The Learning Meme of 2021 — A Lesson for Learning

Just hours after the first coronavirus lockdown, the memes started rolling in, their punchlines becoming ever more incredulous as the weeks wore on. By autumn, the new WFH masses, now literally left to their own devices, were ordering Zoom shirts from Instagram, sipping quarantinis at 10am, and juggling home-schooling with furlough finances. But remarkably, from the chaos, came progress. LVMH refitted perfume production lines to make hand-sanitiser. Brick-and-mortar restaurants signed up to Deliveroo; yoga classes went virtual; classrooms went online. In what for many was an exponential learning curve, businesses adapted and survived the most devastating year of the 21st century.

Those that prevailed had one vital advantage: not their office spaces or their balance sheets but the creativity of their people. Programmers, marketers, salespeople, accountants, administrators — no matter what ‘box’ they had been previously placed in, all had to mine deep reserves of innovation, agility, and collaboration to save their companies from collapse.

For those who work in corporate learning — the lessons are unforgettable. Firstly, miracles can (and do) happen in companies that value human potential as deeply as raw profit. Secondly, people will adapt — learning new skills when and where they need to, not when and where they are told. Thirdly, agile and flexible networked teams will naturally outperform isolated people in fixed roles.

Technology, too, played its part as an enabler of change. 2020 was a year in which ‘going online’ meant survival, yet pre-COVID it was considered an optional extra. Consequently, some L&D professionals found themselves ill-prepared and lacking the necessary digital skills to drive the machinery. That it needed a global pandemic to drag classroom training online, while employees had been plugged into YouTube and WhatsApp for years, was proof of how arrhythmic the L&D profession had become to the beat of its learners. Coronavirus was the catalyst that L&D needed to lurch forward.

Now it must ride that momentum and propel itself into a fearless digital future, building next-level skills such as data analysis, AI personalisation, and performance consulting; never again to be caught off-guard.

I am confident we will succeed. Last year, over 100 prominent CEOs signed a Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation pledging to “…support employees through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world.”

The SEC also recently mandated that training and development metrics be included alongside financial statements for certain US companies. These bold actions will undoubtedly have a far-reaching impact on workplace L&D.

So what does this mean for learning and performance? Firstly, we must cultivate the human skills that will help us tackle future challenges; secondly, we must build digital skills to support a rapidly evolving technical landscape. Indeed, continuous skills mapping will become critical for workforce planning, as will the need for Communities of Practice that keep ad-hoc skills current. For more in-depth learning, Capability Academies will become the backbone for specific business strategies and function areas.

As we pull away from the tailspin of 2020 and reflect on what we see, it is clear that learning is not merely about courses, tutors or LXP’s. It is about attitude and action. It is the armour with which we fortify ourselves against challenge and adversity, with confidence and alacrity.

I write about learning, arts, culture, digital, and people.