess for creativity, user use, and learning effectiveness.

Evolution of Soft Skills

In part, in response to the overdue and increased societal awareness of inequality and injustice, Learning and Development (L&D) professionals and vendors are starting to create microlearning on such topics as “Inequality and Injustice in the Workplace,” “Cultural Sensitivity,” “Managing Your Unconscious Bias,” “Handling Difficult Conversations,” “Respect in the Workplace,” and “Empathy and Emotional intelligence.” Traditionally, most soft skills training programs centered on learning content and skills. The evolving soft skills will require self-aware and compassionate instructional design, leading to learners using higher cognitive and emotional skills to gain confidence during cultural shifts small or major.

Interactive Videos

I’m not a fan of lengthy, talking-heads video, even when it includes engaging dramatic scenarios and quality scripting, acting, and production standards—even when it has splashy motion graphics, animated text, and a soundtrack relevant to the projected context. Any video longer than 90 seconds is an invitation for learner disengagement. The technology now exists for videos to include interactive activities and links to resources or media, which allows instructional designers to smartly segment video clips on either side of interactivity, which will make the learning active and challenging—meaning learners won’t tune out of long, boring infomercial-type videos and will better learn and retain important content. Interactive videos are worth looking into if you include video in your training modalities.

Shrinking Microlearning

When introduced some years back, the definition of microlearning set its ideal running time between six and 15 minutes. Not anymore. The trend is for shorter, punchier micro-lessons built upon a single learning outcome and related topic. Good microlearning should come under the two-minute range. Better still, you can string a bunch of related micro-lessons into a comprehensive suite or use them along a learning continuum to increase retention.

No Longer an LMS, But a Learning Ecosystem

The days of the course management system are quickly fading. The appreciation of a holistic approach to training, multiple learning styles, and the expanding dependence on cloud storage will continue its upward path. This is both a technological and pedagogical advancement. The better learning platforms come with more features than a fully loaded SUV: social learning, wikis, video libraries, interactive .pdfs, newsfeeds, games—and analytics galore. While I do not often run into the need for a report that captures how many clicks a learner takes on a given screen, this new generation of .xAPI reports breaks down learning enrollment and achievement by locations, demographics, position, years of experience, what questions may be too obvious and which are too challenging, while allowing you to create most any custom report you need. Altogether, technology continues to challenge L&D professionals to keep up…or is it the other way around?

At the end of the year, check reality against how I did, prediction-wise. If I score high, perhaps I should switch professions from an L&D professional to a fortune teller, digital influencer, sports bettor, or investment banker. If I did poorly, no doubt, Training’s editors will throw me to the curb and select someone else to identify learning trends in 2022. Either way, I’m excited to see how our industry evolves and improves.

Larry Bograd brings more than 20 years’ experience as a learning expert and leader to help many of the world’s leading organization achieve their training goals. Based in Denver, CO, his services range from learning and content strategy to needs assessment, solution architecture, and management of cost-effective, creative, and innovative training products