Four Learning & Professional Development Trends

As Learning and Development practitioners, our jobs are evolving. We’ve become true partners who lead with business acumen and leverage our learning and organizational development expertise to drive measurable impacts. We use an evolving tech stack to drive learning engagement, and we’ve moved way beyond basic job training into leadership development, teaching modern soft skills and helping reinforce company culture. Here are four key trends I see for learning, instructional design, and professional development going forward:

1. Make Better Use of Technology & Data

Technology and data are becoming more and more part of the job that we have to perform. I’ve worked with Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Learning Experience Platforms (LXP) for almost 20 years. I’ve seen them transform and become more powerful. Thankfully, they’ve also become more user friendly, and intuitive, and are able to capture and leverage information in ways we previously couldn’t.

The move to digital learning has been swift—especially in the last few months as shelter in place orders have required employees to work from home. Many companies are rethinking the training they used to do in-person, especially as they may not have the luxury of having everyone in the office at the same time for years to come.

We’re moving from leveraging SCORM for well over a decade to Experience API (xAPI or Tin Can), and that’s really exciting. Experience API allows for more robust tracking and enables you to record just about any learning experience imaginable. It’s also extremely flexible and works well both inside and outside of an LMS or LXP.

Data is also critically important. At a most basic level, course completion data helps track your regulatory requirements for mandatory training and allows you to see learners’ progress as you path them through a digital experience. Assessment data allows you to measure knowledge transferred and when analyzed at the question level, provides insight into opportunities for reinforcement and revisions to course content or test questions. The NPS (Net Promoter Score) helps you gauge their ‘customer’ experience—was it a quality training, would they recommend it to a friend, did it impart practical knowledge? 

Performance and HR data is critical when it comes to identifying learning opportunities and measuring the effectiveness of learning experiences. I tend to work with business owners in areas like HR, Sales and Operations to identify existing and easily accessible metrics that tie directly (or as directly as possible) to learning objectives. Data analytics is becoming increasingly necessary in building cases for investing in new learning solutions and justifying existing ones. 

Culture surveys also have a role to play. Companies might be doing a formal annual engagement survey, or they might be using pulse surveys to get immediate feedback on a certain topic. Now survey-type insights are popping up in surprising places: we implemented Emtrain’s harassment prevention training which collects employee sentiment and delivers it back in a report so our leadership see how we’re doing on our workplace culture. We decided to use them for our cybersecurity training and to use their course to roll out our Code of Conduct too. Those provide insights on employees’ decision making and ethics, data we aren’t likely to get easily elsewhere.

2. Get Comfortable with Transparency

Company leaders need to get much more comfortable with transparency. Glassdoor is more than 10 years oldit has 60 million unique monthly visitors and they provide information on one million employers. Our company, colleagues and CEOs are being publicly rated by our employees all the time. Then factor in internal chat channels and external social media: whatever is happening within your company is going to be known pretty quickly. The more we collect survey data, the more we need to make it transparent for all to see and act on it.

I’m personally very comfortable with it. In fact, transparency has been listed as a value at some of the companies I’ve worked at: “to be transparent with one another.” Just to be open, and honest, and see how people really feel. Real-time feedback that is shared collectively puts your organization on its front foot: it either makes you say, “Hey, we’re doing pretty good.” And you give yourself a collective pat on the back, or we say, “Oh, boy, this is an opportunity area right here.” Sometimes it hits you right in the face. But you can move very quickly and address the issue and people respect and appreciate it when you do.

3. Prepare your Leaders for the Modern Era

If you’re not offering leadership development as a company, then you’re really doing your company and your employees a disservice. It’s essential. It’s become the expectation. Even if you’re a smaller company, you have to find ways to give your employees those opportunities. I’ve seen it firsthand, if you don’t offer it, you hear about it in your engagement surveys. People are very loud and clear. It can impact your retention and employee satisfaction rates, which then impacts your bottom line.

The way you offer it will vary obviously, depending on budget, and size of the company. But nonetheless, even in a smaller company, you have to get very creative. Have people take free online courses. Have people read (or listen to) books, and have a book club discussion. Leverage business social media sites or discussion forums to continue the conversation and learning experience asynchronously. Share useful articles and podcasts via a bi-weekly or monthly digital newsletter. Build a more holistic approach using several of these approaches at once. They’re fairly low budget ways of implementing leadership development programs that people find valuable. 

I believe some of the key topics are interpersonal relationships, influencing others, coaching, emotional intelligence, and unconscious bias. These competencies and skills are critical to the success of every leader, regardless of function or industry. All employees need emotional intelligence so they can be more collaborative with their colleagues, and better serve our customers. Leaders need unconscious bias training so they can manage and retain diverse teams.

Training around emotional intelligence is really important, but you don’t always have an opportunity to do it. It may not be high on the priority list to specifically say, “Okay. We’re going to spend several days discussing emotional intelligence, and we want you to become experts on the topic.”

What I have done that has been pretty successful is to take key elements of emotional intelligence—for example the concept of empathy—and incorporate it into other business training. When we were training our business partners, we reinforced empathy as a skill to better serve our customers. We asked them to treat our customers like they were their grandmother, mother, or next-door neighbor. If you take that mentality, you’re going to treat people differently, and you’re going to show them a lot more respect. You’re going to do right by them. 

It’s actually a great instructional strategy. The learning gets embedded, and continually reinforced. Rather than saying, “Oh yeah, I took this class on emotional intelligence a week ago or a year ago, and I remember a little bit about it,” if you weave it through everything you do, it becomes second nature. People internalize it, and it has a lasting impact. You’re increasing learning retention rates as a result because you’re getting people to think about themselves and how to put themselves in somebody else’s shoes. It’s less about “doing emotional intelligence training,” and more about finding ways to incorporate it into other learning experiences, wherever appropriate. It can have a really positive impact.  

4. Build Community and Build Culture

Part of the evolving role for those of us in learning and organizational development is helping to reinforce the company culture. This is another example of learning that can take place in several areas. You obviously have to roll out your mission, vision and values, and incorporate that into a formal communication, learning experience, and possibly an event. We stepped it up this year by using Emtrain’s Code of Conduct online training, which is really focused on inspiring employees to build healthy company culture and allows us to include our mission statement, our vision and our values, along with a video of our leader explaining why they’re so important to the business’ success.

But it’s not just one and done, on an annual basis. You really have to take a blended or holistic approach to it. Where else can you incorporate your values, where can you incorporate multiple topics within one really necessary business-oriented training? Look for opportunities to weave your culture into all learning experiences you create.

I also leverage social learning to enhance learning and reinforce culture. People often learn more from their peers than they do from formal learning experiences. That’s why the book or course discussion groups are so effective – people read, view or listen to the same content and have a chance to hear a range of perspectives. They can ask and answer each other’s questions, debate, and share personal examples that deepen the learning. They also get to know their colleagues in a way they may not otherwise. Social learning builds a relationship and helps weave a layer into the fabric that builds community, and ultimately culture.

At the end of the day, we’re here to help facilitate the learning journey. It’s all about building a learning culture. When you do that, you really unlock a huge amount of potential and knowledge capital within a company.

Chris Powers
View bio

Stay up to date with our blog posts!