If the theme of 2020 was adjusting to living and working under the new realities of the coronavirus pandemic, many people saw 2021 as a blank slate to picture and work toward a better version of themselves, in the workplace and beyond.
That's the takeaway from LinkedIn Learning's report of its top 20 most popular classes of 2021, which for the first time saw an array of courses geared toward diversity, equity and inclusion topics as some of the platform's most-viewed online classes.
Some 4.6 million people watched LinkedIn Learning's top 20 courses this year, with the No. 1 course being "Unconscious Bias," taught by Stacey Gordon, an executive advisor and diversity strategist.
It joins three other DEI-centric courses to crack the annual top 20 ranking, including Confronting Bias: Thriving Across Our Differences; Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging; and Communicating about Culturally Sensitive Issues.
The "impressive and heartening" pattern "speaks to how many people are committed to making progress in this area," Dan Brodnitz, LinkedIn Learning's head of global content strategy, tells CNBC Make It. "Learning is aspirational. When we see strong learning patterns emphasizing DEI courses, we see that as an aspirational signal from individuals, managers and organizations" of where they hope to improve.
The influx of activity is driven by both individuals seeking out courses on their own, as well as companies or managers who may connect workers with the courses, Brodnitz adds. Overall, he says, the pattern signals a broader acceptance that progress in workplace equity needs to be made, and a greater movement toward bridging those gaps.
Other courses that top the most-watched list are focused on improving interpersonal skills, such as public speaking, effective communication, personal branding and speaking confidently.
Though none of them cracked the top 20, Brodnitz notes an uptick in viewership for courses on wellness topics, such as developing a mindfulness practice and leading during times of grief.
Activity in these areas underscores the way employees are viewing professional learning not just as a way to gain office skills (think, learning how to delegate or use a new online tool), but to bring broader social issues into the workplace, whether that's DEI, stronger interpersonal connection or prioritizing wellness at work.
While the lines between work and home have dissolved over the years, the pandemic has provided a unifying moment where "this blurring between personal and professional is a trend that's here to stay," Brodnitz says.
As far as hard skills, some of the most popular technical courses this year include classes on Microsoft Excel, Python and SQL, which Brodnitz says tend to remain steady year-to-year.
LinkedIn Learning saw a 53% increase in global hours spent learning this year, after an already jampacked 2020 when online learning skyrocketed as home-bound office workers sought out videos to help with time management, work-from-home productivity and online communication tips.
That the platform continues to see growth indicates employees "are making learning a priority in a dramatic way," says Brodnitz. He attributes much of this year's new activity to what he calls the "Great Reshuffle," where employees are quitting jobs and taking new ones — sometimes in a different industry or profession — at a rapid clip.
So far, the future of work in 2022 remains as chaotic as ever, with forecasts of office reopenings, larger shifts to hybrid work and innovations in remote operations hanging in the balance. Brodnitz says future online learning patterns will reflect learning to work and lead through ambiguity.
"Anybody who prognosticates far from this moment is playing an interesting game," he says, and "it's important to watch the signals for the next few months and build a system that's quick and responsive to the moment."
To that end, LinkedIn Learning is offering full access to its top 20 most popular courses of 2021 for free until October 15. Here's what will be available.
Instructor: Stacey Gordon
Course description: Identify some of the most common forms bias can take, and uncover strategies for identifying and overcoming those personal or even organizational biases.
Instructor: Dorie Clark
Course description: Managers and leaders learn how to use strategic thinking to guide teams and develop solutions to key business problems.
Instructor: Dennis Taylor
Course description: Discover techniques to navigate multiple worksheets, and formatting shortcuts across the platform to help save time.
Instructor: Jeff Ansel
Course description: Learn how to organize your thoughts, breathe properly, use your body and words to express ideas, and understand how to overcome anxiety.
Instructor: Pete Mockaitis
Course description: Adapted from the podcast "How to Be Awesome at Your Job," discover ways to control your focus, ensure consistency in your delivery and establish recovery methods in the face of difficult situations.
Instructor: Verna Myers and Arianna Huffington
Course description: Discover how to create inclusive environments where everyone can thrive, and how to overcome saying the wrong thing — or nothing at all — and counter unconscious bias in our words and actions.
Instructor: Pat Wadors
Course description: Managers and executives are invited to learn how to drive the conversation on DIBs — Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging — to include the third element to an important conversation and understand the best path to hire and retain diverse talent, listen to employees, and integrate DIBs into your employee experience.
Instructor: David Rivers
Course description: Learn the features and capabilities of Excel to begin creating and opening workbooks, entering text and numbers, working with formulas, basic formatting, inserting charts, and sharing and printing workbooks.
Instructor: Mike Figliuolo
Course description: Practice a series of techniques to define a problem and the tools to begin solving for the solution. Plus, develop this skill across your team.
Instructor: Dave Crenshaw
Course description: Develop habits to be more organized and reduce clutter in your workspace; stay mentally on task and eliminate the to-dos you have floating in your head; and develop a time budget to focus on your most valuable activities.
Instructor: Bill Weinman
Course description: Learn key functions like creating tables, defining relationships, manipulating strings, numbers, and dates; using triggers to automate actions; and using subselects and views.
Instructor: Chelsea Krost
Course description: Create consistency in your routine to promote yourself, and opportunities to monetize your brand.
Instructor: Doug Rose
Course description: Embrace an agile mindset can help you prioritize customers over shareholders and create a more horizontal team framework that welcomes input from all.
Instructor: Daisy Lovelace
Course description: Gather insights on how to ask better questions, respond with more empathy and extend a meaningful apology.
Instructor: Jeff Toister
Course description: Learn how to help your customers feel more valued to keep them coming back, provide the right help at just the right time and use customer feedback to improve the experience for everyone on both sides of the transaction.
Instructor: Dorie Clark
Course description: Learn to grapple with tricky situations (like how to deal with interruptions), respond to critical feedback and effectively communicate across cultures.
Instructor: Bill Weinman
Course description: Create more efficient and effective scripts, and put yourself in a position to be in demand.
Instructor: Tatiana Kolovou
Course description: Prepare to make a powerful, memorable first impression at any moment in person, on the phone or even online.
Instructor: Dennis Taylor
Course description: Learn critical shortcuts to speed up your work, and practical examples in real-world scenarios.
Instructor: Brad Batesole
Course description: Learn best practices for developing and distributing video content, mobile marketing and influencer marketing. Explore ways to enhance the buyer's journey by improving your own digital skill set.