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By Dr. Rumeet Billan

Last year, much like everything else, the Learning and Development (L & D) space was forced to change. As a result of the pandemic, the mode of delivery for professional development quickly switched from classroom learning to online. However, for the most part, the structure and content for training and leadership programming was left unchanged. As a result, many learners experienced frustration, exhaustion, and pressure to balance the demands of work, life, and the expectation to develop further. 

L & D teams were reactive, as they needed to be at the beginning of pandemic, especially in the face of so much uncertainty. Many questions arose as to whether people wanted professional development during this time, whether there was capacity, and if it should even be a priority. 

The focus remained on managing time and modes of delivery versus priority management and the transfer of knowledge. We continued to perpetuate our traditional understanding of what L & D is supposed to look like, instead of what learning is supposed to feel like. 

The issue is that we were asking the wrong questions and forgetting the core purpose and function of learning. The question we were asking shouldn’t have been whether people wanted professional development or not during this time, because it was already happening.

Throughout the pandemic, including real-time world events, learning has been, and continues to occur for all of us. We are continuing to acquire new understanding, behaviours, skills, attitudes, and preferences, as a result of what we were experiencing. We are continuing to challenge our own perspectives, and change how we work, live, and interact. Whether we label it as L & D or not, it’s happening. Learning is occurring.

The trends for 2021 that L & D experts have laid out include upskilling and reskilling, the rise of microcredentials, a focus on essential skills (I refuse to call them ‘soft skills’), and of course virtual and digital learning. These are trends that we’ve been hearing about for quite some time – even before the pandemic. Interestingly, the trends haven’t changed, even though the world has.  

“It is important for L & D professionals to understand that it is a privilege for us to have a learner take time out of their day to join a session — especially with all that we have endured this past year.”

One of the key issues is that these trends continue to overlook the foundation of transformative learning which necessitates us to focus on experience. I have created award-winning leadership programs for organizations, and the success of these programs is directly related to the experience we create for participants. I am known to completely change a full day of training curriculum within 24 hours of notice. I have done this because something happened in our world, and I know our learners would be deeply impact by it, and it needs to be addressed in a way where they feel safe and can trust the experience. There is nothing cookie-cutter about leadership development. 

It is important for L & D professionals to understand that it is a privilege for us to have a learner take time out of their day to join a session – especially with all that we have endured this past year. What we do with that time is critical.

When content does not reflect real-time world events and does not respond to what learners may be experiencing, we are doing a disservice. Our content will not land, and knowledge will not transfer. A learner is giving up their time to attend a session, and as L & D professionals, it is my position that we need to ensure that we make that time valuable to them. We do this by creating transformative experiences.

Transformative learning is an art. Designing a training session is choreography – it’s a sequence that makes the learner reflect, feel, and draw connections that are applicable and practical to them. It’s an experience. 

Instead of labelling them trends, here are my L & D thoughts for 2021, and they are simple:

  1. Learning is happening whether we are planning for it or not. We have an opportunity to shape it.
  2. We don’t know what a learner may be experiencing personally and/or professionally. 
  3. Real-time content, design, and delivery is non-negotiable.
  4. Content is content. Focus on the experience. 

If we want to get really nitty gritty, if I may for a moment, I will add that webinars should not be longer than 45 minutes, long gone are the days of the single 15 minute break in between 3 hours of training, and professional development sessions should end no later than 3:00 p.m. (and I am being generous with 3:00 p.m.). Backed by research and experience, but for another time.

The future of learning should look and feel different. We should be intentionally redefining the traditional notion of L & D, how we design and deliver content, and how a learner experiences training and development. Just as Disney creates a beautifully choregraphed, exclusively curated, and brilliantly executed experience for their visitors, L & D teams should be at the forefront of creating these types of experiences for their learners, too.

About Dr. Rumeet Billan

Dr. Rumeet Billan is the Chief Learning Architect at Viewpoint Leadership Inc. She completed her PhD at the University of Toronto and has designed and facilitated programs, courses, and training sessions across industries and sectors. She led the groundbreaking national research study on Tall Poppy Syndrome and co-led the Canadian Happiness at Work study in partnership with CMHA. In 2020, Dr. Billan was named one of Canada’s Top 10 Power Women. Learn more at  www.rumeetbillan.com