Learning Futures — How seven trends will shape learning and development.

“Things get much easier if one jumps on the bandwagon of existing trends.”

— Lei Jun¹

The pandemic has not been a change agent so much as an accelerant. Fuel on an already burning fire. So argues Scott Galloway in his new book, Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity

If that’s true — and we believe it is — what underlying trends are shaping the world of learning and development? In the latter half of 2020, fassforward conducted qualitative interviews with nearly 100 business leaders, HR professionals, learning practitioners, and academics to find out how remote learning would change.

Here are seven trends that surfaced in those conversations.

Remote work.

The move to remote work seems inevitable. Despite the drawbacks of Zoom Gloom, there will be a permanent shift to remote work. To be effective, businesses will have to rethink how they work and collaborate on a daily basis. Organizations that choose a flexible work option will be particularly challenged. At any one time, half the team could be remote, and the other half, face-to-face. New habits and mindsets around this half remote, half live work will emerge.

Interest over time in remote work, Google Trends.

A theme from our research: the intertwining of remote work and learning.

There is nothing like a crisis to demonstrate what you can do when you have to do it. COVID has demonstrated this to us in a big way. Now we need to shift our focus to the human experience by demonstrating empathy and flexibility, and meeting people where they are so everyone can do their best work. — Maryanne Spatola, CEO, C3 Talent Strategies

Flexible and remote work has knock-on effects on learning. Learning will still happen in the flow of work, but work will change. Leaders worry about the loss of social cohesion on teams and its impact on their culture. This will mean training and learning will take on some of that burden.

Google autosuggest for remote work

Ikigai and conscious capitalism.

The founder of Whole Foods, John Mackey, coined the term “conscious capitalism.” It’s the idea that while money talks in business, there is a higher purpose beyond profit. Purpose serves the needs of shareholders, employees, customers, and society. Thus the movement to purpose-driven organizations and teams. There is a commercial benefit to this movement. Consumers are more likely to buy from, protect and champion purpose-driven companies.³

Interest over time in conscious capitalism, Google Trends.

A theme from our research: learning connects to purpose.

If conscious capitalism works for the corporation, Ikigai works for the individual. It’s the fulfilling space where what you do serves a greater good, is something you are good at, like to do, and get paid for.

Our own coaching practice has reflected this trend. According to fassforward Executive Coach Sheri Reynard, “People are actively seeking to understand where they sit in the world now, and align it with their work-life.”

Millennials and Gen Z have a more profound commitment to purpose than previous generations. They believe the primary purpose of businesses should be “improving society.”⁴ SHRM tells us that 94% of millennials want to use their skills to benefit a cause.⁵ 91% of millennials prefer to buy from purpose-driven brands.⁶

This flows into learning. Curiosity, intrinsic motivation, and learning connect to the learners’ own sense of purpose. This has to connect to the purpose of the organization.

Google autosuggest for conscious capitalism


The topic of the moment at the World Economic Forum is upskilling. Its “Reskilling Revolution” is an ambitious initiative to provide a billion people with better skills by 2030.”⁷

Upskilling is top of mind for CEOs. 87% of companies have skills gaps or expect them in a few years.⁸ Upskilling is the top of everyone’s agenda, according to the 2021 L&D sentiment poll by Donald H Taylor.⁹

The pandemic has made the skills gap worse. COVID-19 accelerated digital transformation. Across industries, machine learning, AI, and automation are replacing jobs.

Interest over time in upskilling, Google Trends.

A theme from our research: upskilling will demand a learning culture.

“A learning culture would mean that the norm and the behavior would be about continuously acquiring new knowledge, building new skills. But at the core of that is curiosity. If you don't have a curious culture, you can't have a learning culture.” — Janice Robinson Burns, Chief Career Experience Officer, Degreed

As upskilling rises to the top of a CEO’s agenda, the need for a learning culture will rise with it. CLOs will work hand-in-hand with their peers to build new collective habits and shape that culture.

Google autosuggest for automation


There’s a boom in EdTech. In 2020, investment capital lavished $2.2 Billion funding U.S. EdTech businesses.¹⁰ An increase of 30% over the previous year, with a record 130 deals inked. This level of investment represents an industry ripe for disruption with a swath of innovation to come.

These technologies will “put the humanity back,” according to Dream-See-Do CEO Jeremy Berman. This technology convergence — in learning analytics, gamification, AI,and blockchain — will make remote learning easier.

Interest over time in Edtech, Google Trends.

A theme from our research: experiment with technology and pedagogy.

“In the context of learning, humans have learned how to communicate and learn in person for over 10,000 years, but have only been learning online for 10-15 at most. Before the pandemic hit, many people weren't thinking critically about remote learning. Now we have a whole new awareness of what it’s like.” — Ryan Laverty, President, Arist.

Learning professionals will have to master the tech stack. This is more than unpacking the acronyms HCM, LMS, and LXP.¹¹ Experimenting with new, emerging technologies will drive engagement, accessibility, and ease of production. One caution — don't let technology disrupt the flow of work. If learning occurs in the flow of work, technologies should suit that, not that disrupt that.

Google autosuggest for Edtech


Virtual worlds have been around for a while. Every decade, their promise threatens to break out of the gaming universe. Myst in 1993. Second Life in 2003. Oculus Rift in 2013.

The pandemic has accelerated this trend. Where in-person training programs couldn’t adapt to Zoom, virtual steps in. Pepsico, for example, used Minecraft as a basis of its Lean Six Sigma program.¹²