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Hiring Trends in 2021 for Digital Learning

In 2021, digital learning experts will play a vital role in schools, universities, and corporations. These are the hiring trends that will impact the digital learning industry.


From students to digital learning professionals, 2020 caught everyone by surprise. We’ve had to adjust more quickly than ever before. The relatively slow movement toward digitization in learning accelerated drastically. Corporations, universities, and K-12 schools were forced to change the way they work, learn, and hire to keep up with demand. Now, as we look forward to 2021, it is clear that digitization is here to stay.

Embracing digital learning will require organizations to rethink how they hire, train, and nurture talent. Digital learning experts will play a vital role in schools, universities, and corporations. But organizations can only attract the most qualified talent if they understand the factors impacting their industry and what digital learning experts want from employers. The following trends will influence hiring for digital learning in 2021 and beyond.

Evolving Trends for 2021

The events of 2020 sparked three major trends that will continue to evolve into 2021. First, organizations are finding their footing in digital learning. They’ve responded to the initial crisis and now they’re looking for ways to optimize operations and prepare for future challenges. Second, vendors are becoming a central element of the support structure for organizations. Finally, the flexible workforce continues to grow as schools, colleges, and corporations face new challenges.

Trend #1: Optimizing Out of Crisis

After the initial crisis response, organizations have become more comfortable with the new pace of digital transformation. Most now recognize that we will not return to pre-pandemic operations. They have the basics in place, so 2021 will be all about developing long-term sustainable digital processes, practices, and products.

Schools, in particular, are learning that they must always be ready for digital learning. High quality online and blended learning is no longer a nice to have, it’s an essential way to support students. Meanwhile, corporations have rediscovered the importance of staying digitally connected to their employees. They’re investing in digitally-enabled training and development that can reach employees wherever they are.

Trend #2: Increased Reliance on Vendors

Vendors enabled organizations to quickly transition elements of core operations. In 2021, vendors will play an increasingly vital role by enabling flexibility and speed to response as conditions shift. Organizations will also build out core capabilities in key areas by hiring new types of professionals who can build and support digital operations. This will include web developers, software engineers, instructional designers, and eLearning developers just to name a few.

Trend #3: Rise of the Flexible Workforce

In 2020, we saw an uptick in the number of temporary and contract workers in the digital learning space. McKinsey reports a drop in the overall temporary workforce as industries like manufacturing and retail saw declines. However, the organizations that utilize this type of labor can enhance their flexibility and resilience. The learning industry will continue to overhaul curriculums, especially in higher ed. This process is likely to take 2-5 years. During that time, temporary workers will be invaluable. Organizations should consider how they will onboard, train, and manage this flexible workforce.

Digital Learning Hiring Trends by Industry

The experience of and demand for digital learning professionals will vary across industries in 2021. What unites them is the vitality of their role. To meet the demands of 2021 and beyond, we must put digital learning at the heart of our hiring decisions. A closer look at each industry can reveal vital insights for hiring digital learning experts.

Higher Education

As colleges wrestled with whether and how to reopen, many relied on faculty members to move their courses online. Few had the skills or experience to do this successfully, which frustrated students, faculty, and administrators alike. Fortunately, support for faculty is increasing and will continue to grow in 2021. Instructional designers, technologists, multimedia specialists, videographers, and other digital learning specialists are stepping in to provide their expertise.

Meanwhile, managers and leaders are taking the necessary steps to address current and future needs. They’re building courses online, training faculty, and hiring experts. They’re also considering ways and tools to build digital learning that supports student and institutional goals after the pandemic.

Whether programs are optimized to stay online or converted into blended learning opportunities, higher education will need more digital learning experts. Early on, instructional technologists and other online course builders were in high demand. This trend will expand as colleges and programs add graphic designers, accessibility experts, assessment specialists, multimedia developers and others to their teams. These expanded teams will enable colleges to optimize learning experiences and create consistent and pedagogically sound online learning frameworks.

Corporate Learning and Development

The pandemic fueled restructurings and layoffs throughout the corporate sector. This has impacted professionals in the L&D department as much as any other. Once the initial uncertainty passes, corporations will need L&D professionals who can transition training to self-paced, tracked modules. Organizations will continue to focus on workforce skill mapping so that leaders can more easily assess their workforce’s competencies and gaps. This will empower them to make more informed decisions on training, upskilling, and other professional development planning.


K-12 education has been especially challenged by the events of 2020. Initially many districts had to focus on basic needs—ensuring students are safe, fed, and internet-connected. In addition, they’ve had to figure out how to continue instruction and learning. Digital tools helped them achieve many of these goals. The importance of edtech will only grow in 2021 and beyond.

District leaders are now planning for the future. They’re examining the tools they use and deciding which to continue with and which new ones to add. In this time of rapid change, they need digital learning experts who can help them develop digitally-enabled learning models. As K-12 embraces digital learning, the hiring market for the edtech industry can only grow.

The Digital Learning Hiring Market

Across all industries, the demand for professionals who specialize in building and designing digital learning is increasing. As a result, rates for these professionals will go up.


In Higher Education average rates for digital learning professionals range from $30-$55+ per hour. More are now being offered rates at the high end of this spectrum.


In corporate learning and development, average rates for digital learning professionals range from $40-$90+ per hour. More hires are moving to the higher end of this spectrum as well.


Demand is growing, and there are fewer highly skilled professionals available. The most talented and experienced are receiving multiple job offers. To secure the most qualified talent, organizations in all industries must be prepared to present themselves in a way that will attract top applicants.

What Digital Learning Job Applicants Want

Organizations can attract the best candidates by understanding what digital learning experts are looking for:

● Flexibility

More flexible positions enable digital learning experts to complete some of their work during non-traditional business hours. More employees are working from home. Some are balancing child care and careers as schools embrace remote learning. Under these conditions, flexibility is essential.

● Freelance Work

Many professionals are seeing this shakeup as an opportunity to engage in independent contractor or freelance work. Remaining open to these types of arrangements can help you attract a wider range of talent.

● Culture

As in many professions, the accumulated stress of tight deadlines and quickly evolving practices is creating burnout for some digital learning professionals. Many are choosing to leave organizations with poor cultures in favor of those that value their ideas, model positivity, and provide support.

Hiring for 2021 in Digital Learning

In summary, the demand for digital learning experts is growing across industries. As more schools, colleges, and businesses embrace digital learning, more experts will be needed. These professionals will play a vital role in the success of digital learning programs in 2021 and beyond.

Attracting the most qualified talent will require organizations to provide flexible opportunities and positive cultures. Fortunately, some non-degree and certificate offerings have arisen to help upskill and train digital learning professionals and career-switchers. These offerings, along with bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, are preparing a new generation of digital learning professionals to enter the workforce.

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