A Look Back at Trends

I’ve been giving a presentation about learning trends this past year, and it seems to have really resonated with a variety of audiences. When I hear about a new trend, I like to consider the trend thoughtfully and ask myself the following questions:

  • Does the trend have staying power?
  • Is the trend just a new name for something that’s been around a long time?

Regardless, like any solution, it’s truly about what’s the appropriate way to apply or use the trend … and not using it just because it’s new and cool.

Of the latest trends, I believe the following are here to stay:

  • Mobile: It just makes sense as it’s about learning that directly supports job performance, anywhere, and at any time.
  • Virtual and augmented reality: You can’t argue with the notion of placing the user in an immersive simulated environment.
  • Learning portals: Given there’s no shortage of learning resources, a learning portal is critical as it provides a gateway to an organization’s assets.

Some existing trends are just given new names, and there’s certainly no harm in this. Perhaps this is a great way to market the idea and get it in front of people again. However, let’s not spend too much energy thinking the new name is the greatest thing since sliced bread. We should simply remind ourselves that it’s a solution worth considering. Some recent trends that fall into this bucket are:

  • Gamification: Using gaming techniques in learning has been around for a very long time, and many of us follow a standard to have 25-50% practice in our solutions. So using gaming techniques certainly helps with practice, which leads to fluency. Gamification also is a wonderful motivator if used appropriately for the audience.
  • Storytelling: Stories have been shared in every culture as a means of passing on education, preserving culture, and instilling moral values. Storytelling used to be the most common way of teaching others; today, it’s a wonderful technique to make the learning memorable and have the learners feel and experience new learnings on an emotional level.
  • Social learning: A high percent of learning in organizations comes from people talking to one another and learning on the job. Organizations most likely function because social learning happens. It’s a great way to augment formal learning and facilitate collaborative learning.
  • Microlearning: If a granular-size chunk of learning is what’s needed to achieve the learning objective, go for it. I would just caution that not every new thing can be learned from a Tweet or a TED Talk.

There are several other recent trends worth commenting on:

  • Personalization: This is about providing learning in a context that’s relevant to individual learners, rather than providing a one-size-fits-all experience. While you can’t argue with this, we just need to be on the lookout for learners who might have some ingrained preferences that aren’t in their best interests.
  • Data analytics: We now have the ability to collect and analyze more data than ever. This doesn’t, however, mean that we should. The right questions still need to be asked to get at what we are trying to understand from the data, who cares about the answers to the questions we are asking, and what we’ll do with the data once we have it.
  • Agile: It makes sense to follow an instructional systems design process such as ADDIE. It also makes sense to customize the process for your specific project, and iterate and use good formative evaluation principles along the way.

Finally, a new trend I’m hearing about is “learning panorama.” The idea is that learners have a diverse, expanding “Panorama” of learning choices and alternatives, including corporate learning content, peer and social content, open content (e.g., TED Talk or YouTube), third-party content (e.g., Khan Academy), material from colleagues working at other organizations, and more. If I understand it correctly, it seems like a new name for something I’ve been calling blended learning.

And so the trends continue. What new trends are you hearing about? And what is your opinion of them?

3 Responses

  1. Scott Weersing

    When reading this, I quickly remembered The Tipping Point where an idea goes from a trend to critical mass. I once thought that mobile learning would never reach a critical mass because people would not want to learn on such a small screen. But the recent iPhones and Samsung Galaxy have made the phone where people can learn anywhere, anytime and not get burned out. Of course, I would love to compare a course delivered on a mobile phone vs a computer vs. a classroom to determine behavior change.

  2. Lisa Toenniges

    That would be interesting… I think it all depends on what you are trying to teach to whom. Responsive design now makes the mobile experience much better.

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