2020: A transformational year for learning

Amidst the turmoil and tragedy, Agata Nowakowska has found some of the positives from last year. 

The pandemic and resultant lockdowns have offered a remarkable catalyst for change almost everywhere – Learning and Development included. As the workforce transitioned to operating remotely, consumption of learning content increased exponentially.

The challenges were significant and across the world, widespread training was needed to help many workers pivot to the skills required to collaborate in a virtual setting.

This experience of working through a pandemic has helped crystallise attitudes to learning, and central to this is the belief among many that a commitment to learning is a mindset. In contrast to traditional motivations, such as to complete a degree, diploma, certification or meet a job requirement, a learning mindset is now part of – and integral to – continued growth.

A seismic shift

And just as individuals are shifting their perspective, so are organisations. Skills are fast becoming fluid, with even the most focused capabilities in areas such as technology and compliance constantly changing.

Think of it this way: some of today’s most sought after skills – like search engine optimisation, big data analysis, chatbot programming, and more – didn’t exist just ten or twenty years ago. Who can predict with absolute certainty what skillsets employers will require ten years from now?

Without doubt, the most successful enterprises don’t think of learning as a discrete function that sits apart from strategic priorities or business goals. 

If nothing else, this should reinforce the need among everyone to be open-minded about learning and work on the basis that continual development and improvement is a useful investment of time.

As a result, many organisations and their leaders are making a renewed commitment to learning. Without doubt, the most successful enterprises don’t think of learning as a discrete function that sits apart from strategic priorities or business goals.

Neither do they see it as merely a role for human resources or a once-a-year box-ticking exercise. Instead, they embrace learning for the integrated and pivotal role it plays in their short- and long-term success.

For instance, offering employees access to continual learning makes an organisation a more positive place, because when a company invests in the growth of its employees, they feel valued and rewarded. This approach ensures that a commitment to learning and a belief in the benefits it delivers is a win-win for everyone involved.

But, in the context of these developments and the pressures created by the pandemic, where are the biggest changes in learning taking place?

According to recent research, among the wide variety of trends seen by those delivering and accessing learning tools, services and content has been the growing emphasis on the development of “power skills,” including agility, communication, resilience, and adaptability.


A particularly interesting feature of the learning landscape in the last year, they are valuable and applicable across industries, departments, and disciplines, enabling individuals and organisations to be successful in challenging times.

More specifically, analysis of learning behaviours across more than 1.1m unique learners during 2020 underlines the sheer scale and pace of change. It revealed which skills are most in-demand across a range of topic areas, from business and digital resilience, to technology, with some fascinating growth trends, including:

  • 652% growth in agile software development
  • 552% growth in encouraging team communication and collaboration
  • 407% growth in trust building through effective communication
  • 367% overall global increase in use of diversity, equity, and inclusion content

The nuance behind these headline trends is also important. Digging deeper into the use of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) courses and content, for instance, reveals vital insight into whether organisations who claim to be committed to improvement are matching words with action.

A new social contract

And while this is about doing what’s right for a modern, inclusive society, employers should also note that it’s good for business. A Gartner study, ‘Diversity and Inclusion Build High-Performance Teams, predicts that, ‘through 2022, 75% of organisations with frontline decision-making teams reflecting a diverse and inclusive culture will exceed their financial targets’.

As we look ahead, working remotely has its challenges, but many people appreciate greater flexibility and in many organisations there appears to be a new social contract between organisations and individuals. Expectations are that employers will afford the workforce greater flexibility and autonomy, while concurrently investing in holistic employee experiences with opportunities for learning and growth at the centre.

This bodes well for the future of learning, and will help deliver an element of positive change from a situation of extreme uncertainty, hardship and loss. It’s important to maintain the momentum which has delivered change more quickly than anyone could have imagined, but this year has the potential to be another positive step for everyone with an interest in L&D.


About the author

Agata Nowakowska is AVP EMEA at Skillsoft


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