by L. Thompson | Dec. 18, 2020 | 5 Min Read

Corporate Learning Trends 2021 – How to Embrace New Normals

Newspaper headlines focused on knowledge and training for employees

The only constant this year has been change, and the rate of it continues to accelerate day after day. Workforce impacts demand our attention to stay agile during an uncertain time in the economy and workplace.

Organizations must respond to challenges with more resilience, adaptability, comfort with uncertainty, and focus than ever before. Upskilling and training employees are taking on new forms to meet the needs of a highly dispersed, distracted, and stressed workforce.

Even before 2020, deep underlying shifts were beginning to impact the way we view work and workplace learning. This blog homes in on the core shifts causing much of the transformation and opportunity in the workforce today and discusses new trends in workplace learning to prepare you for the future.

Let’s dig in to explore how your organization can prepare for corporate learning trends in 2021 and beyond.

Trend 1: From Learn-to-Work to Work-to-Learn

The current and future workforce is more likely than ever to be well educated, but there’s a decline in the perceived value that higher education brings. Many organizations believe that higher education alone doesn’t provide the skills students need to succeed in the modern workplace. In fact, about 4-in-10 (38%) people believe universities have a negative impact.

On the other hand, research shows that the next generation places a higher value on learning and skill-building than ever before. People now rate the “opportunity to learn” among their top reasons for taking a job. As the retirement age increases, Baby Boomers also see the need for continuous learning, upskilling, and adaptation to remain an asset in the workforce.

The burden of learning now shifts to businesses, not academia. Organizations need to provide an upskilling training program, create opportunities for continuous learning, and enable employees to share and master new skills. Learning must build on traditional avenues of knowledge acquisition such as articles and courses and incorporate more on-the-job skill building and knowledge-sharing among experts.

L&D and training teams aren’t the only ones in charge of this training change. To remain competitive, employers, managers, coaches, and teams all need to cultivate continuous learning cultures across the organization. A continuous learning culture supports an open mindset, employees’ independent quest for knowledge, and shared learning in line with the company’s mission and goals.

BOTTOM LINE: The workforce is more motivated to learn and master skills than ever before. Organizations must adjust their learning strategy to embed skill development into the workplace and equip employees to work-to-learn.


  • Evaluate how your org is doing today in creating a learning culture:
  • To what extent have you prioritized it, made it possible, celebrated it, and modeled it?
  • Where do you have room for improvement?
  • Find one specific way to connect the experts and novices in your organization that doesn’t exist today. If this isn’t something you’ve done before, start small at the team level.

Trend 2: From Job Skills to Human Skills

21st-century skills and attributes like social and emotional skills, higher cognitive skills, and digital skills are no longer nice-to-have but critical. Businesses must build skill agility into their workforce to remain competitive. Workers will need “no-regrets” skill sets that will be useful and widely applicable despite the coming challenges.

Workforce upskilling is not a suggestion; it’s a requirement for your organization in this new virtual normal of remote work.

5 Top Trends Transforming Workplaces

1. Jobs Are Requiring New Skillsets

Upskilling and training are necessary for employees to adapt in the digital workplace. 54% of all jobs will require significant reskilling or upskilling in the next three years.

2. Roles Are Undergoing a Redesign

Advances in technology are forcing a fast restructuring to keep up with the future of work. Research from Deloitte shows that 90% of respondents say their organizations are currently redesigning jobs.

3. Business Are Shifting from a Product to a Services Model

In the wake of coronavirus and automation, pivots aren’t optional. 14% of the US economy today is professional or white-collar services related and growing, while 80% of all US jobs are services-related.

For example, take the pharmaceuticals industry, which is currently transitioning its business focus from products to services. Pharma companies are no longer just drug providers selling products; now, they are partners in patient health who provide life-long solutions and services in diagnostics, health monitoring, prevention, etc.

A shift from products to services requires upskilling for nearly everyone involved, from pharma executives to sales representatives to scientists. Everyone must acquire new skills like design-thinking, sense-making, systems thinking, and consultative selling.

4. AI is Replacing Jobs

Key responsibilities are now supplemented or automated by artificial intelligence. Over the next three years, 38% of Deloitte survey respondents expect to eliminate certain jobs due to automation.

5. Traditional Skills Are Becoming Obsolete

The shelf-life of traditional skills is shortening, and in-demand skills, both technical and soft skills, will continue to evolve.

BOTTOM LINE: Workers need easy access to proven methods for building and mastering skills beyond their current job descriptions, with a particular focus on human skills that will be widely applicable across the workforce.


  • Design an upskilling strategy that focuses on human skills. The benefits of upskilling employees early will put you ahead of the competition in 2021.
  • Evolve your thinking beyond a content library. Access to course content is easy to come by these days, but don’t forget the essential wrap-around components that take foundational knowledge and turn it into a real opportunity for skill-building.
  • Incorporate ongoing opportunities for feedback and coaching.

Trend 3: Shift from Limited Metrics to Holistic Measurement

The Kirkpatrick model of measurement has been around for more than 50 years. A handful of other measurement models have emerged over that time, many attempting to expand on Kirkpatrick and address some of its limitations. What these models have in common is that, by some method, each tries to measure learning outcomes— the impact of training on performance and the business (Kirkpatrick Level 4).

The reality is most organizations (65%) haven’t been able to move from measuring output to measuring outcomes. Only 24% of L&D professionals even measure basic metrics like learner engagement. Though organizations struggle to accomplish effective measurement, 96% of learning professionals say they want to, especially as the workforce rapidly shifts.

The type of learning we need demands a renewed focus and a new approach to metrics. Tracking training completions without business impact is no longer enough when employees are motivated by learning opportunities. Future jobs require significant upskilling and reskilling of the workforce, and measurement needs to be central.

Good quality data is critical to measuring impact and designing better learning experiences and coaching. According to learning expert JD Dillon:

L&D must expand the definition of “learning data” to include more than test scores, smile sheets, and course tracking. These data points are still needed, but L&D must be able to assess an employee’s current capability, regardless of the training they completed in the past. This will help L&D proactively design and implement right-fit, persistent solutions before performance gaps appear.

Integrating corporate learning trends (2021 is as uncertain as it gets) won’t be much help without measuring its impact.

BOTTOM LINE: Organizations must move toward a more holistic approach to measurement that reveals insights into ongoing learning, skill-building, and on-the-job performance over time, propelled by iterative coaching and feedback.


  • Assess how you’re doing as of today. Most organizations have clear strengths and opportunities to use as building blocks.
  • Identify the learning data you’ll collect to address your opportunities.
  • Start gathering data! Select a pilot initiative or program to test how you might collect and analyze data. Keep iterating on your approach as you go, and then create a plan to scale.
  • Forge partnerships with other folks in your organization from IT, HR, and the business who can open up access to relevant data that already exists.

Embrace Future Trends in Training and Development

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that it’s hard to predict what 2021 will have in store.

As a learning professional, adopt virtual workplace trends to support your organization’s future. With so much shifting in the workforce, L&D has a more captive audience than we’ve had in a long time. Embrace these top trends in training and development with courage and step up to the plate – this is your time to shine.

Your colleagues are looking to you for support and guidance about how to reshape, upskill, and evolve your learning culture to meet the new demands of remote work.

If you’re feeling lost figuring out how to implement these online training trends (2021 is right around the corner!), schedule your free consultation today and get ready to Think Outside™.

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