After a year like the one we had in 2020, wouldn’t it be nice to have a crystal ball to see where things are headed? While no one can accurately predict random events like pandemics, we can study the impact of those events on people’s thinking.
Recently, The Ken Blanchard Companies® surveyed over 1,000 leadership, learning, and talent development professionals to better understand how they are responding to the challenges brought on by COVID-19 and how they plan to move forward in 2021. The results might reflect your own L&D challenges and give you some ideas about the future.
When asked to identify the single largest problem their learning and development team is facing in 2021 due to COVID-19, respondents revealed three main concerns.
Concern #1: Successfully Making the Shift to Virtual and Online Learning
When people gather in a physical classroom to learn, interacting with others plays a big role in learner engagement. People responding to our survey expressed concern about losing this human element and worry about how much people are staying engaged and particpating in the new virtual classroom. Many said that they are coping with feelings of loss from the absence of in-person training.
Others feel pressured by their rapidly evolving roles and the new expectations placed on them. They expressed concerns about skills gaps in design expertise, virtual facilitation, and the skillful leveraging of new tools and platforms.
They also identified ongoing logistical and technical challenges, such as session scheduling, clunky platforms, and connectivity issues. I think we can all relate to that!
Concern #2: Helping a Struggling Workforce
The impact of COVID-19 on the workforce cannot be denied or ignored. People have lost jobs and loved ones. Those fortunate enough to be working remotely have been emotionally impacted as well.
The respondents of our survey identified isolation and a loss of connection as two major concerns, reporting that these have led to increased stress, exhaustion, overwhelm, and burnout.
People also expressed concerns about the overriding uncertainty in the current work environment and the sense that too much change is occurring too fast. Many acknowledged feelings of lowered morale and virtual fatigue.
Concern #3: Anxiety about Losing Their L&D Jobs
Budget cuts, layoffs, furloughs, and questions of management support were at the top of our respondents’ minds as they closed out 2020 and looked ahead to 2021.
People shared their concern that 2021 would usher in a difficult period of high expectations for converting to digital and virtual delivery, but without the resources and support necessary to be successful. This was often expressed as “too much to do, not enough resources.”
Having the resources to hold people accountable, addressing quality issues, and improving the digital skills of their trainers were cited as solutions to these problems.
Looking Ahead to 2021
Has COVID spelled the end of face-to-face training? Decidedly not. But the future will be different. A majority of respondents—57 percent—see face-to-face training as having a role, but as a part of a blended learning experience. In looking ahead to the time when face-to-face options become available again, respondents expect to use in-person and virtual instructor-led training equally.
So, when do people think they’ll be able to get back into the classroom? In our survey, July 2021 was the most oft-cited date.
The Upside of 2020
In many ways, 2020 forced us to dig deep into our own resourcefulness and find ways to navigate an uncertain future. Blanchard senior vice president Jay Campbell put it really well when he said that “COVID-19 created a discontinuity in the normal evolutionary path toward digital and virtual. It has accelerated the shift—possibly by as much as a decade.”
As a college professor, I love the magic that happens in a classroom. Yet there’s no question that both classroom and online training create a smarter, more skilled workforce. In other words, it’s a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” proposition. I’m excited about the future of training and development. As my son, our company president Scott Blanchard, says, “There has never been a more demanding time to be in L&D—but it is also a time of great opportunity for those ready to step into this new future.”