3 Important Learning & Development Trends in 2020

John Ferguson
January 10, 2020

3 Important Learning & Development Trends in 2020

  • Greater emphasis is being put on the quality of learners’ experiences. This trend encourages greater focus on intelligent personalization, self-guided learning, and mobile accessibility within learning systems.
  • The entrance of Gen Z into the workforce will bring a greater demand for communication skills development, video content, and mobile accessibility.
  • The growth of nontraditional and nonlinear career paths necessitate the normalization of retraining throughout your career, including personal skills development and customized learning paths. 

Workplace learning is changing. New economic realities, evolving workplace dynamics, and a fresh generation of employees are aligning to shift how corporate-driven learning is conducted.

What are the primary drivers of these changes, and what are the implications for corporate learning professionals? Cornerstone’s talent management and content production teams shared their view on the top corporate learning trends. As one of the most reviewed standalone talent management and learning management products on TrustRadius, they have some unique insights to share.

Here are three current corporate learning trends, according to Cornerstone, and what they mean for you.

1. Rise of the Learner’s Experience

The primary, overarching change that Cornerstone professionals identify is how corporate learning has become an employee-driven, employee-demanded aspect of the modern workplace. This shift is becoming an accepted part of corporate learning that LMS providers are incorporating into their strategies as well.

“Employees as consumers [are] expecting an up-leveling of the programs that are delivered to them,” Dr. Summer Salomonsen, Head of Cornerstone Studios at Cornerstone OnDemand, informed me in a recent conversation. This demand translates to “expecting a higher quality, a better design, a more intuitive feel than what has been delivered before, because they can easily find whatever [information] they need out there” on the Internet.

In other words, companies, and the LMS they use, no longer hold a monopoly on career knowledge and development. There is mounting pressure to attend to the experience of your employees on the learning platform to ensure that employees’ learning aligns with business goals. That also means that businesses should expect better learning experiences from their learning management systems.

Learner-first thinking applies just as much to talent management as a whole. Members of Cornerstone’s Performance suite predict that talent management strategies as a whole will “become more employee-obsessed, shifting the top-down management on its head.”

Of course, most software markets are being pushed to provide better user experiences.  But what other trends are concrete implications of modern learner-first expectations? For most professionals, the answer is just cresting the generational horizon.

2. Gen Z: Oh Lawd, They Comin’

In case you haven’t read any headlines in the last 3 years, Generation Z is coming, and in some cases, they are already here. There’s lots of speculation about Gen Z’s impact on the workforce, but recent research Cornerstone conducted indicates their impact on corporate learning will be particularly profound.

Note: Graph data from Statista Research Department

The core reality influencing Cornerstone’s perspective on Gen Z is that “this is the first generation to have never known a world without the internet,” according to Dr. Salomonsen. Doug Segers, Head of Original Content, pointed out two key implications of this reality. First, “there’s an expectation of an ‘always on’ mentality that’s now coming into the workplace.” Second, Gen Z respondents acknowledged that they interact with screens more than physical people, and “their face-to-face interpersonal skills may be lacking” as a result.

The “always on” mentality opens up new opportunities, and expectations, for mobile accessibility and learning untethered from a workplace desktop. Fortunately, you may find a receptive audience, as Cornerstone’s research found that the younger generation “want to ferociously improve themselves all the time,” according to Segers.

The newest need Gen Z may have from your business’s learning and development will likely be support for learning those interpersonal communication skills. These skills form the foundation of healthy workplace dynamics, such as the ability to “communicate ideas, take feedback, delegate, criticize, give feedback, manage up,” Dr. Salomonsen lists. 

To effectively support your youngest talent, don’t underestimate the shift in learning approach this takes. Interpersonal development “is a very internal, individual process that is very different from learning a set of technical skills,” John Marshall, Director of Content Strategy, points out. Failing to account for the importance and complexity of teaching interpersonal skills can negatively impact modern workplaces, Summers emphasizes.

3. Careers Paths are Lattices, not Ladders

In their research on Gen Z, a core lesson the team learned was that “we can’t make assumptions about what people need to learn, and especially about what they’ll need to learn at different points in their careers.” That lesson applies beyond the value of interpersonal skills development. Retraining and skills development are quickly becoming a fact of life as the pace of change, especially in technology, accelerates.

In Marshall’s experience, “people talk about the career lattice rather than the career ladder. You make a lot of switches along the way, and there are certain skills that are timeless and industry agnostic.” To adapt to this workforce-wide evolution, Marshall advises learning professionals to “meet people where they’re at versus proscribing a set career journey that’s probably outdated at this point in time.”

Additionally, the changes necessitated by Gen Z’s imminent arrival also serve the rest of your workforce, who are grappling with their own changes in the “standard” career path. When testing their new offerings tailored for Gen Z, Cornerstone consistently received the feedback that the content series could benefit other groups, ranging from managers to marketing and sales teams. 

What do these trends mean for you?

Whether you’re in charge of learning and development at your organization, or you benefit from learning programs, these trends are relevant to you … and you’re in luck! Cornerstone outlined these trends for us, and many learning management providers are rolling out capabilities that address these unique needs. If you already have a job, explore what skills development or training options are available to you, and if you’re in the market, add continued learning to your list of expectations for employers.

If you’re a Gen Z member, don’t be hesitant to reach out for help in professional skills development as well as technical training. There’s roughly a decade of other people with similar experiences to you entering the workforce after you. If you develop the skills to speak the language of your generation and those before you, you have an opportunity to play an instrumental role in many organizations early in your career.

If you’re a learning professional or manager, make sure you’re evaluating and reevaluating your existing learning and development strategies to best serve your current and future employees. A valuable tool in this process is corporate LMS software, which can provide the platform to host employees’ learning and frequently offer the content itself to enable learning. Not all corporate LMS providers are taking the same approach, so dig into reviews to make sure the offering is best suited to help your employees overcome the challenges of today and tomorrow. 

About the Author

John Ferguson
John is a Research Associate at TrustRadius, focusing on content development and buyer-guided research. His goal is to support and enable better software buying decisions, with an eye towards helping people from all backgrounds navigate the world of business software. He has a BA in Politics from Centre College.

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