“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That classic Dickensian opening line perfectly summarizes the state of L&D in 2020.

The pandemic has generated immediate learning needs and many L&D professionals have responded admirably using tools and techniques that seem custom-made for rapid response in a social-distanced environment. We’ve helped people learn new-to-them technology and emerging work practices. And we’ve often been able to make L&D activities available online at scale so people can develop skills while some of their projects are on “pause.”

For some people, then, this waiting-for-the-world-to-restart time can be filled with personal professional development projects. The best of times for L&D.

And yet this environment contains obvious and hidden stressors that make it less conducive to learning than we might like to think. On March 15 (quite early in this crisis), educational technology expert Audrey Waters offered this sobering perspective:

“We are in the middle of a global health crisis, a global economic crisis; we are in the middle of millions of individual health crises, millions of individual economic crises. This is not going to be a great time for teaching and learning.”

People are panic working and suffering existential angst. Workforces are being reduced and budgets cut. Head space and work time are being overwhelmed with caring for and worrying about children, and parents, and vulnerable people in our families and social circles. Yeah – the worst of times, not a great time for L&D.

Now more than ever we need to be close to what is going on in the organizations and with the people we wish to serve. We need to step up to support the development of immediately needed skills using tools and methodologies that may not be familiar. And we need to be listening hard to the conversations about how things will be operating in six months or a year so we can provide valuable perspective and service. The pundits are willing to venture speculation about what the future holds for L&D, but the truth is that the needs and opportunities will be unique to each organization.

It may be that we need to accelerate the development of our own skill sets. As I wrapped up a recent masters’ level instructional design course (one which began “before” but ended  “after”), I told the students that this is a great time to have instructional design background – we’re going to need all the skills that entails to redesign the world that we all go back to on the other side of the pandemic. Let’s make it better than ever!

If you’re looking to get updated on emerging practices and new skills, there are many online events on the upcoming calendar (for example, see my conferences list on this page), and some experts are offering free webinars as well. You may also want to chart your own course to develop the skills you need for the future. As I wrapped up the ID course, I took the time to curate some of my recommendations for reading materials and connections helpful for deepening design skills along several dimensions. (Full disclosure: As a book geek, I tend to offer those as the best in-depth resources.)

In addition, I’m offering complimentary consulting through the end of May – in case you need a sounding board, or resource recommendations, or advice on a project you are working. Sign up here; I’m happy to help if I can.

At the moment, the world outside my windows is remote and foreboding. But I am very much looking forward to what we will build in our post-pandemic future. I myself plan to spend some of my time now getting ready for that time when…