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What’s Next for L+D? The Past, Present, and Future of Training in a Hybrid World

By Maria LeisterFebruary 3, 2023July 14th, 2023No Comments7 min read

When you look at the working world we live in today, it looks pretty different than three, five, or seven years ago. There’s an enhanced focus on technology and new digital solutions, ensuring data is influencing decision making where possible and optimizing efforts across an enterprise. The traditional 9-to-5 role, five days a week now looks a bit more hybrid, and there is information easily accessible and seemingly everywhere. The pandemic’s influence remains as people have new outlooks on their careers and the direction they want or need to take when it comes to short and long-term growth. 62 percent of employees believe that learning is instrumental to success in their career, making now the optimal time to engage employees with enhanced learning and development (L+D) programs.

Where We’re Coming From

Until very recently, L+D programs were held in person at a specific time and place dictated by Human Resources because they usually required an outside training specialist. This may include spending a full day or several hours over the course of a few days with a group of employees. These lessons were delivered alongside a PowerPoint or paper handouts. Hands-on activities were limited to the conference room where training was taking place. Because any given space can only hold so many people, sessions were often broken down into several groups by title level or department, giving attendees fewer opportunities to engage with those outside their level or typical work flow.

The content itself tended to be more theoretical than practical in nature and applied to a broad swath of people, though there were certainly exceptions. Most addressed challenges employees might face in a traditional work environment, not a virtual or hybrid one. The individuals who participated in pre-pandemic L+D programs were either required to do so or were set on a specific career path that necessitated the training. There were not many opportunities to personalize a learning path, which meant that employees had to wade through materials that they were less than passionate about.

This training format was good enough when the world was changing at a slower pace, employees predominantly worked in physical office spaces, workplace benefits weren’t a priority, and the labor market was less competitive. But times have changed and new modalities of delivering development resources have emerged as a result. Fully in-person L+D programs are a thing of the past as we shift towards a more hybrid approach in line with what employees want and need.

Where We’re Going

While in-person learning experiences can be valuable for reinforcing lessons and opening up opportunities for collaboration, the future of L+D is at least partially digital because portability and accessibility have become incredibly important. Shifting to a virtual world during the Covid-19 pandemic made it clear that online and even asynchronous training programs could work as well or even better than in-person ones. The change forced us to think creatively about how to deliver content in ways that’s both engaging and effective for a remote workforce. Lessons must be approachable and meaningful, otherwise it is all too easy to close the tab or tune out. Existing L+D programs are already starting to incorporate interactive elements and exercises that can be practiced throughout the workday. Interactive videos, quizzes with real-time feedback, online worksheets, group chat rooms, and other tools are becoming the norm.

L+D programs will also become more personalized in the coming years. One-track careers are no longer common—almost everyone has a unique professional trajectory that might involve many different roles or companies between their first job and retirement. Training needs to be tailored accordingly for it to remain relevant and useful. Bringing the right content to the right people is paramount.

The reasons employees pursue learning opportunities will continue to change as well. Some may want to advance within their current department, but an increasing number of people are making career jumps that require full or partial retraining. New technology emerging in almost every industry also necessitates learning new skills. L+D programs will need to be able to quickly adapt to provide the most salient lessons for the modern workforce.

How to Get There

Our world is changing at an accelerating rate and thoughtfully implemented training programs can help organizations keep pace by equipping employees with the skills they need to succeed. L+D programs today and into the future need to be highly actionable. This means connecting theories or different ways of thinking to the workplace and teaching people skills that they can apply immediately—not just when they become a senior executive ten years down the road. It’s one thing to get employees excited about a new idea but another to make sure they’re able to use it. If nothing is applicable in the near-term, the excitement learners feel will begin to ebb away because action feels out of reach, which can be discouraging.

Those who lead or initiate L+D programs need to think about what role the training plays in each participant’s career. Is it a stepping stone for another job? Or something that will be used in a current one? If employers understand what’s in it for their employees, they can make learning more attractive to them and generate energy around actually putting that training into practice. This can help show employees that their company is invested in them and wants what they want, which may eventually improve retention rates in a competitive talent market.

With the evolution of companies weave L&D into their talent acquisition and retention strategy, ensuring that people feel supported to take the time to participate in training will be vital. There is still burnout looming on the horizon as employees shift and take on different types of work than their initial job descriptions. L&D opportunities should be adding – rather than feeling like “one more thing” on their plates – to their day to day and beyond.

The market is ever-changing. Taking a beat to highlight the role of learning and development and how the organization supports it will go a long way for employees; be sure to emphasize the details and information so all can attend as they’re able (like in person or virtual, timing, any registration requirements, etc.)  It’s up to organizations and their leaders to evaluate what needs to be added, changed, or addressed to meet the needs of a new generation of employees. It will always come down to meeting people where they are, with a skill that takes them where they need or want to be.

Maria Leister is an Associate Director at strategy execution and leadership development firm Kotter where she is involved with the firm’s newly launched Change Certification Program, which consists of a series of self-paced online learning courses for individuals and instructor led training for organizations.