Top Learning and Development Trends to Expect in 2020

learning and development challenges

Want to see expected trends for 2021? Check out this more up-to-date post on learning and development trends for 2021.

We here at Cognota have our fingers on the pulse. So, we’ve been looking at what learning and development trends L&D leaders should be anticipating for 2020.

One thing is certain: technology continues to play an ever-more important role. Technology has been impacting the development and delivery of learning experiences for some time. Now, L&D will also see it greatly influence the initial gathering of requests and performance measurement of the entire process. This free ebook goes into lots more detail about technology and digital transformation in learning and development.

L&D is seen as a key, strategic asset to the organization but it’s employees who will continue to call the shots in the coming year. In the employee-centric workplace, employees identify, create, assess, and drive training requests and experiences.

Rather than see this as a challenge, L&D leaders should view this as an opportunity.

Jumping off from what we’ve observed in 2019, here are the top ten learning and development trends to expect in 2020:

1. Social learning and subject matter experts

When needing to learn something, employees turn to co-workers or managers. They also turn to Google.

Think of this as “top of the funnel” learning. Employees can’t possibly expect to learn everything they need from a handful of YouTube videos or blog posts. But it gives them a better idea of what is involved in learning new skills or updating what they already know.

While L&D cannot replace all publicly-shared social network content, learning leaders can develop learning that mimics the delivery. Short, engaging video clips built by internally recognized experts can go a long way in getting employees to embrace learning.

This also means finding the internal rock stars on whom L&D can rely to help build this content. We’ve written extensively on how to source and work with these subject matter experts. In the coming year, there will be an even stronger reliance.

“Organisations believing they have the brightest and best will capitalize on these internal experts, making their core learning created “by the people for the people,'” notes Training Journal.

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Challenges will always exist. Working with experts is still one of the biggest administrative challenges for learning leaders. For one, it’s not experts’ main job responsibility to build courses. However, the introduction of new instructional design software or a methodology to help subject matter experts design training helps tremendously.

2. Increased use of AI for personalization

Not only are employees increasingly seeking job experiences that provide training, they expect the training to be relevant and customized for their learning preferences. Some employees expect an entire learning roadmap. From here, they can acquire the skills not only to perform better at their jobs but also to grow professionally.

If only it were so simple. In 2020, L&D will need to create increasingly personalized learning pathways and catering to specific learning preferences.

The only way to accomplish this in larger organizations is with automation. The technology exists for consumer-like “recommendations”—in the style of product recommendations from Amazon or movie suggestions from Netflix—to generate personalized recommendations for learners.

This relieves the L&D team of the tedious and frustrating process of manually creating custom learning programs. Thanks to the ubiquity of automated recommendation systems in today’s digital world, employees will rely on and trust these suggestions.

Recommendations “are easy to use, attractive, and lead you from place to place. And this is the paradigm many learning platform vendors are using,” notes human resources consultant Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte in his blog.

Automation can also populate each employee’s learning space or profile. Channels, Topics, Featured Content, and even chatbots that engage in live conversations with employees could all make their way into organizations in 2020.

3. Training in a blended environment

A continuing challenge for L&D leaders will be to develop training in blended environments. Employees possess varying levels of skills and experience. Additionally, they may represent different generations.

Much is written about millennials and their wish lists for learning experiences within the organization. Millennial and Gen Z workers will comprise nearly half of the total working population by 2020. However, “it’s imperative for talent development to tap into the potential—and preferences—of all learners,” notes LinkedIn’s 2019 Workplace Learning Report.

Further, most organizations today employ individuals who hold varying statuses within the organization. Employees may be full-time, part-time, long-term contract, short-term contract, or employed via an agency or third party. Whatever the designation, these employees do need training in order to continue to contribute meaningfully to the organization. L&D leaders are increasingly tasked with figuring out how to deliver training to employees with various employment statuses.

As such, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach to learning. L&D leaders will continue to meet the challenges of cultivating learning experiences for a workforce of different ages, experience levels, backgrounds, and employment statuses, and working environments throughout 2020. In this insightful webinar recording, Master Trainer, Kassy LaBorie, shares her simple, actionable, and effective tips for the perfect virtual training experience.

4. Engaged, mobile-first learning experiences

It’s not news that employees have less and less time to devote to training. According to Training Magazine’s 2018 Training Industry Report, the time employees spend on training has actually been decreasing.  

With employees spending less than one hour per week on training, L&D leaders need to get even more creative. It’s not just about getting employees to learn but also making sure that employees get the most value out of that single hour per week.

Smartphones for learning will become even more ubiquitous. Ensure that employees’ learning experiences on mobile devices are seamless, regardless of the device model, platform, or browser. L&D may find themselves working more closely with IT to ensure that devices are compatible and learner-ready to prevent snags.

While it’s long been known that small, bite-sized content chunks, with short assessments throughout will resonate more with learners, employees prefer to learn at the moment of need. According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, 49 percent of employees prefer to learn at the moment of need. Companies like Solenis are creating “Learn It Now” modules that integrate learning into the flow of work.

Another emerging challenge will be to retrofit older, popular courses for the endpoint preferences of today’s learners. L&D has already been contending with updating courses due to old content or policy changes. Now, they also need to optimize existing courses and content for viewing on the latest iPhone. A great example of a company that has managed this transition is Solenis, who recently created 1,000+ microlearning modules for its global sales team.

Corporate training departments will need to find increasingly creative ways to address the paradox of employees who want to learn but struggle to find the time to do so.


5. Standardized training intake

Technology can help much earlier in the training development process: it can help with the receiving, sorting, and evaluating of training requests. In 2020, many learning leaders will start to pay more attention to this front end of the training development process. Of all the upcoming learning and development trends, this one has the highest potential to positively impact the way you structure your L&D team and processes.

With a surge in employee interest in learning, L&D departments can quickly become overwhelmed with requests. As such, learning leaders must find a way to set priorities and decide which course to build and which will have to wait.

Requests can also help re-surface older learning content that merely needs updating to meet current needs.

To deal with the potential tsunami of training requests, L&D has begun experimenting with a training intake system or a process for receiving, evaluating, and prioritizing training requests from all employees across the organization. This standardized approach to training requests can help introduce interest in particular learning and help the L&D department to set priorities.

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6. Content curation and contingency plans

It’s impossible, of course, to fulfill all training requests. However, L&D still needs to provide the highest level of internal service possible. Devising contingency plans are a good way to help all employees with their requests.

Additionally, the current course published just a few months ago may already be obsolete.

This means that L&D managers need to source alternative training support for employees. Online universities and platforms abound, but quality and relevance vary. L&D may need to partner with these external, third-party providers to round out their training offerings and keep up with demand.

Getting ready for 2020

As has been the case in previous years, new learning technology will continue to dominate and drive the key trends L&D leaders should expect for 2020. Which learning and development trends you choose to adopt should depend very much on your organization’s current approach to training and the most strategic wins your team can earn.

What top learning and development trends are you seeing in your organization? Will 2020 be your year?

Agile Learning is another popular 2020 L&D trend. Get started with the Beginner’s Guide to Agile Learning.

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Top Learning and Development Trends to Expect in 2020