The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in digital learning with seven in ten organisations (70%) reporting an increase in use of digital or online solutions over the last year, according to the latest Learning and Skills at Work report from the CIPD and Accenture.

More than a third of organisations (36%) have also increased their investment in learning technology in the last year.

The report, which surveyed over 1,200 UK organisations, highlights how the learning profession has adapted as a result of COVID-19 and its disruption to the world of work.

The switch to a more digital model has gone well, with 77% of organisations saying they’re successfully using learning technology and 69% saying they’re innovating in their use of learning technology.

COVID-19 has not just had an impact on the way organisations deliver learning, though, with the report suggesting learning professionals have been prompted to reflect more widely about the future of work:

  • Half (51%) have assessed the impact of automation on roles and how to redeploy talent (up from 40% in 2020)
  • Two thirds (64%) have assessed which roles are changing and how to reskill employees (up from 56% in 2020). 

Encouragingly, organisations seem well placed to respond to changes in the world of work, with 81% either agreeing or strongly agreeing they understand the skills in their own team and the skills they’ll need for tomorrow.

However, the report highlights a number of red flags for the learning profession, not least that nearly a third have seen their headcount (32%) and budget (31%) decrease in the last year.

Gains in learning technology may be less clear-cut than it first appears as well. While the use of “basic” digital learning, like webinars, has increased, the use of “sophisticated” digital learning – which can be more accessible, engaging, and effective – has stalled. For example, the proportion of organisations using mobile apps in 2021 (13%) is level with 2020 (12%). This suggests that, for the most part, organisations are transferring their face-to-face content online and only a minority are making the most of learning technology and its benefits.

The report also finds that learning professionals are not widely using evidence to inform their learning offer. Currently, only 32% say they are proactive in identifying the performance issue before recommending a solution.

Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, said: 

"Being able to reskill and redeploy workers during the last year has been essential for individuals and organisations to adapt to changing needs – and for the wider economy. It’s been great to see the learning profession stepping up and delivering, despite many having their budget and headcount reduced. Digital learning done well delivers benefits in building new skills, and the pandemic is catalysing shifts in learning capabilities that are much needed. It has also proven to be a prompt for learning professionals to take stock of other changes coming down the track that they need to be prepared for, particularly in relation to automation. We hope to see the innovation and adaptability they’ve demonstrated over the past year continue as they help individuals and organisations adjust – and excel – in the ever-changing world of work."

Andy Young, Managing Director within the Talent & Organisation practice at Accenture, said:

“This report shows that learning never stops. With all the upheaval of the last year, the need for learning is greater than ever before, with businesses needing both better technology skills and more human ingenuity. People want more growth and development at work, whether they are at home, in the office, or a bit of both. To cope with this, learning professionals have had to reset plans and they should be congratulated on their resilience. This report also provides clear messages for the CEO and other business leaders with clear differences between the ‘haves’, who have good sponsorship, funding and sophisticated learning technology and data – where outcomes have accelerated in the last year – versus the ‘have nots’, who are getting by with reduced funding, limited infrastructure or no professional learning support.”

Recommendations for the learning profession from the report include:

  • Reflect on what has worked well in the past year and what can be adapted to ensure success in the changing world of work
  • A digital learning strategy should be at the core of an overall learning strategy, with leaders tapping into more advanced learning methods beyond webinars and e-learning. Digital investment should be targeted and supported by a clear business case; it should be piloted on a small scale first before expansion
  • To maintain a sense of connection in the digital era, build purposeful relationships and connections across the organisation. This includes establishing a clear role for line managers when it comes to learning provision and encouraging peer collaboration
  • Work with senior leaders to understand the future of the work and the skills that will be needed in the organisation, ensuring the workforce is digitally fluent with essential human skills. Make a plan together and reassess it as workforce needs change and new skills emerge
  • Ensure the design and delivery of learning in the organisation is evidence-based by harnessing new skilling analytics. Agree the desired outcome first and work backwards, engaging with stakeholders and gathering qualitative and quantitative data along the way.

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