Tired of Trends? Five 2017 Training Realities

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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.

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 get created and implemented.

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

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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

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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

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I found it interesting that Sharon cited storytelling as a trend that is just starting to emerge, because I see storytelling turn 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

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Industry reports consistently show that a majority of organizations still aren’t embracing mobile learning. But when we surveyed our clients in 2016, 81% said they would be likely to use a reinforcement tool intended for the smartphone. This is in part why we created our new Knowledge Guru app, Drive, as a mobile-first training reinforcement tool. Today’s learners are expected 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 cited how mobile reinforcement apps such as Drive and other smartphone-based solutions were included in an increasing number of 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

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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 instructor-led training is used, it is highly interactive with very little ‘tell.’ Today’s curriculums typically have at least some gamified elements. If eLearning is used, it makes use of meaningful stories and scenarios. They are more likely than ever before to include some sort of mobile reinforcement or performance support tool that is 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.