Learning and development challenges for 2021 – are you ready?

Emerald Works' Natalie Benfell takes a look back at this past year, and discusses what lies ahead for 2021!

Written by Natalie Benfell
Published 11 December 2020
Learning and development challenges for 2021 – are you ready?

So, 2020 is quickly coming to an end, and for many of us, it’s a sigh of relief! Instead of pledging to eat more salads, or insisting we’ll actually use that extortionate gym membership, it’s simply the start of a new year that has got people motivated.  

It’s fair to say that this year has come with its fair number of challenges for individuals, organizations, and industries. And the L&D community is no exception. 

Many people are looking to 2021 as a lifeline – a way to escape this year and leave all our hardships behind. Unfortunately, we know it won’t be plain sailing, as we’ll still need to adapt to the pandemic into the new year and beyond. So, what can we expect from the year ahead? 

As we begin to enter the next phase of work, we take a look at what challenges you might face next year, and what you’ll need to face 2021 head-on. But before we look at what lies ahead, let’s recap on the year so far, and how it’s changed our approach and attitude to learning. 


1. A shift in the way we learn 

Although more people have adapted to using online and virtual learning in recent years, 2020 forced many of us to rely solely on technology and virtual platforms for learning and development. Many of us for the very first time! 

With face-to-face learning no longer an option, online learning has never been so essential. And with many offices closed, organizations had to rapidly adapt their L&D strategy. Even a simple visit to a colleague a few desks over was no longer an option, so even informal learning had to change.  

This forced us all to move our communication practices online, whether delivering training sessions over Zoom, or relying more heavily on email and instant messaging to get the answers we need. This led to more organizations investing in now essential L&D and virtual platforms. 

2. Improved soft-skills 

As well as investing in technology, many businesses recognised the need to protect their employee's well-being during the pandemic.  

Self-care, mental health and resilience resources proved popular with our learners during this time, as individuals learned how to care for themselves during the pandemic, and managers learned how to support them. 

3. Adapting and upskilling 

If this year taught us anything, it’s that everything can change in a blink of an eye. 2020 forced many of us to think on our feet, adapt, and face challenges head-on.  

Because of these changes, upskilling and adaptability are a top priority for many learners this year. With a level of uncertainty lingering throughout 2020, many learners used this time to upskill – from keeping up with changes in their industry to bridging gaps in their knowledge, and learning new skills.  

Gearing up for 2021 

1. Keeping it virtual 

As we wait for the vaccines to roll out across the globe, many of us wonder if this will mean an eventual return to the office? And while it’s possible some may return to their place of work, it’s more likely that it won’t be business as usual – at least for a while.  

Social distancing measures are likely to remain for the foreseeable future, so while you might get back to your workplace, it’s unlikely it will be at the same time as all your colleagues.  

This means that virtual platforms will still be key when it comes to training, communicating, and collaborating with others. So, don’t cancel your Zoom subscription just yet, we’ve still got a way to go! 

2. Adapting and using what you have 

Even before the pandemic, “L&D is a nice to have” was a familiar phrase heard in our industry. And even though L&D proved to be an essential part of dealing with COVID-19, the uncertainty of the pandemic caused many organizations to tighten their purse strings, leaving many L&D departments with a smaller budget this year.  

But don’t dismay, it’s all about prioritizing what your learners need most. The chances are you’ll have a lot of what you need – from virtual platforms to wellbeing resources. Just make sure you’re investing in what you most need, and make good and effective use of the tools you already have in-house. 

3. Motivating, learning and upskilling 

With any luck, we’ll start to see positive steps towards normality in 2021. But as we know, the final stretch can be the hardest. We’re all emotionally exhausted from the change and uncertainty of 2020, so keeping employees engaged and motivated is key.  

Make sure you’re providing access to helpful resources, encouraging collaboration between team members, and offering opportunities for upskilling. Do that and you’ll keep people engaged! 

If you’re looking for new ways to support your employees through this time, you can still access our COVID-19 support pack for free, here. 

About the author

Natalie Benfell

Natalie Benfell

Content and Product Marketing Manager
Natalie is a passionate marketeer with over seven years of marketing experience. She enjoys copywriting, creative problem-solving and helping to build a strong brand presence.

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