Predictions for the world of learning, education and personal development in 2021

In keeping with a loose tradition that I’ve cultivated over the last few years, I present the latest installment in my “Predictions for the world of learning, education and development in 2021”.

Now when I sat down this time in 2019 to share my predictions for 2020, I never imagined we would get the year we did. But, I mean, who did, right?

Nearly all of my predictions for next year are in one way or another a by-product of the ashes of the 2020 experience. I’m not a prophet of the learning industry, so I don’t know if any of these will come full circle.

However, from current trends, observations in the industry and conversations with peers across the industry. These are my predictions for the world of learning, education and personal development.

We’re going to re-evaluate what a career means

The pandemic has re-shaped and sadly destroyed a number of industries across 2020.

Couple this with the necessity for remote working for almost all workforces and we have entered an entirely new way of working. We’re pretty much in a working revolution right now, and with this many are starting to re-evaluate what a career means to them.

Whether the reflection has been forced through an unfortunate event of redundancy, the death of a loved one or an awakening in the face of a potentially human ending event – many of us are asking, what do we really want from our career?

Additional time with loved ones, the absence of hellish commutes and improved wellbeing has given rise already to many people changing careers or at the very least, looking to make a change in 2021.

Could this be the year we evolve the idea of a career and what it means to us?

It’s the skills that pay the bills… and I need more of them

With industries falling and long careers disappearing overnight, it’s become clear that being good or only knowing how to do one thing isn’t enough in the modern world.

In days gone by, it’s been possible to build a rewarding and long career with one focused skill but now, not so much. On a global scale, we’re all seeing the need to invest in our skills and build breadth as well as depth (or become T-shaped as my agile friends would say).

We saw almost immediately when industries were being bombarded by effects of the pandemic, that people focused on acquiring new skills to try to future proof their career. 

And, we’re going to see more of this in 2021.

More of us are hungry to build a diverse skill-set and we’ll be looking at how our employers invest in us so we can better navigate future events.

Digital will play a bigger role but we must find balance

Ok, so the pandemic basically turned the always mentioned digital disruption into a core part of life.

With the disruption no more, we’ll all be spending more time in 2021 integrating all of the cool digital tech we’ve come to rely upon in and outside of the workplace into our daily flow.

Yet, because we’ve become somewhat more symbiotic with tech, this means that we must invest even more in the human side. With all the Zoom calls and online activities of 2020 has come the loss of the essential human touch.

I believe in 2021 we’ll be trying to find that balance of human and digital that works for most of us.

The classroom will be reshaped again

Right, we’ve all been hearing for years that the classroom is dead and it’s the enemy of learning and education. Now, it’s not quite died but it has been changing and in 2021, I believe this will accelerate.

As I spend my day to day in workplace performance and learning, I’m going to focus on this industry as it’s what I know. I would imagine that the traditional education model for schools might change too, but who knows?

I hope the 4 walled dungeon where many a person has succumbed to insanely useless so called “learning experiences” will disappear and instead we’ll move to build experiences across communities to connect and share knowledge.

I’ve started to see this move at a few organisations already. Where traditional classroom experiences have been torn apart and turned into communities of practice and innovation sessions.

The goal of these has been to create a community connection, a safe space where people can learn from each other, practice what they know and walk away with stuff they can apply in their daily flow.

Workplace L&D will shift to performance engineering

Right, this is more of a hope than “I think this will happen” but I’d like to see corporate L&D teams evolve into performance engineering teams and away from the traditional fluffy, tick box, nice to have but not essential approach and not being valued.

One of the most read pieces that I wrote last year was all around how workplace learning teams can define what they do in their business and to their colleagues. I recommended a move away from the L&D moniker and instead to adopt a new philosophy of performance engineering.

Performance engineering is a philosophy that biasedly I am an advocate of as I think it’s really what L&D teams do and it’s the best way to describe what value you bring to your CEO, colleagues and even friends.

I could rattle on forever about this, but to save this list from becoming a book, why not check out everything I have to say about L&D evolving to performance engineering in this full A-Z post.

We’ll make better use of existing workplace tech 

Again, I’m really hoping this one pans out in 2021.

The learning, education and HR industry in general is bloated with so much digital tech. It’s just ridiculous to look at how many tools are available to do the smallest of things.

I feel like 2020 has shown us a lot in what we can do with what we’ve already got. With the overnight digital transformation, we all magically discovered suites of tools that we’ve had access to for years but never used before.

The more conversations I have with my peers, the more it’s clear that a lot of them are amazed at just how much access to great tech they already had. This makes me think that more of us we’ll make better use of existing workplace tech now we recognise the access we have.

As I say, the industry is littered with lots of tech (with a lot of it being the same thing with a different branding) so I hope in 2021 we’ll take the approach of mindfully applying the tech we do have, and only acquiring new tech which provides a clear purpose.

The digital skills evolution will accelerate

What once was a “We’re going to need to look at this at some point” has now become a “We need this right now”.

Overnight, large parts of our society had to get to grips with digital tech like Zoom, Office 365, MS Teams and Slack to name a few. Although many have been forced to understand the bare basics, they still don’t know how to fully use these tools.

I think we’ll see the acceleration of evolving skills with digital tech not just in the workplace but across all of our society over the next 12 months.

Perhaps this might just lead us to a more focused skills mentality. One where we are often assessing what’s expiring, what’s evolving and what’s emerging.


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