As the pandemic continues to drive changes to business strategy and practice for a third year, the need for new skills is emerging in different ways. There are two ways this is appearing in L&D plans, as upskilling and as reskilling. Both are important to your planning for 2022.

According to LinkedIn’s 2020 Workplace Learning Report, 51% of learning and development professionals plan to launch upskilling programs in the next year, while 43% plan for reskilling programs. What is the difference between these two types of initiatives, how do you know which one should have priority for your organization, and what actions should learning and development organizations undertake to execute on that priority?

Upskilling: enhancing skills that employees previously had

Upskilling involves making incremental changes to skill sets without necessarily changing the fundamentals of the jobs themselves. This may be a matter of:

  • Future-proofing: improve performance without changing jobs or career paths
  • Strategic changes in business objectives
  • Skill requirements driven by changes in technology or regulatory rules: e.g., robotic process automation, certifications
  • Supporting new initiatives; for example, managers need to add coaching skills to achieve DEI objectives

Upskilling is the focus of this article.

Reskilling: teaching new skills to employees

Articles in print and online publications for the past several months have been examining what is called “The Great Resignation”. Although this article is not focused on reskilling, Pam Hogle’s article in Learning Solutions on dealing with the number of employees who are leaving their jobs is well worth reading as you make plans for your L&D initiatives in 2022.

Reskilling is a strategic, proactive response to "The Great Resignation". Organizations can take steps through reskilling to ensure that current employees, especially high performers, don’t want to leave. Reducing turnover makes it possible for companies to retain critical knowledge and experience, saving costs on recruiting and onboarding.

Here is an example of a reskilling initiative that gives existing employees a new skill set in interactive learning. Similar initiatives can provide employees with new and important strategic skill sets in other critical areas such as artificial intelligence and data analytics. These can certainly encourage employees to stay onboard where strategic changes require and support those skills.

Microlearning : a pathway for recruiting and for retaining employees

Microlearning is an effective way to both upskill and reskill, especially in the current situation where organizations find themselves pressed to recover from the pandemic. Upskilling can be an important element of recovery, given the difficulties experienced in finding new employees. Integrating new employees into your organization will likely require some different planning, including onboarding and retaining new employees beyond the first six months.

If microlearning is a new topic to readers, a recommended resource is Microlearning: Short and Sweet, by Karl M. Kapp and Robyn A. Defelice. A review of this guide was published in Learning Solutions in 2019. In a concise 189 pages, Kapp and Defelice show the reader how to create microlearning. At the very beginning, they make four important points (among many others) that designers and managers who are contemplating adopting microlearning as a strategy should keep in mind:

  • Microlearning is meant to be part of a larger learning system
  • Microlearning is the smallest unit of instruction possible, mapped back to higher outcomes
  • Microlearning can take any of a number of forms; it is not limited to one medium or another
  • “Short engagement” means a participant will be engaged in an activity for about 5 - 15 minutes

The authors are careful to explain in the Foreword that, “the idea that microlearning is a quick and easy way to jazz up a stale learning program is a bit of a myth. Microlearning can actually take just as long, if not more time, to develop and implement. … What we are saying is that microlearning needs as much attention from an instructional design standpoint as any other form of training.”

Kapp and Defelice have added a reference that everyone in this field should have for study and use, especially for use in delivering instruction under the pressure that we can expect in 2022. We should not expect to have a return to the luxury of multi-day, in-person training programs for upskilling employees.

Guidelines and reviews for software selection

Here are some online resources to assist you in your planning.

Capterra blog

SourceForge (Editor’s note: this extensive resource will require some study.)

Research and Markets