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How 2020 Will Shape the Talent Development Industry for the Next Decade

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The year 2020 has been unlike any previous year. Around the world, we’ve seen a pandemic with nearly 2 million people dying, social unrest, and an emphasis on fake news and misinformation. We’ve witnessed entire school districts from kindergarten to post-doctoral programs move from face-to-face to online learning with no lead time or preparation. Entire companies that never had a single employee working remotely suddenly have their entire workforce in home offices.

In an attempt to make sense of it all, let’s step back from the whirlwind of events, news, and information and objectively evaluate the impact on the field of talent development. Let’s see if we can leverage some of these emerging trends for both organizational and individual success.

Fake News Techniques for Good?

One troubling trend accelerated in 2020 was the use and proliferation of “fake news.” As fake news has gained momentum, the techniques used to distribute fake news are becoming more sophisticated.

One interesting (read “disturbing”) development related to fake news is the creation of deep fake videos. These are videos where a person’s likeness, mannerisms, and voice are manipulated to make it appear as if they are saying or doing something they never did or said. Technological advances and specialized techniques have made deep fakes highly realistic and difficult to distinguish from real video.

Another related development that accelerated during the pandemic is the creation of “artificial humans.” Artificial humans are created by combining artificial intelligence with natural speech, natural eye movement, realistic gestures, and a life-like appearance. The ultimate goal is to create artificial beings that pass both the Turing and Voight-Kampff tests.

All this is scary, but, on the positive side, imagine being able to orchestrate a cast of thousands with a few key strokes. You will be able to enter the description, facial expressions, gender, ethnicity, and so on, and have the perfect cast for your instructional video. You’ll be able to type in actions, scenes, and dialogue. The artificial humans will play out the scene in much the same way actual humans would. When you need to update clothes, hair styles, and other elements that age quickly in a video, you’ll type in a few commands, upload a few clothing styles, and you’ll have a brand new, refreshed video.

This will give a high degree of control and allow talent development professionals to create high-quality, realistic simulations, videos, and other learning experiences without the need for live, human actors or human models posing for clip art. The product will be developed faster and less expensive.


Digitization of the Analog

In 2020, everything had to go digital, from classroom instruction to performance reviews and meetings. Live was out of the question. With the initial rush and panic being over, organizations are now focusing on recreating the engagement and excitement of face-to-face activities commonly found in workshop or classroom settings.

Organizations are now implementing digital platforms that have converted traditional face-to-face activities such as placing stickie notes on a board in a conference room into a digital experience. Some examples of these tools are Miro and Stormboard.

Other examples are organizations taking physical card games designed for learning, which were becoming popular before the pandemic, and creating digitized versions of those games with template tools like Enterprise Game Stack. In virtual card games for learning, the learners are sitting around a virtual table, drawing and discarding cards, and learning through role-play and sorting card–based activities. These kinds of digitized physical activities provide a social connection similar to being in the same room and will only continue to grow and diversify over the next decade.

Teachers, Writers, and Others Pouring Into the Field

As a result of the pandemic, many teachers are leaving their profession and entering the field of e-learning and instructional design. But it’s not just teachers, it’s face-to-face trainers, freelance writers, and others. Designing online instruction is an opportunity for many individuals to have job security in a well-paying career field not devastated by the pandemic. While this means that many talented individuals who know about learning objectives, creating a lesson plan, and designing interactive experiences will enter the field, it also means there is a tremendous need for ongoing education among talent development professionals.

With such a large number of new folks entering the field and the rapid rate of change caused by the pandemic, many new and even seasoned talent development professionals may not have deep knowledge about e-learning; rapid instructional design techniques; or the uses of artificial intelligence, microlearning, or performance consulting. As a result, talent development departments need to provide ongoing, focused, high-quality instruction and education to their own teams.


A Rush to Face-to-Face Events but Then Back Online

With vaccines now being distributed, there is hope that by the end of 2021 or even sooner the worst will be behind us and people will again be able to gather in large groups such as face-to-face training events, meetings for launching new products, and industry conferences. There will be a huge rush back to live, face-to-face events.

After the initial rush and excitement of gathering for face-to-face events, there will be a steady, uninterrupted drift back toward online delivery. People have learned it’s convenient and less hassle than travel, and the results are closer to those of in-person delivery than many people thought. As a result, there will remain an acute focus on designing, developing, and delivering online instruction in meaningful ways.

There will no longer be the question, “Can this be delivered online?” Instead the question will be “Should we deliver this face-to-face or online?” Talent development professionals will need to develop criteria to determine if an event should be held online or if it should be face-to-face or even how a hybrid event should be delivered.


The experience of learning online in an emergency situation altered many business practices, including talent development. Fortunately, talent development professionals are in a unique position to help our fellow employees adjust to the changes in this new, uncharted environment.

About the Author

Karl Kapp, Ed.D. is a professor of instructional design and technology at Commonwealth University, Bloomsburg Campus. He is an internationally recognized expert, consultant, and instructor on the convergence of learning, technology, and business. Follow him on LinkedIn at and email at [email protected].

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It's great to see that the trends I am seeing are not only in our area of the world. Thank you for this thoughtful article and insights.
Likewise, good to see that the trend are also in other parts of the world as well. Thanks for the comment.
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Thanks for sharing about some new digital tools to peruse. I certainly think that the talent development field will grow immensely over the next decade. My hope is that the influx of people starting in this career path will offer fresh perspectives and increased innovation.

Mindy, thanks for the comment, I think the field will grow immensely and, as you indicated, benefit from the fresh perspectives, ideas and approach of the folks entering the field. It will be exciting times for out field.
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