eLearning Trends That Will Fizzle, Sizzle, or Simmer in 2014

2014 eLearning Trends

Our industry is notorious for chasing after trends. We all enjoy reading the summaries of the past year – and seeing predictions for the new one. Most folks want to know: which trends are worth pursuing and which ones are going to fizzle? Is gamification going to go the way of Myspace and Foursquare? Will social learning be replaced by “isolation learning” (okay, I made that up)?

At any point in time, there are trends that sizzle, others that simmer, and ones that fizzle out. The really, really good ones become “best practices” over the long haul. So let’s see what’s on the stove right now.

First, the sizzle

This is the stuff that I see TRULY taking off inside organizations. It’s not just talked about…it is happening:

Experience API (aka Tin Can API): Considering the fact that “xAPI” was just introduced in 2012, I think this trend is sizzling. There is no question that companies – particularly large ones – love to track data. If they can’t track it then people didn’t learn… or so the feeling goes. Experience API allows for tracking of all that stuff that has been so hard to track – use of social media, for example. So – just as SCORM took several years to get to a point of critical mass, I think Experience API will – but I do believe this type of tracking is going to be a force for the future.

Gamification/learning games: This trend is at full sizzle right now. We are having LOTS of conversations with folks who want either a learning game developed or would like support in creating a gamification strategy related to a large endeavor or program. I fear that over-use or inappropriate use could lead to it falling out of favor by 2016 because a lot of efforts may fail due to poor design or implementation.

The same reasons games and gamification are being used should be reasons to keep them around: they tend to structure learning experiences into challenges and provide feedback loops, two things that engage people and help foster behavior change.

Storytelling in Training: This trend/topic began peeking its head out last year, and seems off to a roaring start in 2014. Almost every recipient of the “Best” awards at the 2013 eLearning Guild DemoFest featured the use of stories within the learning solution. There is a nice body of research that points to the value of stories in helping us remember. It’s harder to remember discrete facts, for instance, than it is to remember those same facts when they are woven into a narrative. Check out John Medina’s Brain Rules book for info on this.

Agile development: This one got very hot in 2013, and I think interest in it will remain strong in 2014 and beyond. Why? Because a linear approach doesn’t work when you are designing highly interactive web-based solutions; you need to iterate. The skills people will want to acquire are skills in creating rapid prototypes on paper and digitally.

Visuals and graphics: Along with the use of storytelling, the winners at eLearning Guild’s DemoFest featured heavy use of visuals. Designers are wisely shifting away from screens filled with text to ones dominated by visuals. Check out this YouTube video that showcases the World Wildlife Fund’s new educational app for an outstanding example of how visuals can be used to help educate people on facts and “build awareness.” We’ve put together a comprehensive guide for using graphics in eLearning, available here.

Here’s what’s simmering

…With the potential to reach sizzle status:

Mobile Support in lieu of “mobile learning:” This one is just now creeping its way out. There’s no question that mobile has NOT taken off as predicted. The 2013 ASTD State of the Industry Report tells us that only 1.39% of respondents are actually distributing content via mobile even though we’re very close to reaching market saturation with SmartPhones (predictions vary from August of this year to early next year).

I think the concept of mLearning needs to fizzle as we’re not seeing people really wanting to take entire courses on their phones. BUT – we are seeing that people use their phones for tons of stuff – in short chunks – and they love to use phones to find/locate information. Hence, I think more and more corporate L&D people are going to want mobile solutions that help people with these find/locate tasks or with quick two-minute reviews of concepts.

Video: This one has been on simmer status for awhile. I think 2014 will have it burning brighter – but for very specific uses, not broad use like “Click NEXT to continue” did in eLearning.

The low price of the technology is quite a driver. The GoPro lets anyone take amazing video for about $300. Today’s SmartPhones enable high-quality video shooting AND post-production, right from the phone. Video is no longer something you have to consider too expensive to do or leave to professional videographers and editors. It lends itself to storytelling and it allows people to share. In fact, the “homemade” quality videos have become quite acceptable, courtesy of YouTube. Its limitation will be that it’s best suited for the 2 to 5-minute support function rather than a formal course-like learning solution…and lots of companies don’t have a good infrastructure for deploying videos yet without making folks log into an LMS to view them.

Spaced Learning and Repetition: The research is compelling in these two areas, and I am getting phone calls from folks who are telling me they are actively researching these topics – and trying to figure out what they need to be doing differently within their L&D functions to help people really remember what they supposedly “learn” in training courses. I think this one could go from simmer to sizzle at some point in 2014.

What Will Fizzle?

Here’s my big fizzle prediction – and I know I’m going to upset the people who passionately support the concept. I, personally, am an avid user of social media for learning, however…

Twitter-style tools for “social learning:”  I will stop short of labeling “social learning” as the fizzle because I personally am an ardent fan of it… and it’s a natural part of how people have always learned, no matter what L&D has to say about it. I love content curation tools such as Zite, Flipboard, and Feed.ly, though I believe I am in a small minority of people who DO consume content and gather information with these tools.

I sense – based on watching my various Twitter feeds –  that the Twitter fascination is ending – at least in corporate settings. Twitter feels a bit like yesterday’s news. So many tools have entered the landscape that the landscape is starting to feel overwhelming. The number of social tools out there is massive – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Snapchat, Pinterest, YouTube, Vine, etc.

I think people will continue to use a variety of social tools for personal learning – but I’m not seeing wide adoption or interest in it inside corporations – despite heavy conversation on it within the L&D world for the past several years. In fact, I see active resistance to it – not from corporate leaders but from employees themselves. The landscape has become overwhelming; when people feel overwhelmed, they opt out.

mLearning: So I identified mSupport as a “simmer” status trend. I think mLearning is going to fizzle as employees let us know they do not want to take courses on phones. MOBILE won’t fizzle… but the idea of entire courses distributed via phones will. The landscape shows us that we use our phones in very short bursts, though the phones are constantly present. My one caveat to this would be mobile games – people will spend lots of time playing them. If we can design a full-blown course that is as immersive as a mobile game, we may be able to get some sizzle going.

Virtual Worlds: These fizzled a couple years ago, but it’s worth mentioning here only because I still hear others mentioning it… as a tool that fizzled. Second Life had so much buzz back in 2008… and, while the tool still exists, you do not hear organizations talking about how they will use virtual worlds in training anymore. The technology curve was too steep in terms of the hardware and systems requirements to use it – and the learning curve simply to function in the world was too high.

So I’ve gone out on a big limb to predict my sizzle, simmer, and fizzle trends. I would love to hear others’ views on this one. This is a topic that begs for lots of diverse opinions and discussions.