Learning & Development – what does 2021 hold?

January. Traditional time for looking ahead, planning, strategising… and while we may look back on January 2020 with nostalgia – few had any idea what was in store for the year (ah, innocence!) – this year’s reading of the tea leaves will be COVID-focused.

Unlike 2020, when our responses to the pandemic were informed by optimism, incomplete information (even down right misinformation!) and the expectation or hope that it will be over soon, here, at the beginning of 2021, we know that what we do in business this year will be defined by the coronavirus.

From reactive to proactive

Businesses reacted last year. Faced with an unforeseen crisis of global precautions, the obvious responses were working from home, managing from a distance, and moving as much business online as possible.

In learning and development terms, we saw an immediate reduction (cessation?) of face-to-face, group training sessions and courses in favour of online options, peer and team coaching, and bite-sized learning. A sensible and logical reaction but now it’s time to get in front of the breaking wave, so to speak. That’s the driver behind our January survey of businesses and L&D professionals (our second in under six months): a snapshot of the L&D priorities and strategies of UK businesses in 2021…

Changes so far

The good news is that – according to our survey results – changes have been (or are being) made and the initial adjustment to new ways of working has been made:

  • 30% of organisations have made necessary structural changes (and 31% are planning to do so in the first six months of the year).
  • More organisations are recruiting (21%) than losing staff (9%).
  • 62% of organisations have more than half of their people working exclusively from home .
  • Flexibility around working from home is now a long-term policy for 40% of organisations.
  • L&D budgets have remained steady over the last six months for 60% of organisations.

L&D strategy drivers in 2021

From the above, it seems that the right changes are under way and are beginning to bed in as ‘business as usual’ rather than crisis measures. Looking ahead, the survey asked respondents to review the “10 shifts” in focus in the CIPD’s ‘Learning and development evolving practices factsheet‘. The 10 shifts act as a framework to review L&D strategy, marking out the current and likely future paths along which L&D will develop.

According to our survey’s respondents, the following ‘shifts’ will be part of their L&D approach this year:

  • L&D priorities are determined by business needs. (Hopefully, this one was already happening…?)
  • Learning opportunities are provided ‘in the flow’ and on demand, not pre-scheduled.
  • Learning comes in bites, not feasts.
  • Digital learning is primarily blended …and self-directed by learners.
  • Learning opportunities are driven by a broad L&D ‘eco system’ of line managers, leaders, IT people, content writers, social media experts, external resource, etc.

Our experience

Here at Maximum, we’ve seen these responses and changing priorities in action, taking place in real-time: including a significant rise in popularity of webinars for ‘distance-approved’ group learning, and greater reliance on peer-led coaching and other internal development methods.

The increased internal sourcing of learning is logical and arguably more self-sufficient, less reliant on outside services that may not seem so secure anymore. However, longer term, there is always a need for external input: sourcing fresh knowledge and tools, and new perspectives, from outside the organisation. But where to find external input? Who do you engage with for professional expertise?

A commonly-heard phrase is that we’re ‘all in the same boat’. Right now, it’s more like the boat is sinking (or sunk) and we’re actually floating in the water, supported only by an inflatable vest. What to do? Look for someone who at least has a life raft, some supplies, and ideally a pair of binoculars to scan the horizon…

For us, this survey is part of our horizon-scanning, working out what’s coming next in terms of L&D provision, And the best strategy is to combine our expertise with your experience.


We’ve established what that experience is via the survey, and now it’s time to discuss the results. Join us and your peers at a free, one-hour webinar on 28 January and be part of the conversation. Sign up here, or just give us a call on 01582 463460. We’re here to help.

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