Tired of Trends? Five 2017 Training Realities


I’ve read some thoughtful articles on learning trends over the last couple of weeks. But I’m obviously partial to Sharon’s article here on the Lessons on Learning blog. Any trends article that looks to the past for perspective when discussing trends gets my attention. Sharon’s use of the 1998 ATD State of the Industry report provided some much needed perspective on the speed with which we can expect today’s ‘hot’ learning trends to reach widespread adoption.

In short, most of the emerging trends we are seeing today will make a meaningful impact on L&D. Just not overnight.

Sharon broke learning trends into two buckets: trends that are just starting to emerge (like machine learning and virtual/augmented reality), and trends that are established and growing (like microlearning and mobile learning). I will add a third bucket to the discussion: trends that are truly widespread, and impacting learning & development in a meaningful way across a majority of organizations.

Access the 2017 Learning and Remembering Report to view the results and analysis of our Learning and Remembering Survey.

The annual discussion on ‘learning trends’ sometimes distracts well-meaning trainers and learning leaders from the real work right in front of them. Exciting visions of ‘the future of learning’ in five or ten years can take our focus away from the meaningful progress we can make this year in our organizations.

To get a better sense for how organizations are really delivering training, I asked eight of our in-house experts to weigh in. These individuals have roles like project manager, senior learning designer and account manager. They lead design meetings, help clients identify their business needs and ultimately have a big impact on the type of learning solutions that we create and implement.

Based on the thoughts of these individuals, I have created my list of five realities for learning leaders to consider as they solidify their 2017 training plans.

1. Instructor-led training (ILT) isn’t dying, but it’s getting more creative


With all the talk about machine learning, augmented reality and microlearning, it’s easy to think that old-fashioned instructor-led training is a thing of the past. Our experience, however, tells us it’s not going away anytime soon. As one project manager put it, “I was surprised at the amount of ILT we continued to create in 2016.”

But while ILT isn’t going away, it has changed quite a bit from the lecture-based approach most people think of. Almost all of the ILT we create today is nearly 100% interactive and often gamified in some form. This award-winning new employee orientation program is a great example. ILT is also usually part of a larger blended learning curriculum that includes other learning technologies (more on this later).

2. Games, both digital and tabletop, are here to stay


Game-based learning and gamification are a great example of a learning trend that is happening all over the industry. Almost every individual I spoke with at BLP specifically mentioned learning games as a solution they created a lot of in 2016. The reason? Organizations are looking for more engaging, memorable, and motivating ways to teach the product, process and industry knowledge that their employees need to be successful. And games are a great way to do this.

One senior learning designer noted that “even when a full-fledged game isn’t the right solution, many clients are interested in some form of gamification.” In some form or another, game mechanics are now highly pervasive in corporate learning. Learning games take many shapes and forms, from tabletop experiences to mobile games for a smartphone.

3. Storytelling and theme are go-to instructional design methods, no matter the solution type


I found it interesting that Sharon cited storytelling as a trend that is just starting to emerge. This is because storytelling turns up even more often than games when I see the learning solutions BLP creates. Multiple project managers and designers noted that clients consistently want “highly themed” solutions that incorporate a wide variety of meaningful scenarios.

The embrace of storytelling as a learning strategy is connected to the embrace of games. Both are attempts to make a more lasting impact on learners and inspire lasting behavior change.

4. Mobile reinforcement is on the rise out of necessity


Industry reports consistently show that a majority of organizations still aren’t embracing mobile learning. When we surveyed our clients in 2016, 81% said they’d be likely to use a reinforcement tool intended for smartphones. This is in part why we created our new Knowledge Guru app, Drive, as a mobile-first training reinforcement tool. Today, we expect people to learn and remember a huge amount of information. And the organizations we work with increasingly acknowledge the need for reinforcement as part of a larger curriculum.

Our project managers and senior designers specifically cite how mobile reinforcement apps such as Drive and other smartphone-based solutions were included in more and more projects in 2016. And even when clients were not yet ready to move to mobile, account managers mentioned that mobile access to training is on the rise as a point of interest in conversations.

We explore our perspective on the right way to approach mobile in this webinar.

5. Comprehensive blended learning curriculums are the popular approach


Of all the comments I received from our team, the word curriculum may have come up the most. It’s true that we have seen a huge increase in the number of clients who want us to design and develop a large training curriculum for them, as opposed to a single eLearning course. Research shows that a blend of modalities is the best way to teach. And most organizations have come to embrace this.

Our project managers and designers note that most curriculums have an over-arching theme to spark interest. If you use instructor-led training is used, it is highly interactive with very little ‘tell.’ Today’s curriculums typically have at least some gamified elements. eLearning uses meaningful stories and scenarios. They’re more likely than to include some sort of mobile reinforcement or performance support tool that’s designed for a smartphone. And one of our designers specifically mentioned increased interest in interactive video as an alternative to eLearning within a curriculum.

Learning trends and preferred delivery methods change over time. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for organizations to help their employees say and do the things that make their businesses successful. While trends articles can help you prepare for what that might look like tomorrow, I hope these five realities help you create better learning solutions today.

Seven 2017 Learning Trends: Novel or Norm?


At the start of a new year – or the end of an old one – we love to read about trends. Articles on trends can be fun reads, but do they really help us see the future? Do trends really matter?

I’ll let you decide. I went back and found a 1998 ATD (then ASTD) State of the Industry report. Note that the “trends” listed in this report were often reported by only 1% – 2% of the respondents, who numbered in the 300 range. This meant only three or four respondents were citing these trends as tools or tactics in their talent development toolkits:

  • Computer-based training (CD-ROMs)
  • Electronic Performance Support Systems (Interesting fact: Google was founded in September 1998.)
  • Interactive video laser disks
  • Intranets
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Individual development plans
  • 360-degree feedback

From Trend to Reality

If we look at 2017, we can see that 1998 trends were all hallmarks or rudimentary renditions of things we take for granted today:

  • Computer-based training delivered via CD-ROM has been replaced by custom-created eLearning delivered via the web as well as on-demand content from MOOCs,, or Software as a Service (SaaS) content providers such as Grovo or Skillsoft.
  • Early Electronic Performance Support Systems and intranets were the predecessors of modern help systems such as, YouTube, Wikipedia, or Google as well as collaboration, information sharing, and communication tools such as SharePoint, Slack, Basecamp, and Skype plus networking tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter.
  • Interactive video laser disks were quickly replaced first by VHS and Beta videotape and now by videos that can be shot and edited via a smartphone and streamed via the web.
  • Coaching and mentoring, along with 360-degree feedback, have created an entire new industry and a plethora of assessment instruments. DISC, Strengthsfinder, Myers-Briggs, Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, EQ assessments, leadership inventories, etc. all exist to provide us with feedback and enable others to coach us.
  • Individual development plans are a foundational element/concept related to the learning management system and now talent management systems, which try to catalog skills and knowledge required for various positions and document the development plans that enable someone to be successful in a given role.

In short, those 1998 trends evolved into today’s reality over a span of years. But the evolution was not always fast. In fact, the 1999 “trends” probably looked similar to 1998’s version.

Fast Forward to 2017

There are really two groups of learning trends to watch in 2017. The exciting group that everyone wants to talk about is new on the scene. We are seeing the first signs of these trends, but it will take several years for their usage to become meaningful. The second group has already been talked about for several years, some of them as far back as 2008. But just like those trends from 1998, they are now becoming mainstream.

Three 2017 Emerging Trends


1. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

This one is getting ready to boom. Artificial intelligence and machine learning take in lots of data inputs and provide pinpoint guidance back to us. AI is already in the classroom. It’s available to us as consumers. It’s logical to believe that corporate learners are going to expect an evolved learning experience that goes beyond static, unchanging content as we move to the future.

We are seeing lots of examples of machine learning (self-driving cars use machine learning, for example). Predictions are for virtual assistants to find their way into more and more classrooms; some already exist today. It’s realistic to think that at some point, virtual assistants will make their way into the HR and L&D realm as well.

2. Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality

These new reality technologies have been sitting on the horizon for years. Technology has finally gotten to the point where the opportunity is catching up to the promise. In 2016, VR headsets and game systems emerged on the market that are relatively 1) affordable, and 2) comfortable to use at least for up to 30 minutes. Older systems tended to make people motion sick very quickly. Motion sickness can still be a problem, but most people can tolerate it for periods of up to 30 minutes’ time.

The eLearning Guild has announced its first VR and AR conference in 2017, a sure sign that this is a technology that’s moving past “interesting to watch” to “great examples of its use are out there.”

3. Storytelling

This one is a sleeper. It is not about technology. It’s about how we get people to pay attention. We are all going to have to get better at telling stories and using stories to help people learn. Videos, VR, and games all lend themselves to stories so the ability to craft compelling stories is going to be key to effective use of technologies.

Four 2017 Established Trends


1. Microlearning

Simply put, microlearning is learning that is organized into small components or activities, typically about five minutes in length. Microlearning has been around as a term since the early 2000s; it has become immensely popular as a term in the past couple of years.

In the past three years, there has been a proliferation of SaaS solutions focused on microlearning, including Knowledge Guru, qStream, Axonify, Grovo, and Mindmarker.

Part of the push links to the uptick in interest is the arena of “learning science” and the science of learning. Increased awareness of the linkage between spaced repetition of content and long-term memory has sparked interest in microlearning.

2. Mobile

Mobile is no longer new, but it does appear to be “stuck” with adoption not proliferating as trend watchers predicted back in 2010, 2011, and 2012.  The constraints of the LMS – and lack of adoption of xAPI – keep it in limbo as a primary tool for learning. However, it’s an excellent tool for microlearning. The tools touted for microlearning rely heavily on smartphones to distribute their microlearning.

3. Gamification and learning games

This trend has moved mainstream. It is questionable whether it still warrants the term “trend” as the research is fairly compelling as to the efficacy of learning games as a tool.

Mobile games remain an intriguing learning solution, particularly when combined with the emerging interest in microlearning.

4. Interactive video, 360-degree video

Video keeps getting more and more useful as the tools available to produce it become more accessible. The newest iPhone, for example, has a very worthy video camera. It’s possible to shoot and edit a video all on a smartphone and then push it out to a video streaming site such as Vimeo or YouTube on that same phone.

Why Compare 1998 to 2017?


As I pondered trends from 1998, I concluded these things:

1. Change can feel slow, but we never stand still.

Year-to-year change can be so slow that we may fail to recognize when big change is around the corner. It takes a decade or more for dramatic change to start to become visible. In that time, some “trends” will morph into completely different technologies. Clearly CBT has morphed into the eLearning we currently have. The eLearning we have now is likely to morph into AI, VR, or AR… or something we cannot yet envision.

2. The influence of technology has touched every aspect of L&D.

It affects design, development, implementation, and tracking. It has also dramatically affected talent development. No area is untouched. The skill sets of today’s L&D professionals include technical abilities those in the 1990s would have not even imagined.

3. Despite the evolution of technology, the “what” of training has remained very stable… with a few twists.

The 1990s marked the dawn of technology in the workplace as we now know it. This meant a ton of training on how to use a computer or how to use software. We don’t need that today. However, managerial training remains a constant as does compliance, product, and process training.

Finally, in answer to the question I posed at the start of this post: yes, trends DO matter. We need to pay attention to them. What starts as a trend – with only 1% or 2% of early adopters using a process, tool, or technology – does find its way into the mainstream. But it may take a while (virtual reality and augmented reality have actually been on the landscape for a decade). I started attending to games and gamification in 2008 and it is now close to mainstream in 2017. Eventually, however, these early trends become the way we do things. What is novel today becomes the norm tomorrow.

Access the 2017 Learning and Remembering Report to view the results and analysis of our Learning and Remembering Survey.

L&D in 2015: Too Much Content, Too Little Time


Have you seen the latest list of learning trends for 2015, yet? It might sound familiar to you. “Big data, gamification, mobile/micro/social learning.” These trends are supposed to be your focus for the year. You are supposed to be an innovative learning professional who integrates these throughout your learning strategy.


The real trend in learning and development, or in any business function where training is needed, is how the central challenges and pain points do not change much year after year. In many ways, organizations are still faced with the same central issues they dealt with five years ago… or more.

We conducted a Learning and Remembering Survey in December 2014 to learn more about these issues from subscribers to our Lessons on Learning newsletter, which includes our clients and other L&D professionals at Fortune 500 organizations. Do any of these challenges sound familiar?

  • Too much content delivered to learners and/or content that changes frequently.(39%)
  • Lack of knowledge transfer, lack of learner retention. (38%)
  • Lack of organizational buy-in, gaps in process and management support. (29%)
  • Lack of learner motivation, lack of focus. (26%)

See the full survey results here.

These four challenge areas came up again and again in the responses we received. The real trends to watch in 2015 are not new technologies or products, but rather recurring problems and pain points that organizations need to solve.

Organizations overload learners with content, and it changes quickly.

Organizations have more “information” to pass on to their employees than ever before. Product and service offerings may change frequently, or a compliance standard might have a new wrinkle that is critical to employees on the job. Regardless of the “what,” it’s clear that content overload is a big problem. It’s no wonder that survey respondents noted that…

Employees struggle to internalize the knowledge and skills they need to perform effectively.

Maybe your sales reps are spread across multiple locations… and the follow-up resources are dependent on what each location wants to do. Or maybe it’s difficult to actually connect what is covered in training to the job experience. Employees are often asked to internalize a large volume of information and recall it when needed. Is your training helping them do that?

The problem is that, even when L&D knows there is too much content, and that employees are not retaining it…

Stakeholders do not buy in to new training approaches.

Maybe it’ a middle manager who does not want to take employees off the phones long enough to play the new serious game you want to implement. Or perhaps it’s a shift manager who is not enforcing the compliance training that you need learners to take, even though you made it engaging and instructionally sound. Other times, stakeholders might be completely disconnected from what’s happening in the lab or on the sales floor.

Whatever the barrier, knowing that your training is broken is not enough to fix it. And when a manager or stakeholder becomes an immovable barrier and training stays the same…

Learners are not motivated to embrace the existing training.

Maybe they find the eLearning course boring. Perhaps sales reps are working around your training to Google facts on the products they need to sell, even though you tried to deliver product knowledge training that would help them retain this information. Sometimes, employees simply do not see the value in training. The return on investment for their time is unclear.

The training delivered needs to change… but how?

Is There a “Quick Fix”?

Controlling the flow of content to learners, ensuring knowledge transfer and maximizing learner engagement are all tall orders. If there was an easy answer, organizations would have figured it out by now!


Before you launch your next training initiative in 2015, take some time to identify the issues you are facing, or the problems you need to solve. It’s great to imagine how one or more of the “trendy” approaches can help solve these problems, but also consider what existing tools and resources can be used in a different way. Don’t forget to focus on the “why”… and measure success.

And no matter what programs you launch or delivery methods you choose, make sure the training you create is rooted in effective instructional design that truly drives both learning and remembering.


See the Results from Our 2014 Learning and Remembering Survey


We received a variety of thoughtful responses to our two-question survey on learning and remembering. Their was a wide diversity in respondents: 34 individuals from 21 different industries participated.

The results provide a snapshot of the type of knowledge employees need to remember most to be effective in their jobs… and the challenges that make it difficult to train them on this knowledge.


Manufacturing Medical Device and Diagnostics Biotech Pharma Defense Agricultural Supplies Higher Education
Food Security & Investigations Banking Health & Beauty Web Hosting eLearning Healthcare
Life Science Business Software Government Industrial Products Car rental Information Technology Automotive
Total Respondents: 34

What do employees need to remember?

The first question of our survey asked: What knowledge do your employees need to remember to be successful in their jobs?

Responses were heavily focused on fact-based knowledge. 77% of respondents mentioned topics like process, procedures and product knowledge that employees must know cold. 18% of respondents said that the most important topic was not what this information is, but where to find and locate it.

Only 24% of respondents mentioned soft skills and/or  “big picture” knowledge as an area employees need to remember.


Selected Survey Responses:

Any information that must be recalled within a short timeframe, needed to make decision that could have substantial negative consequences or is used frequently.
Product and service knowledge: features and benefits and procedural details
Process for working across many business units. Communication protocols, how to leverage resources
Product, customers, competition knowledge. Articulate value prop and how it connects to customer needs and competition
Specific facts, figures, vocab and ideas… what they are, how it fits into their experience and how to apply that knowledge in real world settings to impact their jobs
Where to find information needed on the job
Sales people: basic understanding of market forces, product knowledge, sales and ordering proces
Company mission, vision and values
Compliance: AGSL, ACL, Privacy Act, Anti Money Laundering
Customer service skills, sales skills and founding values of company

What Makes it hard for employees to remember?

We also asked: What challenges do you face when delivering training that helps employees remember this knowledge?

Keep in mind that each respondent was not asked to list every challenge they face. The question was open-ended, so some listed a single challenge and others listed two or three interconnected challenges.

Since fact-based knowledge is seen by respondents as important to remember, it’s no surprise that knowledge transfer and retention (38%) is the number one challenge faced when delivering training on these topics. Lack of buy-in and process gaps (29%) also poses a major challenge, which suggests that many L&D professionals have great ideas for how to improve knowledge transfer, but can not get buy-in from their organizations.

To make matters worse, 26% of respondents noted how learners are not motivated by current training approaches.

Another issue is the volume of ever-changing content in organizations. 24% of respondents rated “too much content” as a big challenge, while 15% cited the ever-changing nature of their content as an obstacle.


Selected Survey Responses:

Reinforcement is difficult because there are multiple locations, follow-up dependent on the local location
Forgetting happens quick; training thought of as insignificant to job
Determining what needs to be known “cold” vs find and locate.
Managers not willing to pull employees off the phone, limiting training to job aids and one on ones
Gap between managers perceptions and what’s actually happening on the floor
Learners too distracted to concentrate on training
Employees don’t see value of training: can’t find the return on investment of their time and energy and how it impacts their results
Call centers creating ineffective training without talking to trainers
Lack of time to put together training with high detail incorporated well
Too many nuances of different product markets to communicate in training solutions
Ever changing scope and location of resources


Most survey respondents believe  that essential process, procedural and product information is highly important for employees to remember. This is the information that truly must be embedded into memory for employees to improve their performance.

The questions we asked were open-ended, and there certainly are other important areas of knowledge for employees to remember, but it can be argued that this practical, “nuts and bolts” type of information is what really makes a day-to-day impact on the job. What are the features of Product A? What are the steps to Process B?

remembering in corporate learning

If we use the challenges shared by respondents to paint a bigger picture, we start to see what is likely a familiar scenario for your organization: A large volume of content changes frequently… and learners have difficulty retaining and applying this content on the job. They are unmotivated from the current training approaches, yet managers and stakeholders in the organization do not buy in to changing or improving the existing training.

Organizations that want their L&D initiatives to have a real impact in 2015 should reflect on these challenge areas… and ways to overcome them.

Our 10 Best Corporate Learning Articles of 2014

Top 10 eLearning Blog Posts

As 2014 comes to a close, your head just might be swimming with plans, mandates and ideas for the coming year. What L&D initiatives will you focus on first? What’s the current status of all those “trends” we were hearing about last January?

To help you sort through the clutter, I’ve gathered the ten top articles from both our Bottom-Line Performance and Knowledge Guru blogs from the past year. These articles were picked based off of page views, social media shares, educational value and overall reaction from the corporate learning community.

1. Learning Theories Gone Wild – Urban Myths that Hurt Your Learning Designs 


This article by Sharon Boller was widely shared in learning and development circles for good reason. Myths such as learning styles, the cone of learning, an “absolute” forgetting curve and more can be downright damaging to corporate learning and development efforts. Make sure your learning solutions are designed based off of sound instructional design… not popular opinion.  Read More.



2. When Remembering Really Matters – White Paper from Sharon Boller


Speaking of instructional design, Sharon went even more in depth in this white paper. It outlines four strategies for learning, and four for remembering, that are proven to increase retention. You’ll also find examples of business situations where remembering directly impacts the success of the organization. Read More.




3. Spaced Retrieval, Retrieval Practice, and Knowledge Guru: What Research Tells Us


This well-research article by Dr. Karl Kapp was published on our Knowledge Guru blog. It explains, in clear terms, what the research says about spaced repetition. If you’re thinking about incorporating spaced repetition into your learning strategies, the collection of studies in this article provide a terrific reason “why.” Read More.




4. Learning Solutions and Your Product Launch: The Secret to Success – White Paper


So many of the learning solutions we produce are part of a large, blended curriculum. Oftentimes, that curriculum is in support of a product launch. In this white paper, VP of Learning Services Nancy Harkness shows how a blended curriculum is often a key ingredient to a successful product launch.  Read More.




5. Project Showcase: Memorable eLearning for Salon Employees


Some of our most popular articles in 2014 were really case studies of successful eLearning projects. This one features safety training we created for Regis Corporation. You’ll find lots of course screenshots and detailed descriptions of the techniques we used to engage salon employees. Read More.




6. 4 Ways Serious Games Link to Learning 


It’s no coincidence that Sharon Boller’s work consistently shows up as the most-visited content across both our websites. This PDF guide, available on the Knowledge Guru site, shows the clear link between what’s required to learn and ways games can be used for learning. Read More.




7. The Corporate Learning Guide to Spaced Repetition and Feedback Loops


Games are only effective for learning when carefully linked to the science of remembering. This short white paper, published via the Knowledge Guru website, provides further explanation on spaced repetition while also introducing feedback loops as a way to increase learner retention. Read More.




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


We often start the year with a white paper or blog post that discusses the latest, “greatest” trends. In this article, Sharon Boller identified the trends she expected to boom… and bust. Was she right? Read More.




9. How Do Serious Games Work in a Large Enterprise?


We work with clients every day to integrate both Knowledge Guru games and custom serious games into their training programs. This article resonated with our readers because it shows how to avoid the common pitfalls that can cause serious games to be ineffective. Read More.




Less Focus on the LMS; More Focus on Tin Can API

This is an excerpt from Sharon Boller’s newest white paper, Learning Trends, Technologies and Opportunities. The white paper describes today’s learning landscape… then predicts 7 trends for the next 12 – 18 months. Here is Trend 3:

Less Focus on the LMS; More Focus on Tin Can API

Over the last decade the learning management system (LMS) has become a fixture inside organizations. There are well over a hundred LMS products on the market for learning functions to choose from.

Yet few organizations seem to really use the data generated by an LMS or use the LMS for any purpose other than to house courses. Our clients consistently ask for SCORM-compliant courses without even knowing what SCORM is or why it was created. As mobile devices and the concept of “social learning” have edged their way onto the learning scene, the LMS has become a problem. Suddenly learning professionals everywhere have a conundrum: How do we track what learners are doing?

Tin Can API (also known as Experience API or “xAPI”) is a solution that drew a lot of buzz at mLearn 2012 and Devlearn 2012 as the eventual replacement for SCORM. Why is it getting the buzz? Because it tracks “experiences” learners have – rather than course completion. An experience MIGHT be completing a course, but it could also be playing a game, participating in a Twitter chat, reading a blog, or viewing a video.

It will take time for organizations who have made a major financial commitment to traditional LMSs to abandon them completely… but look for Tin Can to make major inroads in 2013. We are already seeing our clients talking to their LMS providers about Tin Can – and letting them know they want the LMS to be compliant with it.

Learning Trends, Technologies and Opportunities White PaperClick the image to download the white paper.

Check back next week for Trend 4, or download the entire white paper now.