September 14, 2021

6 Learning Trends and How to Put Them to Work

Employee doing e-learning with videochat screens illustration

The pandemic has shone a spotlight on certain trends that were emerging in early 2020, many of which have accelerated in virtually every field. The current trends that learning and development (L&D) professionals and innovators should expect may reflect 2020 and offer a look toward the next normal.

In this article, you’ll find the list of trends followed by a few tips and tricks on how to put them into practice in your L&D program.


Several industries thrived in this grand experiment in which employees shifted from offices to their homes. However, the preference, even for up-and-coming Generation Z, is really for flexibility, and even in the midst of quarantines and isolation, many companies haven’t fully adopted a work-from-home model. Some essential employees must still be on site, and executives may still travel. And select companies have been creative in allowing their workforce to gather in person by setting up outdoor workspaces.


  • Expand your training toolbox and help employees succeed—work in the next normal will likely involve a hybrid work environment, and both front- and back-end technology can ease remote onboarding and engagement.
  • Build resiliency with soft skills training—working together in this hybrid environment can be greatly improved with training around empathy, communication, conflict resolution and more.
  • Upskill and reskill—the proliferation of digital technology means that staff must keep abreast of the latest tools to ensure a connected, efficient workplace.


With the advent of 5G technology, more areas across the nation and the globe can support remote work and experiential platforms, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Implications for learning include more immediate and immersive experiences; an improved ability to meet employees where they are; and the ability to go deeper with content, environment and virtual “shoulder-to-shoulder” instruction. Zoom fatigue is showing us that video calls are not sufficient, especially when it comes to creating a virtual classroom, and is one reason organizations will increasingly rely on AR and VR.



In 2021, developing an enterprise-wide digital acumen will prove to be the antidote to some of the continued disruption, such as the increase in workload, broadening of job responsibilities and new skill requirements. Often, disruption isn’t about competition; rather, it comes from within. The same transformation that is creating growth for companies can also provide growth for employees by offering career development, wellness and other benefits to help with the increase in work. Evolving learning programs, in step with broader corporate evolution, can inspire employees, resulting in retention and growth.


  • Embrace outside-in thinking— in our most recent survey of L&D professionals, respondents placed nearly as much focus on external factors as they did on internal ones to build their L&D.
  • Learn what skills will be needed—Millennials and Gen-Z workers are changing the workplace, and your L&D program should keep pace.
  • Leverage experiential tech like AR to boost productivity—with this innovative technology, organizations can realize tangible improvements to employee productivity.


Learning organizations must adapt along with their workforce to the quickly evolving world, shifting to new areas of demand. Beyond the pandemic, there will be a substantial need for L&D to bring new workers up to speed rapidly and to diversify the skills of existing employees.

As technology fatigue sets in, learning can show the way to combat it. Chief executive officers will increasingly rely on their L&D teams to shore up their organization’s skills to address the disruptive challenges from the market without hiring large numbers of new personnel. As a result, learning and development teams will need to be ready with new training programs, some of which organizations may not have needed in the past. As training programs step away from video team apps, L&D leverage more innovative ways to connect and collaborate.


  • Take the lead with immersive tech—AR applications vary from customer service and support to sales and demonstration to staff and customer engagement.
  • Watch for blind spots—make sure to keep pace with technology and trends, even those outside of learning, to innovate in your program.


Organizations that were already on the path to digital transformation had a head start last year, but learning departments have the opportunity to take the lead. Tapping into digital platforms is half the battle, and the other is knowing how to learn — not necessarily a given for companies and teams focused on digital transformation without an embedded learning component.

As innovators know, being agile — experimenting as a way of working — is only successful if learning is built into the process. Moving fast just to move fast doesn’t create value if insights aren’t carried over from one iteration to the next. Therefore, learning isn’t just a department; it is a state of mind and a requirement for continued innovation and success.

Long-term trends and the nature of the current historical moment point to one conclusion: L&D will be critically important to companies navigating the post-COVID world, where success will hinge largely on the ability to adapt rapidly to unpredictable forces. No one will be able to tell L&D leaders in advance which new programs their companies might need; however, the need will be great, and timelines will be short.


  • Try innovations like text-based learning and group VR—amid disruptions, shorter bursts of learning and hands-on technology can increase retention and help your staff to learn in the flow of work.
  • Consider MicroMasters—these graduate-level courses emerged out of the pandemic, as well as in response to the ‘war for talent,’ labor shortages and the question of whether a college degree is needed to enter the qualified workforce.


Setting up a COVID-19 learning response team, a solution that McKinsey wrote early in the pandemic, is still relevant. Alternatively, you can embed learning scenario planning into the company’s response efforts rather than have a separate workstream dedicated to training. A variety of cross-functional stakeholders are required to respond, and consistency in protocols is critical for precautions to be effective. You can’t be planning for potential in-person programs if no one is allowed in your building, for example. And since learning return on investment (ROI) is highest when training is tied to business metrics, it’s important to mirror the shifts in priorities that are occurring at that strategic level. With data shifting daily, you want to stay on top of the latest information and be prepared to pivot in tandem with the business leaders you serve.


  • Link L&D to business outcomes and processes—learning is not a ‘nice to have’ but an essential business function that brings tangible, measurable value to organizations.

While the pandemic has changed a lot about the way we do business, we can always expect more adjustments. The sooner your L&D department leans into fears about the future, the sooner organizations can right the ship. “Transformation” as an abstract concept has been replaced by concrete examples of how our world is changing in real time. To embrace the lessons the pandemic has offered us, it is time to move from learning as a department to learning as a way of working.

For more information, you can get practical advice on how L&D can shape the future of work. Our “Finding the New Normal” report is a collection of insights from business experts on the role of L&D making an impact in the midst of change and innovation.



enterprise learning & development 2022 report