L&D Trends for 2022: The State of the Learner in the Pandemic

Doug Glener

Research Associate



What are top concerns of L&D professionals for 2022?

Jay Campbell, Senior VP of Product Development, tackled this question in a November 2021 webinar. His presentation was based on the responses of more than 800 L&D professionals to an October 2021 survey sent out by The Ken Blanchard Companies®.

In the survey, L&D professionals were asked to share their perspectives on the health and wellness of their workforce, their learning successes, and the challenges they’re expecting in 2022. The survey included the pressing question “What’s the biggest challenge you are facing transitioning to the hybrid work environment?”

Campbell analysed the data with David Witt, Marketing Program Director. They discovered three key themes:

  1. People are overloaded, tired, and “too busy to learn.”
  2. The level of connection is dropping.
  3. L&D is stretched and dissatisfied with converted offerings.

Here’s a closer look at what they found.

Theme #1—People are overloaded, tired, and “too busy to learn”

A pervasive feeling of workforce exhaustion—and professional development suffering because of it—was a common observation in the survey. Here are snippets of what participants shared:

  • “Understaffed and overworked. With our team on scattered hybrid schedules, team members are doing extra work.”
  • “Burned out leaders are struggling to effectively manage hybrid teams.”
  • “Feelings of overwhelm and anxiety seem to be crippling our ability to get and stay focused enough to identify the learning that’s actually needed, to learn, and to apply our learning.”

These comments reflect the mental state of the UK’s population. Levels of psychological distress increased from 20.8% in 2019 to 29.5% in April 2020. These levels have continued to seesaw as pandemic threats have receded and grown, and remain above the norm.

Our mental state affects our ability to learn. Anxiety and depression, in fact, cripple it. If someone is struggling to get through the day, they will have little mental reserves left for anything else.

Longer workdays during the pandemic are exacerbating this pervasive emotional fatigue. In fact, UK workers “have increased their working week by almost 25% and…are logging off at 8pm.”

Considering all this, it’s no wonder people feel overloaded, tired, and too busy to learn.

Theme #2—The level of connection is dropping

Organisational culture can be likened to a tapestry. It is the product of many relationships woven together by shared values and norms.

Here, too, the pandemic is exacting its toll.

“That cultural tapestry is thinning. It’s weakening our sense of social cohesion and teamwork. It’s disconcerting to see this happening,” observes Campbell.

Comments from participants bolster Campbell’s insight.

  • “Learning how to be more connected when some are here some of the time, some are never here, and others are here all the time.”
  • “Emotional disconnection, loneliness, and lack of purpose…people are on a lone journey with little support and feeling very vulnerable.”
  • “Weak relationships due to working remotely”

Third-party data echo these sentiments. An analysis of the emails, calendars, instant messages, video/audio calls, and workweek hours of 61,182 US Microsoft employees over the first six months of 2020 found “a decrease in synchronous communication and an increase in asynchronous communication,” which likely made it harder for employees to gain and share information.

“We are working in silos, have smaller networks, and are connecting less frequently. When we do connect, it’s on a computer screen,” says Campbell. “There is a pervading sense of isolation. It’s a strong word, but it’s the right one. Yet paradoxically, people enjoy working remotely, which certainly has its virtues. We are all in the middle of a huge experiment.”


Theme #3—L&D is stretched and dissatisfied with converted offerings

At the start of the pandemic, L&D professionals heroically worked to convert face-to-face offerings into virtual ones. A year later, they are dissatisfied with the converted offerings.

“L&D professionals are in a difficult position,” says Campbell. “They have a growing backlog of material that needs to be converted and often don’t have the necessary resources to do it. They don’t know how to make it better—and they think, ‘We’ve just got to keep pedalling.’”

Learner engagement looms over everything. It may be the biggest theme of this report. In fact, the word engagement appears in one out of six responses—and 59% of respondents said more learner engagement is needed in their virtual and digital designs.

These themes are pressing challenges for L&D professionals. How they respond will define their workplaces as well as what they produce in the coming year.

A closing thought for succeeding in these difficult times: The greater the challenge, the greater the reward.

The Ken Blanchard Companies®

Want to explore strategies to re-engage your learners? Join our follow-up webinar on Designing Effective Learning Experiences for a Hybrid Work Environment or contact [email protected]

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