Future Learning TechHere is a list of five trends learning professionals should consider when mapping out strategies for the next five of years. It is important to note that trends are not isolated developments within the L&D community. Often they are the culmination, confluence, and convergence of technological innovation, discoveries or rediscoveries of learning science and a reaction to changes within the larger culture in which society operates.

For example, gamification has been made possible through a combination of mobile technologies, the application of the science of distributed practice and retrieval practice and the widespread adoption of mobile devices, as well as the result of a generation who has grown up playing video games entering the workforce and achieving positions of influence who want a little more excitement in their instructional content than merely a series of bulleted lists followed by a multiple choice quiz. When mapping out learning strategies for your organization, you need to carefully consider the elements of technology, learning science, and societal influences to ensure that you have a strategy that is on target, scalable, and meets the needs of your learners to help them achieve organizational goals and objectives. Let’s look at some of the trends that should be on your radar.

#1: Microlearning

Microlearning is the concept of delivering content to learners in small, specific bursts over time or just when needed. This has led to short how-to-videos that last less than five minutes and to small text message-based instruction. This trend of providing “chunks” of content, instead of an hour-long course, is a result of several underlying factors.

The most critical of these factors is the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices and Internet access. Without these two elements, microlearning would not be possible. Then, add on the ability to stream video easily and quickly, the proliferation of text messaging services, and the neuroscience research supporting the concept of providing small bits of content over time to enhance learning, and you have a full-blown trend.

Microlearning is being used in almost all industries, including pharmaceutical, retail, and insurance, and it’s gaining momentum internationally. In fact, in a trip to China, I was told: “E-learning is dead in China, everything is mobile, instructor-led, or a combination but not delivered on a desktop or laptop.” Check out Google’s Primer as a great example.

#2: Gamification

Gamification is a large trend that appears to be growing in both use and acceptance. Using a combination of the science of motivation, distributed learning, and other neuroscience foundations, gamification takes advantage of game elements to engage learners. It is important to realize that this trend should focus on the engagement elements of games—and not necessarily just trying to make things “fun.”

The goal is actually engagement of learners, using the same engagement techniques that game designers use, such as story, immediate feedback, and the freedom to fail. Here is a blog post titled, Eight Game Elements to Make Learning More Intriguing, that explains how game elements can make learning more engaging.

Gamification, in spite of many critics, is not going away. I recently traveled to a large medical school that is aggressively in the process of implementing gamification throughout critical elements of its curriculum. Indeed, progressive companies are now integrating gamification into critical learning paths.

#3: Social Learning

While this trend has seemingly been around for a long time, it still hasn’t achieved the adoption rate that it will within the next five years. I hear many organizations lament that few people use their internal social networks—or that getting adoption of the internal social systems is difficult. There are a number of forces accelerating the use of social learning within organizations.

The largest is the continual outsourcing of development and business processes to freelancers and external companies. In order to communicate and work within a geographically distributed workforce, social learning is critical for exchanging ideas and getting questions answered from people you’ve never met. Email is not a productive tool, and many in the younger generations have not grown up using email, instead, they use social media tools to communicate, which leads to social learning.

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Additionally, the increasing complexity of work means that more questions need to be answered and more help is required. Couple that with the ease at which videos and content can be uploaded and the expectation of short, quick burst of content instead of multi-page manuals, and you have an accelerated adoption and use of social learning. When people talk about informal learning, often the informal learning is facilitated by technology and workplace conditions such as distributed workers.

#4: Adaptive Learning

This is instruction that adapts and changes based on individual learner inputs and actions. This is also known as “personalized learning. “One of the mistakes made with e-learning early on was to not take advantage of the ability of the computer to deliver different content to different people based on their inputs. It was a complete miss—as we simply took what was done in the classroom and modified it for online learning.

Fortunately, designers and vendors are starting to realize that they can save time and accelerate learning by diagnosing what a person knows when she logs into an e-learning course and then only delivering what is unknown within the training. Admittedly, this is one of the further out trends, because a great deal of work still needs to be done but the convergence of neuroscience, big data, and the need for increasingly focused and efficient training is going to drive this in many ways.

It will start simply by having different levels through content, but will eventually progress to the point of adaptive learning presentation provided during the learning process. This is difficult from the design perspective and requires a careful breakdown of content and learning outcomes into enabling objectives, but it is starting to happen. A really good example in the K-12 space is the company Dreambox, which teaches math and adapts to the learner based on level of comprehension, efficiency of strategy, amount of help needed and learner response time.

#5: Immersive Learning

This trend consists of different facets of the same concept that are making learning more immersive. One of the most interesting factors is the emergence of virtual experiences in real-time through the use of such devices as the Oculus Rift and the ingeniously simple Google Cardboard. These devices enable the learner to be completely immersed in any environment.

This approach would be fantastic for a variety of training environments, inside a nuclear reactor or to train anyone to perform dangerous work. A closely related immersive experience is the use of augmented reality. Augmented reality is when computer images are overlaid on real settings. A simple example is the first-down line superimposed on a football field when you are watching television.

Microsoft’s HoloLens is providing some interesting applications, in which work instructions and process can be overlaid on top of reality, providing the learner a visual view of what exactly she needs to do in any situation. Less surreal examples of immersive learning include the use of 3D games and virtual worlds for learning, which is gaining momentum because costs are dropping and computer processors are picking up speed. Although 3D virtual worlds fell out of favor a few years ago, the need for these types of environment will bring back the concept within the next five years.

Bottom Line

The important thing for learning professionals to keep in mind when mapping out strategies is that trends don’t appear out of nowhere; there are always underlying forces that bring them to the surface and help them to “go viral.” As an astute learning professional, your job should be to continually scan the environment within the learning field, but also within the larger context of society. Trends that seem to have nothing to do with learning will, inevitably, impact learning development and strategy in ways we may never have imagined. So keep your eyes on these five trends, but also for trends on the horizon.