With the New Year just around the corner, it’s a good time to take a look at trends across digital learning services that I expect to continue in the New Year as well as emerging ones.
Individual Learning Over Group Learning
First is the continuing decline of formal learning events (i.e. classes) in favor of learning that is delivered individually, when and where it is needed. The commonly-accepted definition of “digital learning” is “learning at work”, and the emphasis industry-wide continues to be on shorter pieces of learning delivered to individuals who need them while they are at their desk, workplace, or job site. Research performed by the Association for Talent Development (ATD) shows that the use of formal, instructor-led training delivery has been declining for several years, while the use of self-paced, on-demand learning continues to grow. Expect this trend to continue in 2019 and beyond.
A related trend is the increasing use of mobile technologies to deliver training and performance-support (reference) information. Not everyone works in an office, even part of the day anymore. Sales Representatives and Service Technicians are on the road almost all the time. One of the biggest drivers of formal instructor-led training used to be things like, “Let’s bring in all the field technicians and train them on the new product.” That could be an expensive proposition depending on the size and dispersal of the audience. Mobile delivery allows employees like these to receive training while they are on the road or even at a customer’s site. In the last few years, e-learning authoring tools have become significantly better at creating good, responsive, mobile-friendly programs, making it easier than ever before to create mobile-friendly learning and reference information. Look for 2019 to bring increased emphasis on mobile delivery.
Data analytics has become a very hot topic, with all kinds of businesses using analytics to help formulate strategy and make tactical decisions. Data analytics has applications in the learning industry as well. How effective was that training? Did it affect anyone’s job performance? How much time was spent taking it? How could we make it better? Unfortunately, many corporate learning organizations have been limited by the reports that come out of their Learning Management Systems (LMS). However, recent research has shown that it is not all that difficult to go way beyond simple LMS reports by pulling together data from different sources and answering the questions posed earlier in this paragraph. And you don’t necessarily need a fancy big data solution to do it. If you have automated processes to pull data from different sources together, that’s great. But even if you pull it together manually and compile it in Excel spreadsheets, you can still get valid results and make better decisions. I look for learning analytics to really take off in 2019, or maybe it will be 2020, but it’s definitely on the horizon.
VR & AR
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) have been getting closer to mainstream for a few years. What’s the difference? VR totally immerses a person in an artificial environment, like being in a first-person action/adventure video game. AR overlays information on top of what a person is seeing in real life, like a fighter pilot’s heads-up display. Personally, I think AR has really exciting possibilities in learning. Imagine performing maintenance on a piece of manufacturing machinery with step-by step instructions popping up on the inside of your safety glasses, or learning a medical operation (hopefully on a cadaver) with pictures and instructions popping up in your glasses. Like most new technology, the goggles and the tools to build programs were very expensive at the start. But in the last couple years, the costs have been coming down. Again, it may be 2020 or beyond, but I expect AR in particular to have a big impact in selected areas in the near future.
In addition to these, there are a few other current trends that should continue into 2019 and beyond. The increased use of video is one of them. If “a picture is worth 1,000 words”, then a video is worth at least 10,000 words. Video used to be really expensive to produce, but now you can get acceptable results for many applications using a hand-held mobile device. I’m seeing more and more short, informal videos inserted in learning, and I expect that trend to continue. Other trends I expect to continue include the increasing use of learning games and gamification, and shifts to simulation and story-based e-learning. It’s an exciting time to be in the learning industry. With that said, have a happy, prosperous, and innovative New Year!