The Top 8 Learning & Development Priorities for 2020

Melissa Suzuno

HR and L&D Insights Writer, Udemy for Business

January 22, 2020

The beginning of the new year and decade has many people thinking about their goals and plans for the future. This is especially the case for L&D professionals who are responsible for helping their employees gain the skills they need to adapt to this rapidly changing work environment. We recently surveyed 200+ HR and L&D leaders to better understand their priorities for 2020. Here are the top 8 priorities for L&D in 2020. 

To learn more about our other findings, download the report 2020 Workplace Learning Trends: The Skills of the Future.

1. Creating a growth mindset of continuous learning

The top priority for HR and L&D leaders in 2020 is creating a growth mindset of continuous learning among their employees, with 56% of respondents naming this their #1 priority. In fact, this was also the top priority in 2019. It makes sense — in order to adapt to changes like digitization and automation, employees will need to constantly learn new skills. 

But it’s not just about digital transformation — soft skills are increasingly important in the workplace, according to our 2020 Workplace Learning Trends report. Based on data from our 50+ million learners on Udemy, we also named growth mindset one of the top 10 soft skills for the workplace in 2020. Being open to developing both technical and soft skills through learning and feedback is at the heart of the growth mindset, as defined by Stanford professor and motivation research pioneer Carol Dweck. Dweck also found that organizations that have a growth mindset report employees who are more empowered, loyal, and innovative.

Learn how software development firm ITX fosters a growth mindset among employees starting on day one and throughout their tenure.

2. Reskilling the workforce to keep up to speed with disruptive technologies 

Keeping up with technological advancement is challenging, and experts at Deloitte estimate that the half-life of a learned skill is 5 years which means that what you learned 10 years ago is likely obsolete and half of what you learned 5 years ago is already irrelevant. It’s not surprising, then, that reskilling the workforce to keep up to speed with disruptive technologies has moved up from the #7 priority in 2019 to #2 in 2020 with 43% of respondents naming this a top priority.

Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020 include things like: 

  • Hyper-automation (the application of advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, to increasingly automate processes and augment humans) 
  • Multi-experience (evolving the idea of a computer from a single point of interaction to include multisensory and multi-touchpoint interfaces like wearables and advanced computer sensors) 
  • Human augmentation (the use of technology to enhance a person’s cognitive and physical experiences). 

Other tech trends predicted by Deloitte include ethical technology and trust, innovation in finance and IT, and digital twins that can increase efficiency in manufacturing, optimize supply chains, transform predictive field maintenance, and aid in traffic congestion remediation.

In 2020, L&D teams may be helping their companies familiarize themselves with these disruptive technologies, or they may be using these technologies themselves to upskill or reskill employees.

3. Using L&D to drive engagement and retention

2019 saw the unemployment rate drop to 50-year lows in both the US and the UK and the number of unfilled jobs in both countries hit an all-time high. This means that job-seekers have plenty of options and offers from multiple companies. HR and L&D teams were clearly feeling the pressure of the tight labor market since using L&D to drive engagement and retention was their #3 priority this year, with 40% of respondents naming this issue. It’s also worth noting that this was a new entry to our top 8 this year.

Research shows that employees crave learning and growth opportunities and this can be a powerful way of boosting retention. A study by Price Waterhouse Coopers showed that millennials rank learning and development as the top benefit that an employer can offer — above flexibility and financial incentives. Research from Deloitte echoes this sentiment, saying, “Millennials and other young employees have grown up in this self-directed learning environment. They expect it as part of their working lives and careers — and they will move elsewhere if employers fail to provide it.” Culture Amp also found that learning and development opportunities are also strongly linked to employee engagement levels and better rates of employee retention. According to their research, employees who stay with an organization are 24% more likely to say that they have had access to the learning and development they needed.

4. Embedding learning better in the workflow to meet on-the-job needs 

As the pace of change quickens and workplace expectations increase, it’s no longer realistic to expect employees to take time away for offsite or extended trainings — learning generally needs to happen in the flow of work. In 2020, 39% of L&D leaders said embedding learning better in the workflow is their #4 priority, up from #8 in 2019. This represents a shift in thinking about learning from a one-off event to a continuous process. Deloitte finds that high-performing companies “place the employee at the center of a new architecture and new vision that treats learning as a continuous process, not an episodic event, and as a company-wide responsibility, not one confined to HR.”

At Home Depot, for example, there’s a need to train 200,000 associates working across 2,000 stores in the US. Training was traditionally conducted via e-learning modules, which meant spending valuable time away from the sales floor. According to Brandon Carson, Home Depot’s former Director of Learning, associates viewed the e-learning modules as less valuable than their regular work. Introducing a pilot project with a mobile app allowed associates to learn in the flow of work, and the initial results were impressive: 90% of associates agreed that the mobile app helped them assist customers and improve their own knowledge. See How Digital Transformation Is Disrupting Learning.

5. Aligning learning to business outcomes 

For the modern L&D practitioner, it’s becoming increasingly important to prove how learning programs connect to business outcomes like employee engagement, productivity, and retention. Moving up from #6 in 2019, this was named the #5 priority in 2020 for 38% of survey respondents.

According to our State of the ROI of Learning report, 44% of organizations gave themselves a score of 5 out of 5 on their ability to measure the ROI of learning programs. At the same time, the majority of companies were relying on metrics like training satisfaction and completion rates. These metrics are useful to measure, but they aren’t linked directly to business outcomes. This disconnect may explain why only 33% of business leaders think the L&D function impacts business outcomes, according to the CEB

Creating a clear connection between L&D and business outcomes is the first step Udemy’s Senior Vice President of Human Resources Cara Brennan Allamano recommends to build a business case for learning. Cara suggests starting with your business leaders’ concerns and mapping your learning & development programs to those needs. For example, if a business leader shares they need 3 more mid-level managers within 18 months, you can address that need through L&D by offering management training. Find more tips from Cara in How to Make the Business Case for Learning.

6. Delivering learning faster and in a more agile way as the business changes

“The traditional waterfall approach to organizational L&D — define, design, deliver — is too slow to implement and doesn’t account for the changing nature of work. L&D leaders must channel an agile approach and modernize their solutions to manage constant disruption and deliver learning and development at the speed of business,” writes Shelley Osborne, Head of L&D at Udemy.

Considering this perspective, it’s not surprising that adapting to business changes with an agile approach to learning was named the #6 priority for 2020 by 35% of our HR and L&D respondents. 

Universities are not always known for their agility, but Geneva Business School is aiming to change that perception. They’re taking an agile approach to education by offering continually updated online content on the latest skills in real-time. Professors assign Udemy courses to students so when they come to class, they don’t have to sit passively and are more prepared to engage in active discussions. 

“If there is a new technology release or trend, we can quickly tap into the world’s leading experts on Udemy for Business to enrich our curriculum. Our professors don’t have to be experts on every topic. Instead, they can lean on Udemy for Business to complement their curriculum,” write Dr. Steven Mallon and Dr. Roy Mouawad, Executive Dean and Professor at the Geneva Business School. To explore more of Geneva Business School’s agile approach to learning, see How the Geneva Business School Stays Agile in the Digital Age.

7. Addressing talent shortages through internal training

In the past, organizations often laid off workers to address obsolete skills and then hired for new skills to move the business forward. However, with today’s tight labor markets, business leaders are beginning to recognize retraining existing talent for new roles as more effective than competing for scarce talent. While reskilling for future skills requires long-term planning, the cost of disruptive layoffs and hiring can be more expensive than providing continuous training for employees. According to a recent study by Josh Bersin, it can cost six times more to hire from without than to build talent from within. 

This may be why addressing talent shortages through internal training was ranked the #7 priority by 31% of HR and L&D leaders. Many L&D teams are looking for ways to train existing employees rather than hiring externally for in-demand skills.

At Booz Allen Hamilton, a management and technology firm, they strive to be a game-changer and leader in the data science field. They wanted to innovate and change the conversation around data to help their clients harness data in a way they’ve never used it before. That’s why they set a goal over 3 years to employ 5,000 data scientists. Due to the talent shortage, they knew they couldn’t only rely on hiring data scientists externally. Instead, they doubled down on training existing employees for new data science roles. To meet this goal, their L&D team set out to create a personalized learning program at scale using Udemy for Business and Degreed. Read Booz Allen Hamilton’s guest blog for more.

8. Proving the ROI of learning

No matter what programs and initiatives you bring to your organization, you’ll need to demonstrate the impact they’re having. Measuring the outcomes of your work is a critical step to securing budget and buy-in from executives, which is why proving the ROI of learning was ranked #8 by our survey respondents. 

Udemy’s Senior Vice President of Human Resources Cara Brennan Allamano puts it this way, “Whether you’re a full-time L&D professional, a leader responsible for developing your department, or just an advocate for learning, making the case for employee L&D initiatives isn’t always easy. And in fact, you should face challenges — you want everyone in your organization to take a thoughtful approach to adopting and rolling out new learning solutions.”

Cara’s recommendations including considering your employees’ ROI (which outcomes do they need to achieve and how can your programs help them meet those needs) and finding champions and partners throughout your organization. Read more in How to Make the Business Case for Learning.

Some companies are finding that they need to shift their thinking about how they measure the success of their programs. Bob Wagner, Learning Program Leader at Crowe LLP — a global public accounting, consulting, and technology firm — shared how his team shifted from tracking volume metrics like learner satisfaction and completion rates to measuring actual behavior change on the job. Within 60–90 days after learners completed a training, the Metrics That Matter tool would survey learners and their managers about behavior change. The initial results were promising, with 84% of learners saying they had applied new knowledge on the job. To learn more about Crowe’s approach and their results, see the on-demand webinar Proving the ROI of Learning.

To read about the top L&D priorities last year, see The Top 9 Priorities for Learning in 2019.

About Udemy for Business:

Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in today’s rapidly changing workplace by offering fresh, relevant on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at business@udemy.com

2020 Workplace Learning Trends Report: The Skills of the Future thumbnail

report

Discover the latest trending tech & soft skills, top 10 skills by industry & role, and how organizations are preparing their workforce for the future.

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