3 Ways 2020 Shaped the Future of Online Training

Dan Belhassen
Smiling man with short black hair in a black suit jacket.
min read

The events of 2020 changed many things and accelerated some emerging trends. One thing that 2020 taught us, with a global pandemic upending business as we knew it, is that those who are adaptable, innovative, and able to implement the changes required by unpredictable eternal forces are most likely to survive and thrive. 

Here are three ways that 2020 has changed the online training industry and how those resilient organizations may respond. Will yours be among them?

Regulators emphasize importance of real results from training

Compliance training has too often been focused on completion. That is, an organization is mandated by a law or a regulatory body to administer compliance training. They’re considered to be in compliance if the employees who are required to do the training complete the training. If something went wrong, these organizations could reduce or eliminate their liability by showing that the employees had indeed done their training.

That’s no longer the case. In the U.S., and elsewhere, courts and regulatory bodies are no longer satisfied with training completion data; they want evidence that “the corporation had in place at the time of the misconduct an effective compliance program,” according to a U.S. Department of Justice document updated in 2020.

That places the burden on online training creators to measure actual learning, not just time spent training and training completions. One way to do this is instituting an everboarding or continuous learning strategy where learners work toward ever-more-challenging goals. 

Continuous learning platforms like OttoLearn build in a way to measure learning by identifying each learner’s knowledge gaps and measuring the learner’s progress toward closing those gaps.

Companies demand measurable ROI for training initiatives

As organizations face greater pressure to show that their training efforts are effective, executives will up the pressure on  their learning and development (L&D) teams: They will demand better metrics to prove that their training programs are working. 

This could fuel demand for training platforms that integrate easily with BI software, analytics and data visualization packages, and more, as L&D teams scramble to provide that proof. It could also boost the need for L&D professionals to do some training of their own, as they eliminate their own data analysis skills gaps. 

‘Work from home’ challenges peer learning

Young woman with long, dark hair pulled back in a high ponytail, wearing headphones. She sits at her desk in front of her laptop and monitor having a virtual call with colleagues, while also holding a tablet and pen.

Can new hires really learn how to do their jobs by shadowing their colleagues? Much onboarding and role-specific training is done this way — or was until COVID-19 sent everyone home to a remote, and very private, office. Trying to conduct peer learning to transfer knowledge and teach key role-related tasks via videoconferencing is unpleasant. And ineffective. 

The added friction of having to use Teams, texts, email, or the phone to ask questions has highlighted existing knowledge transfer failures and dramatically increased the stress levels of new hires and their peer trainers. 

Since work-from-home is here to stay, a better solution is needed. Organizations will redouble their focus on comprehensive and effective online training programs. This will include an increased emphasis on mobile-first, remote-friendly training formats, like microlearning or text-based training. It could also lead to stronger emphasis on collaborative learning tools like Microsoft Teams or Slack.  

L&D teams focus efforts inward

As organizations strive to improve their onboarding and role-specific training, internal training “academies” and branded micro-credentials might become a hot currency. No longer relying on peer learning to get employees up to speed means L&D teams need a new, efficient, and effective method of systematically training new employees. 

As they create this new, branded training, they may well implement micro-credentialing systems that could boost their efforts at measuring learning and demonstrating training effectiveness.

WFH fuels rise of gamification 

Striving to boost training engagement and results while also looking for ways to promote virtual team building, organizations are likely to turn to gamification. Already a popular approach to online training, gamification, especially mobile-first gamified microlearning, is an ideal way to accomplish these goals. 

Gamification has remained a hot trend because it continues to motivate and engage learners and drive improved performance. Gamified microlearning adds the advantage of connecting teammates who are working remotely and fostering team bonds. 

Demand for L&D tool integrations with communications platforms increase

As teams have moved to WFH, their use of integrated collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Slack has skyrocketed. These platforms are used for far more than instant messaging and video calls; they’re quickly becoming a hub for essential workplace applications.

Due to integrations, such as Teams’ native integration with the Microsoft Office suite, or add-ons — Slack offers a vast library —  many employees spend their entire workday ensconced in their communications platform. Meetings, chats, notifications all occur within the platform. The demand for integrated apps will only grow as this trend builds. 

For L&D teams, the ability to create, share, review, test, and iterate online training products within their communications platform work communities will be a game-changer. All stakeholders could access and collaborate on the development and improvement of eLearning and other online training content in real time, regardless of their location.

The eLearning industry shifts and consolidates

Three white paper airplanes flying in a straight line to the right. One red paper airplane turns and intersects the lines of the white paper planes and continues going up.

COVID-19 presented a do-or-die moment for eLearning content and platform vendors. The abrupt shift to online meeting, working, training, and more put pressure on online training technology vendors and accelerated an existing trend toward consolidation, sorting the vendors into the winners, who flourished in this new WFH extravaganza — and the losers, who faded away.

The trend toward consolidation favored companies that could provide a comprehensive solution — vendors whose expertise covers both platform and content. This trend is likely to accelerate, as the pressure for more and better online training increases. At the same time, the future will favor end-to-end online training vendors who tailor their solutions to each customer, rather than those who attempt to fit an off-the-rack training platform to myriad unique organizations.

Increased demand increases outsourcing

Organizations’ abrupt shift to all-online training and collaboration put enormous pressure on their L&D teams, leading to growth in outsourcing. Resource-strapped teams turned to third-party vendors for innovative solutions, new platforms and technology, and content to replace peer learning, face-to-face instruction, and other training that had been cancelled due to COVID-19.

Vendors that could ramp up quickly or had proven solutions to transforming slide decks and other instructional materials to eLearning — fast — were the winners in this headlong rush to online training. 

Welcome to the future 

Whether these predictions are borne out by the ups and downs of 2021 remains to be seen. What I can confidently predict, though, is that the vast numbers of professionals working from home will continue to drive innovations in online training, collaboration, and communication platforms, to the benefit of L&D professionals and learners worldwide.

Smiling man with short black hair in a black suit jacket.
Dan Belhassen

Dan, the founder of Neovation Learning Solutions, is obsessed with improving digital learning and training. A frequent and engaging speaker at eLearning events, Dan is sure to make learners and L&D professionals alike question long-held beliefs and stretch their thinking about how people learn and retain information.