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Learning & Development Blog

2021 learning and development trends

Learning and Development Trends for 2021

Writing about trends coming off the year 2020 feels precarious and hasty. Can we, at this moment, safely say that we are heading in any general direction? Maybe not, but one critical lesson 2020 taught us is that we must be comfortable acting with speed and urgency. Given that, let’s assume straight away that acting with speed and urgency will be a trend that continues into the new year.

What does acting with speed and urgency mean for learning and development teams? For inspiration, let’s look at some examples from 2020.

  • COVID-19 Safety Training. During the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, a manufacturing client turned to the Dashe team to help quickly launch a robust yet flexible digital course for COVID-19 safety training. Using the RISE platform, Dashe was able to build a minimum viable product within days, allowing the client to focus on keeping their employees safe during the pandemic. Dashe immediately established an iterative process with the client, knowing that the content was being defined as we were building the course. To accelerate the course build process, Dashe focused the design on a minimal number of features required for launch of the course and used rapid iteration to deliver that. Once built, Dashe was able to seamlessly hand off the course to the client’s learning and development team so they could continuously provide updated COVID-19 safety instructions to employees.
  • Workforce Transformation Product Training. While preparing for a large-scale workforce transformation launch, Dashe’s client recognized a gap in product knowledge, training, and performance support. Affected associates needed to quickly bolster their product knowledge—from deep knowledge of one product line to broad knowledge of all product lines—while also transitioning to new roles. Having fully utilized their internal learning and development team to support other aspects of the transformation, the client partnered with Dashe to assess and design a product training and performance support solution. Because the client had previously developed day-in-the-life maps for the associates’ new roles, Dashe was able to quickly establish empathy with the learner audience and ideate on solutions. Then, being in a position to use the client’s subject matter experts’ time wisely, Dashe was able to prototype and iterate on feasible and viable designs to deliver just the right amount of product training and performance support content at the right time.
  • Online Teaching and Learning. Online learning accelerated its pace in 2020, and several of Dashe’s clients rose to the next level. In one case, an insurance and financial services client piloted an eight-week virtual, cohort-based course for sales leaders. This client understood that sales leaders wanted a way to connect with other sales leaders and to learn from each other while also honing new leadership soft skills. Dashe worked with the client’s team to define a durable set of soft skills on which to focus and to design a blended eight-week program. Dashe then partnered with the client to pilot the program and incorporate audience feedback throughout the eight-week course. By the end of the pilot, the client had an effective virtual, cohort-based format from which to build additional learning programs. The sales leaders involved in the pilot were delighted by the opportunity to learn in this way, to build often overlooked soft skills like storytelling and overcoming bias, and to help design an effective and engaging virtual program format.

Another Dashe client successfully transformed a highly engaging in-person sales course to a virtual format. The primary challenge in this transformation was bringing the popular collaborative, competition-based activities to life in a virtual environment. The transformation needed to happen quickly to support new cohorts of learners. Using Storyline and visually engaging graphics and animations, Dashe was able to use the content from the in-person course to create activities that participant teams could complete in breakout rooms while also completing with the larger cohort.

  • Staff Augmentation. For a variety of reasons, several of Dashe’s long-time clients turned to us for temporary L&D resources. Knowing each client’s culture, Dashe was able to quickly offer high-performing consultants—often consultants our clients have worked with on previous projects—to augment their teams. By turning to a trusted source, these clients were able to quickly relieve stresses on internal teams and meet urgent staffing and project deliverable needs.




Insights to Take into 2021

While efforts to eliminate COVID-19 continue, organizations will need to continue improving communication with employees to deliver meaningful experiences at a distance. This includes ways to deliver the peripheral value of being physically present in a workplace: knowledge transfer, soft skills, hands-on experience, and social capital.

The organizations that flourish in 2021 will have solid skilling strategies in place and employees who’ve sharpened their current skills and built new ones to meet changing demands. Reflecting on our experiences partnering with clients in 2020 offers several learning and development insights for the new year. Honing our empathy skills remains at the top of the list as well as the skills needed to respond with speed and urgency. We’ve also discovered a few foundational tools and techniques that help ready Dashe and our clients for success.

  • Day-in-the-life Maps. The best way to establish empathy with learners is to observe them, interview them, and walk a day in their shoes. Then, use the knowledge you gain to develop day-in-the-life maps for each workforce role you support. These maps will become the foundation for quickly assessing needs and gaps and knowing how to best upskill and reskill the workforce when changes arise.
  • Minimum Viable Products. Minimum viable products (MVPs) allow you to test your understanding of what is needed without using significant resources to develop a full product. Focus on a minimal number of features for launch, so you can start to build mission-critical faster. Practice defining and building minimum viable products now. Developing these skills will propel your design and build efforts when needed. Additionally, you will likely develop a set of MVP templates that will further accelerate your ability to respond quickly and urgently.
  • Agile Performance Support. Performance support is an excellent way to increase productivity and performance and enable agile knowledge sharing and skill building. Ensure you have the skills to build a variety of performance support solutions, including online and offline deliverables. Doing so will help ensure that your solutions speed employee time to performance and increase accuracy with a minimum amount of intervention or formal training. Often, performance support might be the only viable solution when employees, new or existing, must begin to perform immediately and training is not feasible.
  • Online Teaching Skills. Hone your online teaching skills so you are prepared to develop and deliver online programs that create a sense of presence. Studies show that social presence, both of the facilitator and the participants, is a significant predictor of engagement and learning retention in an online environment. Develop the knowledge and skills to establishing integrated, social learning communities and deliver the peripheral value of being physically present in a workplace. Here are a few resources we have found particularly helpful.
  • Daily L&D Team Huddles. If you haven’t already, implement daily learning and development team huddles. We’ve found daily huddles to be the life force (honestly, a team’s superpower!) for delivering with speed and urgency. Daily huddles allow team members to ask for, get, and offer help on a daily basis. Have project managers run the huddles. They will often prompt team members with questions related to timelines and deliverables. We found that it took a month or so to get in the groove, but once established, these daily huddles are almost never missed.
  • Staff Augmentation. Call us. Seriously. We are here to help in any way you need—from assigning one of our L&D resources for weeks or months to writing a script to just showing up and taking on the slack so you can focus on other aspects of your job. Read more here.
  • Interpersonal Skill Development. At the beginning of 2020, the World Economy Forum released their Jobs of Tomorrow report, announcing a global skilling emergency—with interpersonal skills being equally important to technical skills. This will still be true in 2021, and beyond. L&D teams that flourish will be those who predict and identify interpersonal skills gaps and needs and help employees build these skills. Read more about the importance of soft skills here. In 2020, we saw clients tackle and solve real problems by bolstering human-centered skills like empathy, storytelling, and recognizing and overcoming bias. We expect to see the need for more of the same in 2021.

As 2020 closes, we know that we must enter 2021 comfortable acting with speed and urgency. The success stories from 2020 give us inspiration and insights for doing just that. Keep a clear perspective on your learners’ day-in-the-life story and the skills they need so you can help equip the future workforce to play the long game.


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