Industry Insights

Learning & Development Trends for 2023 and Beyond

Posted by John Wills on Jan 16, 2023 2:30:00 PM

2023 will see a different world forming. The disruption of the pandemic will no longer be a novelty. Increasing inflation will see new global challenges. Recovery models and aid will change too. Business as we know it will have a whole different shape and outlook.

We will see even greater context provided to the role of Learning and Development (L&D), as businesses find their place in a new world. As industries restructure, professionals will be given the opportunity to reskill, leverage change, and fulfil their potential. 

Over the last two years, most workers have been forced to adapt to regularly evolving circumstances and to find their feet in new and dynamic scenarios. At a management level, keeping on top of these changes in the face of a pandemic and having to mitigate new health risks has resulted in novel approaches towards setting and reaching milestones. Planning for the long-term with so much uncertainty has verged on the impossible at times.

2020 saw a large percentage of the global workforce transition into remote work, finding methods and technologies to enable them to do their in-person tasks from behind a screen. 2021 and 2022 continued in much the same vein, but what had been considered disruptive the year before had now largely become commonplace. The hybrid working model, for example, was seemingly impossible or unthinkable to most businesses pre-pandemic and is now seen as a progressive ambition of innovative and future-forward companies. 

Knowing what we know from the last couple of years, what can we expect to see for 2023 when it comes to learning and development trends?

Trend #1, Disruption & Reinvention: Flexible Working

After hundreds of millions successfully made the transition to remote work and learning, suddenly it became clear to countless businesses that there were a lot of benefits to the disruption. The workers and learners too realised that there were many advantages to be gained from the transition experience. 

For writers, graphic designers, web developers, and coders, the transition was pretty easy. But for age-old professions like teaching, sales, and human resources, not having the face-to-face element was unnatural and harder to become accustomed to. Fast-forward to the present day and the world is opening back up, schools are inviting their teachers back and offices want their employees back at their desks.

The problem is, while many professionals are being offered the chance to ease back into office life, an overwhelming majority of them simply can’t imagine going back to the old ways. In fact, the number of remote workers continues to grow. 

2020 saw people forced to work at home from a laptop. 2021 and 2022 saw people choose it. 2023 will see more people than ever learning and developing the skills they need so that they can get a remote position and leverage the benefits it brings. This is happening both internally and externally, so how do L&D teams navigate it?

Let’s look at this from the perspective of a business with a workforce that successfully transitioned to remote work and is now considering going back to office-based work. They know that some of their employees are happier at home, more productive, better able to manage their time and responsibilities, and overall more useful to the organization. On the other hand, some employees simply can’t get back to the office soon enough, particularly those who struggled to motivate themselves at home, and who crave human interaction in the workplace. 

With these two groups of individuals, the answer is clear. Flexible and hybrid working styles. Flexible working gives employees more autonomy over their starting and finishing times, working from home whenever they want, compressing hours (doing 5 days work in 4 days), or sharing a role. It requires a lot of trust between the employer and the workers to make sure the work gets done. Hybrid working, on the other hand, means that a business is set up through their premises and digital systems to comfortably manage a mixture of in-person office workers and remote workers, with those people being able to come and go as they please. 

In summary, the transition to remote or online work is no longer related to the pandemic situation and is more related to individual aspirations and preferred working styles. People want to develop their skills, work with greater flexibility, and advance their careers simultaneously. L&D professionals and technologies that can merge those three desires will come out on top in 2023.

Trend #2, Upskilling, Reskilling, and the rise of Cross-Skilling

Restaurants are closed; they can’t get enough staff. 55% of workers are looking for a better job. Over 10 million positions in the US alone are struggling to be filled; similar story in the EU & the UK. Few times in history have we been faced with such a predicament as having too many jobs to fill!

The pandemic changed everything. What is being called the ‘Great Resignation’ is seeing businesses collapsing because they just simply can’t get the talent through the doors. Staff want more money, more benefits, more flexibility (see hybrid work), and more investment into their careers. Never before have so many people recognized their self-worth as a working professional. 

It’s inspiring; however, it does make the challenges for learning and development teams ever greater. Combatting huge staff turnover, a rapidly-widening skills gap, and productivity issues are not going to be easy, but it is doable.

Those things that the staff want, the business can typically provide, especially flexibility. In fact, flexibility and adaptability go both ways, as many professionals in senior positions highly value staff with the ability to adapt, reskill, and fill new roles from within. They simply need to provide the opportunity, as the pandemic has shown that employees will take their chances when presented. 

Reskilling, upskilling, and cross-skilling are all about fulfilling existing employee potential. To explain further:

  • Reskilling means learning new skills to transition into a completely new role - very useful if a business is restructuring but wants to hold on to its talent
  • Upskilling is where employees are taught additional skills or their existing skills are improved to help them bring more value and expertise to their position. It may also be to prepare them for a promotion
  • Cross-skilling is the learning of new skills that can be lent to different areas to improve collaboration and support. For example, a salesperson may develop some graphic design skills to ease the burden on the marketing department

With experts predicting that about 50% of all jobs will require upskilling, re-skilling, or cross-skilling to meet the needs of the market (or to fill the skills gap) in the next 2 years, there is a lot of training to be done. New tools, new working styles, new mindsets, new processes, new capabilities, new qualifications, and new certifications. It won’t happen overnight, but it has to happen. 

For leadership teams, a good starting point is acceptance of the fact that many aspiring professionals and young executives spend a small fortune to develop the skills they need to enter the labor market, only to discover that the skills are already obsolete! Education is not a guarantee of knowledge or success in the workplace. Instead, organizations themselves need to become pillars of learning, providing the institutional education that their employees are missing. This will not only improve the existing workforce, but will attract more talented and driven workers, while creating a culture of self-improvement. 

Organizations must now share the responsibility of creating a quality learning environment.

Trend #3, Investing in Transferable Soft Skills & Human-Power!

What a business needs of its employees are currently in the early stages of evolution. Hard work, commitment, effort, and enthusiasm remain, but there are new considerations coming to the fore that will shape the next decade. Being a digital native with technological skills will be expected, as will creativity, compassion, and resilience. So, what’s new?

Technology is doing what it does - it automates, calculates, replicates, formulates and optimizes far better than the average person. Fortunately, computers can’t think like people (not until the singularity at least!), and that’s why transferable soft skills are so important.

What makes you human is what makes you powerful. You can:

  • Be a leader and set a great example.
  • Offer interpersonal skills that have a resounding effect on those around you.
  • Think critically and analytically looking not only at data, as a computer might, but by bringing in a whole range of considerations that only you and your reasoning would think of.
  • Bring expertise and knowledge to a particular function, or a number of functions, which sets you apart from your colleagues and the supporting technology.
  • Uniqueness - it is you that a business invests in, and the way in which you do things uniquely is a good thing. All machines programmed to do a task will do it the same, and so your personality applied to an assignment is a good thing.

It’s true that professional positions in organizations will continue to adapt and be redesigned, with the main driver of that being that the foundational abilities of their talent continue to improve. People are surprisingly quick to adapt, often just as quickly or even quicker than the technology! With this in mind, businesses are driven to sell services, rather than products, as human-powered intelligence continues to shine.

From the perspective of an L&D team, it’s vital to nurture the skills we have mentioned while redesigning positions to give more credit to the power of being human. 

Trend #4, Increased Focus on Diversity, Equality & Inclusion

Many training and development sites and organizations predicted a trend in diversity, equality, and inclusion training in 2021, but few may have predicted just how well it has taken root. What valuable movements like Black Lives Matter have done for organizations is to highlight and expose just how wide the canyon is between how much people know about diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias, and how much they think they know about it.

Businesses in the US, Europe, Australia, and further afield were already investing in diversity training in 2020 and 2021, but we now expect to see more resources invested into L&D, helping to make sure that the delivery is sensitive, relevant, inclusive, and responsible. 

One area of particular interest that appears to be trending is ‘intelligent inclusion’. We’ve seen many large businesses make an effort to develop minority talent and hire a more diverse workforce over the last few years, to great effect. Hiring a diverse workforce just to meet quotas, however, may lead to racial friction and disharmony, which is obviously not the intended goal. So, to achieve ‘intelligent inclusion’, hire team players that bring value to a particular unit or department, who are also being given the opportunity to shine or lead if they show a willingness. 

It’s no longer about why we need more inclusivity, it’s about how we achieve it responsibly. 

Trend #5, Every Individual is a Leader - Training is for ALL

We are talking about training exclusivity. Remember how the smartest kid at school sat at the front of the class and answered the most questions? That can happen in business too. The loudest and proudest get an unfair distribution of the attention, which often means the most senior professionals and the most vocal workers will get more training, more courses, and better learning opportunities. Those who are quiet, new, or in lower positions often are forgotten about. 

Learning and Development teams will need to end this imbalance and make sure that education and training are inclusive. If LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends are anything to go by, internal mobility is seen as the biggest factor for improving retention, with 81% of talent professionals in agreement. 

An optimal situation sees every member of the company receiving some development that is customized to their career and position. This will help them to upskill in a relevant way, not only for personal reasons but mainly to lift up the entire organization along the way! Every single member of an organization has the potential to bring about positive change - it’s important we don’t lose sight of that by putting up walls of exclusivity. On top of that, 69% of professionals agree that moving into a new role is directly linked to productivity! 

Remember when we said ‘Every Individual is a Leader’. There’s another side to that coin. While it refers initially to their potential, it also means that your organization is already full of leaders! Internal coaching, as part of your L&D strategy, allows you to connect individuals with different skills, experiences, and knowledge together in a mentor-mentee format. This is just one idea, but essentially any idea that makes learning more democratic for all is a good decision.

Learning and development teams will soon realise that they can create new roles that provide leadership opportunities to their employees without having to push someone else out of a job! Everyone can be a leader. 

Trend #6, Serious Business Games and Simulations for Leaders

Playing light-hearted team-building games amongst colleagues is usually pretty good for morale, but is it doing much for learning and development? Perhaps not, but fortunately, that’s where serious business games and simulations come in. 

Here at StratX ExL, we are the world’s leading provider of high-impact experiential business simulations, offering our services for a number of purposes from leadership development, to strategic innovation to even a mini-MBA executive education. Read more on what we do

We all know that gamification works as much for a child in kindergarten as it does for a business executive in the boardroom. However, we’ve moved well beyond leaderboards and trivial rewards. Our simulations are designed with the intention that those who use them will learn not only about the subject but about themselves and their own professional development. By giving participants the opportunity and flexibility to try different things in a safe, risk-free environment, they can learn more about how to solve problems in critical situations, collaborate to win and practice agility and even innovation. It’s very introspective.

In 2023, we expect to see more businesses leveraging business simulations and serious games as a way of improving productivity. Participants often develop an emotional investment into the outcome of games, which boosts their knowledge absorption, learning retention, and critical skills. These combine to deliver improved productivity. 

For the business side of things, the cost-effective nature of business simulations is hard to match. Beyond the initial investment, there are little overheads, making this a scalable L&D exercise that can be replicated throughout the organization with a high ROI.

Trend #7, Bite-Sized Training Opportunities (Microlearning)

For decades we’ve been accustomed to workshops, videos, and one-on-one training, but education experts have noticed something about all these formats: they’re simply too long!

A video that takes hours, a two-day training course, and a three-hour workshop - all show that learning retention drops off the longer they go on. If length is detrimental to learning, then microlearning, nano-learning, and bite-sized learning are going to flip training on its head and make education as quick as possible. If young people can learn a recipe or choreographed dance from a 15-second TikTok, then it stands to reason that packing key information into short lessons is well-received. Businesses like SparkNotes and Blinkist can take entire novels and make them digestible in 15-minutes; professional development can do the same.

We predict that training materials will get shorter and shorter until they find the sweet spot, which we estimate to be about 1-2 minutes in length, just enough to fit the information in without seeing huge drops in attention. With so much instant communication, information, and notifications competing for our attention, bite-sized learning offers the opportunity to educate in the gaps. One piece of Deloitte research indicates that the average employee devotes just 24 minutes per week to learning.

With just 24 minutes, most businesses might think it's hard for employees to absorb all of their required training, but that’s not true. Microlearning sessions of 3-5 minutes are ideal to take on important lessons between important tasks. This is even more true if the education is delivered via mobile, though we’ll cover that in Trend #9.

Referring back to Trends #1, #2, and #6, microlearning needs to be available to all, regardless of whether they are office-based or remote-based, it needs to upskill, and it needs to bring in elements of gamification, such as challenge and competition.

As such, it’s the perfect way for you to get creative with your content! After all, microlearning can come in a variety of different formats. It can include anything from your traditional text-based content to more innovative learning games. The research suggests that if these are done well, engagement will increase by 50% and retention by at least 17%.

Trend #8, Wellness and Well-Being

Take care of your workers and they will take care of you. This was as true of ancient dynasties and empires as it is today of modern dynamic businesses. Remember the analogy of the donkey? On the first day of no food, the donkey works normally, on the second day it is tired and working less, and by the end of the week, it is dead. Learning and development are food for the modern worker, who places wellness and well-being at the top of their hierarchy of needs.

The Great Resignation has shown employers, notably in the US, that if you don’t treat your staff like valued humans, they will leave. Now, with so many ways to make money online, organizations have to do more to attract and retain their talent, so that they don’t go off and start their own projects. They can start by building wellness and well-being into their L&D programs and investing in ways to improve happiness in the workplace (and especially for remote workers).

Whilst it’s not a new trend, it is one that will keep on growing due to how damaging poor well-being and wellness are, and how the more it is ignored, the bigger the labor crisis becomes. Well-being investment = higher productivity and retention. Everyone wins.

Trend #9, Mobile Learning is VITAL

The vast majority of the world’s population owns a smartphone, with people using them as an extension of the self to communicate, calculate, store knowledge, create, consume, and more. Love it or hate it, they’re part of the modern world. What many people come to realize is that when they start leveraging the device in the right way, they start to understand just how valuable the black screen is as a learning device. Organizations that use the impressive processing power of handheld devices to deliver training are in pole position to win, especially with such a young and remote workforce in 2023 and beyond.

The problem that exists in 2023 is that UX/UI on many e-learning platforms is terrible, often it’s simply a browser-based course that has been lazily ported to mobile. It’s slow, buggy, and lacks intuitive design. We predict that many more educational companies will go mobile-first and optimize their designs to cater perfectly to the modern mobile user, rewarding them for their participation and gamifying their studies to maintain active engagement.

Trend #10, Designing Learning Around Millennial Needs

Millennials (25-40-year-olds) in 2023 make up the majority of the workforce, and by 2025 will account for an estimated 75%, with many people choosing to retire early when possible. What’s particularly interesting about this age group is they rank training and development opportunities as one of the best employer benefits possible. This is ranked higher than flexibility and bonuses.

Part of the reason is the high competition for great jobs, and a more educated workforce than ever before. Young people are leaving university and struggling to find their space in the workforce, therefore, they value learning opportunities as a way to get ahead.

For employers, the issue is reversed. They are struggling to keep their best talent, with competitors finding ways to attract professionals with better policies. This has created a stereotype that millennials are disloyal and love job-hopping, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Finally, loyalty is seen as a two-way street, with employees whose loyalty is rewarded with personal growth finding good reasons to stay. Boomers and Gen X would be more likely to stay in a job just to be loyal, only to get laid off when the wind changed direction. Only 29% of millennials will stay in a job for longer than 2 years if they aren’t satisfied with their development.

A big trend going forward will not just be designing training for millennials, but for Gen Z too. A new generation is starting to enter the workforce, and they have very different tastes that are yet to be truly understood!

What other trends do you envision for 2024?

We are curious to hear your own thoughts and opinions on this matter and inform us of any exciting trends that you have spotted in the industry.

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Topics: Learning & Development, Workforce Diversity, Trends

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