Learning & Development Trends for 2023

Written by Robin Hoyle

How was your 2022? In the dark days a year ago, I foolishly made some predictions. These were – unusually for me – pretty much OK.

I said then that the three key trends would be:

Pathways – the idea of developing skills and new capabilities using multiple channels, most importantly some element being designed to harness on-the-job experiences and application

Programmes – opportunities for individuals to branch off into specific areas of interest or capability need and

Platforms – the idea that different platforms would be used differently by individuals to meet disparate requirements; whether collaboration, keeping themselves informed or learning – alone or with colleagues.

While I still think there’s a way to go on all these three, I was reasonably chuffed that a lot of the L&D conversation of the year was certainly bending towards these topics.

So, what will trend in 2023?

My three letter acronym for 2023 is STI – an acronym with multiple applications some of which we may wish to gloss over.

Strategy. We’ve been told for years that L&D teams need to be more focused on business strategy. What we saw during the pandemic and its aftermath is that business strategy has started to take more account of what people can actually do. Effectively, business strategy needs to take more account of skills and people, not the other way round.

This extends not only to the skills they have – important but not the whole story – but also wider issues affecting capability. It’s not enough to have great skills if individuals and teams have neither the time, resources, tools or leadership to do the job required.

During the recent upheavals, we have been given more chances to inform strategy and to advise senior teams on where the organisation needs new capabilities and new ways of working to achieve its goals. It’s time to step up and widen our understanding of our organisations and their capability so we can provide the advice needed to support the acquisition of valuable skills needed now and in the future.

Technology. Learning technology seems to be a trend every year. But having to rely on technology so much to enable learning to continue during various lockdowns, I think many of us are more informed of what works and what doesn’t. Dare I say, we’ve also become increasingly sceptical of the claims made by technology vendors.

I think technology has its place in corporate and organizational learning. It can help individuals to share their experiences, collaborate with others in different locations and time zones and build a common language across companies.

However, it needs to be in service to the learning requirements of organisations and their people. Too often, adopting a specific technology determines how and what people are expected to learn, when we know one size rarely, if ever, fits all.

Think of it this way: If you went to a conference about cooking and all the presentations were organised in service of the manufacturers of sauce pans, you’d think it was odd, wouldn’t you? Well, the same applies in our world. Too often events billed about learning technologies are focussed too heavily on technology and not enough on learning. Our job is not to introduce new technologies, it is to equip teams and individuals with the skills and capabilities to succeed. Where technology helps, lets use it. Where technology delivers too little benefit for the costs in terms of time, money and resources to implement, then think again.

Impact. The strategy and technology trends for next year primarily will be informed by what we are trying to achieve and how we will know when we have achieved it. I look forward to seeing entries for L&D Oscars in 2023 which define what the changed performance goal was in relation to the L&D activity, and how well that team, individual or organisational goal was achieved. This year, when judging awards, I was too often given statistics about how many eyeballs had been on how many videos. These may be entirely valid as marketing metrics, but as measures of learning and – most importantly, team and individual performance improvement - they are meaningless.

People who tell me earnestly “Well, we can’t really measure the effect of what we do” get short shrift. If we can’t measure our value in terms of improved performance and capability, then we’re doing the wrong things.

Focusing on the performance change we want to see is an essential part of designing L&D interventions and will inform the components included in our programmes, initiatives or activities. Will this mean fewer classroom courses? Will this mean less focus on video libraries or a never ending supply of digital modules? Will this mean a more consultative role for L&D folks? I can only hope so.

Once we start to truly focus on the impact of what we do in relation to achieving business strategy then we can start to emerge from the limitations we often impose on ourselves. We cannot achieve our potential with the mantra “The answer is a course. Now what was your question?”

As with every set of predictions, I will look back as the snow falls and the days shorten in late 2023 and be amazed at just how wrong I have been. But in the meantime, enjoy another year of change, opportunity and learning.

This article was first published in Training Zone 

Tell us your perspective