Although I can hardly believe it is nearly Christmas already, like many of us I have spent the last few weeks at a flurry of client receptions and networking events. These opportunities to step back from the normal hectic day-to-day pace, and have some time to listen and learn are very useful and enjoyable. Some of the main themes that have been emerging at these recent events as we all mull over progress in our industry over the last year are very appropriate for this time of year, when we value togetherness and sharing and when we try to look to the future in a spirit of optimism and hope,.

I have also been hearing a genuine sense of confidence and optimism from vendors and clients alike that our industry is now really getting to grips with some of the big challenges that have arisen over the past few years.

In the front line

Employers consistently identify the ability to think critically, problem-solving capabilities and effective communication skills as the key skills today’s workforce needs to master. As a judge for the LPI Awards, I was very impressed with the entries in the category of social and collaborative media – and it clear that corporate learning has considerably evolved since I first started in the industry. In terms of valuing togetherness and sharing, these entries demonstrated how a diverse set of companies is using social and collaborative media to develop demonstrably effective learning initiatives.

As one presenter put it, “I just thought we should learn at work the same way we do at home”. Companies are realising the benefits of using social media to harnessing their employees’ knowledge and creativity, and the resulting improvements to customer service, cost efficiencies and employee satisfaction.

There are many industry blogs and reports highlighting the key trends in 2014, and these are consistent with the messages I have been hearing from my own clients throughout this year. In particular, the expectation that the use of video will continue to grow, that delivery across mobile devices will be essential, and personalization become ever more important. Another interesting focus has been on affective learning – using the power of feelings and emotions to engage learners, which is a critical element of the learning tools developed by Toolwire.

Especially at Christmas, we place a very high value on spending time with family, friends and loved ones. Most of us struggle with achieving an acceptable work-life balance at other times of the year. So despite all the benefits from being a digitally networked individual, being ‘always on’ has its downside too.

Some companies are starting to take quite drastic steps to try to control the amount of work encroaching on employees’ home lives. For example, Volkswagen turn off access to emails after end of shift for some employees, BMW is aiming to prevent contact outside of working hours and a New York based company instigated a ‘blackout week’ once a quarter.

I am not sure that prescriptive measures such as these are the most appropriate, but at least organisations are recognising the impact of our 24/7 use of technology and considering how to ensure a culture change aimed at improving health and wellbeing, as well as ultimately mitigating against the costs of stress and burnout on a company.

So as we end 2013 and prepare for a New Year, let’s be optimistic about success in 2014, let’s celebrate the new ethos of togetherness and sharing that social media has enabled within our lives and hope that we can learn how to use the gift of technology in a way which only enhances our life and work.