Last reviewed 7 January 2022

Predicting the future is never easy and, in a world that changes constantly, it has become extremely difficult to predict what is just around the corner. 2021 was a very tough year for most people and for those working in learning and development (L&D) last year was no exception. Here, Judith Christian-Carter takes a look at what some influential L&D professionals predict for 2022, including their hopes and dreams, and how L&D can prepare to make the year a successful one.

“The future is here. It’s not going away. And a new future is going to be here tomorrow.” (Seth Godin, December 2021). Therein lies the problem when trying to predict what is just around the corner. Whilst learning and development (L&D) has at its disposal a range of tools, techniques and technologies, the challenge is to work out which ones will be most influential for all those working in L&D and for the profession as a whole.

So, whilst microlearning, xAPI (apps that access data, etc) and AR/VR (augmented and virtual reality) will probably continue to be hot topics in 2022, what trends will be worth keeping an eye on, together with any that L&D professionals can ignore?

Making learning an experience

This is about putting the learner at the centre of learning so that what they experience is both pleasurable and effective for them. To achieve this it is necessary to include more of the context and connection that people need on their individual learning journeys. This, in turn, requires an increase in analysing, evaluating and, ultimately involving learners themselves, into the design of learning experiences and learning provision.

L&D professionals will need to become advocates for learners, by studying context and collecting feedback to support learners where they are, so that learners can reach where they want or need to go. The variety of technology tools available, such as those that support online collaboration, will help to speed up the process of delivering learning support, as well as ensuring that the focus always remains on the learner and the context of their learning experience.

Making learning accessible

Following on from making sure that learning is a positive experience, it is vital to ensure that it is accessible. People in wheelchairs or those with motor, vision, learning or hearing problems all too often have negative experiences with learning that has not been designed with their needs in mind. There is now a growing interest in and an understanding of why all learning provision needs to be accessible to anyone who wants to use it.

Here are just a few examples of what is required:

  • accessibility is no longer considered a “fringe” topic

  • conference breakout sessions on accessibility require the largest rooms, not the smallest ones

  • no one ever again says, “Well, no one with a disability can do this job, so we don’t need to worry about accessibility” or “Well, we don’t have any employees with disabilities.”

  • conferences, websites, articles and reports produced by L&D are all fully accessible

  • L&D moves forward by including individuals with disabilities in the conversation.

All the above is excellently summed-up thus: “Most of us don’t think twice when we see a handrail in a bathroom or an accessible parking space. It’s the assumption. The default. These things would only be remarkable if they weren’t there. Let’s make accessible content the same: unremarkable, the default, the assumption.” (Amy Morrisey, 2021).

Supporting self-driven learning and career development

Whilst providing accessible learning experiences is a worthwhile goal in its own right, it is also important as it allows L&D professionals to focus much more on supporting self-driven learning and career development. People now expect to be able to learn something on their own, at their own pace, in private and using their own personal devices.

This trend is also accompanied by another development, which is the continued disruption of traditional career paths, particularly as rapid technological advances make many job roles obsolete. In turn, this leads organisations to embrace digital competences very quickly with the need to focus on the relevant skills sets that people have in this area.

Accordingly, L&D professionals will need to help facilitate highly-motivated individuals who are looking to develop new skills and knowledge, both of which will impact on these individual’s short-term and long-term career development. This will require the L&D function to:

  • formalise tracking of and recognise informal self-guided learning

  • provide career-centred coaching resources to help individuals identify and prioritise learning content

  • elevate the importance of learning and development within the organisational culture to levels previously unseen.

In 2022 there could well be the start of a new wave of learning mania, one that will help organisations embrace and foster strategic ways in which to compete better in their respective markets. If or when this wave occurs L&D professionals everywhere should be ready to participate in it.

Joining up the dots

Data is only a part of the foundation on which learning provision is built. It is being able to join up the dots that allows L&D functions to mature, and to connect with both individual learners and organisational leaders. Taking this further, it is a matter of thinking about how L&D professionals can apply techniques, skills, technology and organisational structures as a whole in order to make a difference.

As all manner of opportunities open up, L&D professionals need to continue to explore, understand and look for new ways to connect the many and latest technology components in order to create new opportunities for their learners. Joining up the dots is likely to be one of greatest challenges in 2022.

The “new normal”

While some would say that the “new normal” is already here, in particular with the fully hybrid workplace, there are also those who anticipate that this will change in the next few years, with some organisations going back to full-time office-based work. However, in the meantime, hybrid working arrangements that are customised to the needs of individual organisations are likely to emerge, together with change management strategies to help employers and managers adjust to the new ways of working.

The “new normal” has also seen people re-evaluating their work-life balances. Many people have moved into new and different working roles, where they are gaining new skills and experience. At the same time, the viability of reducing the working week to three or four days is being discussed increasingly frequently. If a reduced working week did become the norm then this would have a profound impact on the L&D profession.

The “better normal”

The “new normal” also needs to be thought as the “better normal”, where there is less hype, less fake, more practical and more trustworthy, ie for the benefit of everyone. “Learning, understanding, reflecting on what you learn — these are the things that make a person wise, self-confident, self-reliant, resilient, and unique. Only such people can help balance the instabilities in the world. Only such people can be the true leaders. We in L&D have to serve them.” (Marjan Bradeško, 2021).

It will be interesting to see which of these predictions, hopes and dreams become a reality in 2022.

Judith Christian-Carter B.Ed (Hons), M.Phil, FLPI, Chartered FCIPD, is an independent learning consultant. She can be contacted on 07850 182722 or via e-mail: judithchristiancarter@btinternet.com.