2020 has been a roller coaster of a year. And learning and development professionals have been feeling all the ups and downs. The sudden shift to remote work brought on by COVID-19 meant adapting long-standing training programs and practices. The uncertainty about the future makes it hard to anticipate what employees will need to tackle tomorrow’s challenges.

What will learning look like at work in 2021 and beyond

After combing through the 2020 learning behaviors of thousands of global companies on the Udemy for Business platform, six learning and development trends emerged. Read on to gain insights you can use to prepare for 2021 and understand which skills that will shape your workforce in the year ahead. 

6 learnings and development trends that will define 2021

Trend #1: Pursuit of self-mastery

Mental health and its effect on workplace productivity is no longer a taboo topic. Wellness has become a frequent discussion point among HR leaders in the last few years. And, based on the demand for these skills in 2020, employees are gaining the skills needed to bring their best selves to work. 

Skills related to this trend:

A study conducted in March and April of 2020 found the mental health of almost 42% of respondents had declined since the COVID-19 outbreak began. As the workforce continues to grapple with the challenges of the pandemic, employee well-being should be an ongoing priority for leaders. 

Trend #2: Remote collaboration

The communication process is often taken for granted. This is particularly relevant now, as teams navigate a sea of digital communications ambiguity now that in-person communication is limited. In 2020, the high demand for communication skills shows that teams are learning how to be better listeners and make space for healthy debate — and, more importantly, one another. 

Skills related to this trend: 

In her November–December 2019 Harvard Business Review cover story, Harvard Business School professor and behavioral scientist Francesca Gino says the secret ingredients of sustainable collaboration — such as effective communication and social awareness — are rare. But, the Udemy for Business consumption data show that in this new remote environment, teams are beginning to emphasize the skills needed to “crack the code” on collaboration. 

Trend #3: Data literacy imperative

Data science isn’t just for data scientists anymore. Employees across all disciplines are learning how to unlock the potential of data. In fact, some type of data literacy is important for nearly any role. Those who can interpret data, draw insights from data, and communicate the insight to stakeholders are invaluable to their organization. 

Skills related to this trend: 

“In a world that quite literally runs on data,” says Maven Analytics founder and Udemy instructor Chris Dutton. “It’s time to start treating analytics as a core competency rather than a rare and specialized skill. Companies must build a culture that values data literacy at all levels, supports data-driven decision making, and weaves analytics into every part of the organization.”

Trend #4: Data science automation

With the growth of data analysis skills, data scientists can now spend more time exploring complex business questions. How? Machine learning techniques that provide insights and predictions far beyond the typical dashboard. But preparing the massive amounts of data needed for those pipelines is no simple task. Automation tools help data scientists speed up the process and become more strategic in their data projects.

Skills related to this trend:

“Huge strides in machine learning and artificial intelligence have allowed for the creation of new data science tools that automate a variety of repetitive tasks,” says Pierian Data Head of Data Science and Udemy data science instructor Jose Portilla. “Data scientists have more time to focus on developing clear business solutions instead of cleaning data.”

Trend #5: Hybrid tech roles

Many technical teams are moving away from single domain expertise as agile project management offers more flexibility in software development. Hybrid roles are becoming the norm as leaders encourage employees to build expertise in more than one subject directly related to their job function.

Skills related to this trend:

“Context in any product environment is important and often overlooked,” says Sprintkick founder and Udemy instructor Evan Kimbrell. “The more skills a team member has, the better they can understand more parts of the product. The more parts they understand, the better and more insightful their decision making becomes.”

Trend #6: Cybersecurity urgency

As global workforces went remote because of COVID-19, cybersecurity took on new urgency for IT teams. Employees were no longer within the secure digital network of the office. Many started using personal devices for work.

What’s at stake should any of these employees fall victim to hacking? According to PwC, organizations with poor security practices risk financial loss. Plus, intellectual property, employee data, customer data, and their hard-earned reputation are on the line as well. 

Skills related to this trend:

Security is every employee’s responsibility, especially as they work from home. Malwarebytes found that “44% of respondents’ organizations did not provide cybersecurity training that focused on potential threats of working from home (like ensuring home networks had strong passwords, or devices were not left within reach of non-authorized users).” 

Learning agility and upskilling are the new normal in 2021

Despite the tumult of 2020, a bright future lies ahead with training at its core. You can grow your company’s upskilling opportunities and strengthen its learning agility. It all starts with empowering your employees to learn and guiding them with the tools that will help them prepare for the future.

Want to dig more into the trends discussed here and uncover what they mean for your organization? Download the full 2021 Workplace Learning Trends Report.