As we get ready to put the wraps on 2016, many of us are still processing the literally world-changing events that have transpired. Nonetheless, we need to prepare for 2017, and that requires making educated bets on what the future holds.

Here are some workplace learning trends I expect to gain steam over the next year and maintain momentum even longer than that.

More companies will beef up learning and development

With the workplace changing faster than ever and new technologies being introduced all the time, corporate learning needs to stay ahead of the curve with fresh, in-the-moment training--in hard and soft skills--that empowers individuals to control when, where, and how they learn.

Marketers have figured out that one-to-many communications don't work in our hyperconnected digital age; consumers now direct the conversation. It's high time learning and development leaders accept the same reality and stop pushing mandatory compliance training and ineffective, one-size-fits-all tutorials to their consumers. 2017 will be the year more companies see how L&D programs, when done right, can be true differentiators that deliver competitive advantage and lift employee engagement.

This will require L&D teams to rethink their roles and collaborate more closely with business managers. Together, they'll curate relevant learning content for the personalized experiences employees want, acting as guides and facilitators for workers' self-directed training.

There's plenty of upside to this approach. Employees get access to resources that help them perform better in their jobs, and they feel valued by employers that invest in their growth. In the face of constant change, lifelong learners will always have a leg up on their peers who aren't actively working to keep their skills relevant. Meanwhile, companies improve retention rates (especially among millennials, who are most likely to get restless and change jobs) and keep their workforce's skills aligned to business needs.

More companies will ditch performance reviews

We took this step in early 2016 when we instituted the "Udemy conversation," an alternative to traditional reviews that just put people in the hot seat once or twice a year. For us, it simply made sense to adopt a process suited to the constantly shifting needs of our business and the ambitions and curiosity of our people. If managers aren't having open, honest conversations with their direct reports all the time, we risk losing amazing talent and undermining our success.

Startups aren't alone in recognizing the need to upgrade performance reviews for the 21st century. Millennials, now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, are quite vocal about their desire for feedback and career development. Annual reviews aren't going to cut it for hungry employees, who will simply find another job where they feel free to pursue their goals and get ahead in their careers.

Rather than subjecting people to a rigid system of judgment, more companies will encourage transparent communications where individual contributors feel comfortable sharing their long-term plans and interests and managers help ensure people work on projects aligned to their career aspirations, not just their current job function.

More companies will fill talent gaps by hiring from within

We've been reading about it for a while now: there's a shortage of candidates qualified to fill open jobs. Suggested solutions have included starting kids learning coding as early as possible, immersive bootcamps that teach programming languages, and various programs designed to get more people, from more diverse backgrounds, interested in STEM skills. These are all worthwhile ideas, but companies need to fill their skills gaps today, not in months or years from now.

That's why I think more companies will wake up to the rich source of talent that already exists right under their noses: current employees who have the drive, passion, and potential to move into new roles. To my earlier point, if you're delivering effective learning and development, you're more likely to attract and retain employees who fit that description, which also lowers talent acquisition costs.

We've been closing our own hiring gaps at Udemy this way to great success, shifting people among support, operations, product, engineering, and other teams in order to satisfy our employees' desire for career development while also filling critical job openings. For example, an awesome product manager here wanted to work in operations. It might have seemed more prudent to keep her in the role where she was already excelling, but then she would've gone elsewhere to explore her interests. She's killing it in operations now and was here to onboard her replacement on the product team. Everyone wins.

As we flip the calendar to a new year, I fully expect companies to revisit the way they think about hiring, training, and retaining their best and brightest--not just in 2017 but as a regular practice going forward. To use a well-worn saying, the only thing that stays constant is change. It's never been more true than right now.

Published on: Dec 7, 2016