There’s an old French proverb: “The more things change, the more things stay the same.” When we look at trends in the e-learning and training industries it is especially true. Leading an e-learning company, I have seen many different approaches to training programs, creating content and delivering the final product. Every few years, like clockwork, people become convinced that they have to adopt some new technology or risk falling behind the latest trends.
The reality is that most learning technologies have been around for a long time. The challenge for entrepreneurs and business owners is not finding the latest, hottest tech solution. The challenge is answering the question: Now that these technologies have matured, how can they be crafted into effective learning programs that achieve business goals?
We can see how the industry is addressing that question through three technologies: gamification, short-form video and mobile learning.
According to one industry study, about 75 percent of people in the workforce today are at least “casual” gamers. It had long been thought that creating learning games would be a way to increase engagement and motivate employees to spend more time learning. Some big players — Deloitte, IBM and Xerox — have put some kind of interactive e-learning into place.
But this trend seems to be driven more by the fantasyland that is created in the games than by actual results. Return on investment for “gamified” learning experiences have varied wildly. (Just getting the ROI for a game is notoriously difficult since it must factor in time for development, use and licensing fees.) Maintenance is also very difficult; a few changes in content or objectives can mean recoding large parts of the game.
But there are elements of games that can be adopted to create better learning engagement. So, one trend I see is training departments taking some of the concepts in good game design and applying them to other kinds of learning systems. For example, leaderboards and other achievement-based systems can encourage employees to finish courses to reach certain levels of certification. These won’t be “games” in the traditional sense, but they will utilize some of the competitive and social aspects of games.
2. (Short-Form) Video
Video has been around for decades. Even more “modern” video formats — think short videos posted to YouTube — have been around for over 10 years.
It took a long time for video to catch on in instructional design, and in many instances it is still falling behind today’s adult learning methodologies. There are many reasons for that. Some had to do with video quality or cost and time involved in creating videos. A lot of it had to do with how video was used. It was usually just a means to pre-record content meant to be delivered in a long-winded lecture style, or just use an actual live event and call it a video. Utilizing video in this style makes it no more effective than attending an actual leader-led event. Sitting through 30-60 minutes of a video will not allow your learners to retain the information, or coach your reports on what behaviors they need to change.
Nowadays companies are steering away from long lecture-style videos and opting for videos that are short, engaging and to the point. Videos no longer just focus on specific on-the-job skills, but on a number of areas of professional development. In fact, there is such a huge wealth of content out there, finding content will not be a challenge so much as finding quality libraries of content that can be used across the organization. So, the second trend I see is an increased number of professionally developed videos that can be utilized across departments.
3. Mobile Learning
While there might be value in traditional classroom formats, they do not get employees the information they need right when they need it. Increasingly, I hear people saying that mobile is the solution to this problem. Put the content on the web and let people watch on their phones and tablets! Easy!
Of course, things are not that easy. For example, most of the video out there is Flash-based, and not optimized for mobile. But the issues are not just technical. People are accustomed to watching shorter videos on their mobile devices, and then being able to instantly rate the content, find more content or leave commentary for others. Most systems can’t handle that level of interaction — yet.
The third trend I see is a new crop of learning systems that are native to the mobile environment. These will include short-form content, as well as tools for sharing, collaboration and tracking. Once the industry begins to get some hard data on the effectiveness of mobile formats, we will see a number of organizations wanting to redo their content libraries and make the switch. Or, hire outside firms that already have mobile-friendly libraries.
So What Will E-Learning Look Like 5-10 Years Out?
I predict that it will look a lot like what people are already doing on their own: reading content and watching short videos on their tablets and mobile devices. Commenting, collaborating and sharing that content. Unlocking achievements in the form of certifications and rank in leaderboards. Looking up information while working to get just the information and insight they need, right when they need it. And while all that is happening, Big Data solutions will be running in the background, giving instructors and training directors insights into learning rates, content use, retention and more.
Importantly, these developments are not going to come about just because a new technology is announced. The true innovation will come in designing programs to meet business needs.