Like any industry, corporate elearning is in a perpetual state of evolution as it adjusts to modern business requirements and advances in technology. Most changes follow a similar progression:
- Industry thought-leaders forecast the change and start discussing the potential benefits.
- Early adopters pilot the new approach to see if it provides the anticipated benefits.
- The wider industry joins the conversation and evaluates the new approach.
- If the change is beneficial and worth the effort, it becomes widely adopted.
At LeanForward, we consider these adaptations trends only when they reach this last stage, since some anticipated changes are never widely adopted. In 2017, five elearning trends have reached this last stage of adoption and are becoming—or have already become—mainstream:
1. Mobile Learning
Mobile learning is a great example of a trend that took far longer to develop than originally anticipated. When the iPad was first released, many saw tablets as the future of elearning since they further enhanced elearning’s accessibility.
However, unforeseen technological challenges delayed widespread adoption. Now that most technical challenges have been overcome—and most major elearning authoring tools are compatible with tablets—mobile learning is on a roll.
Training via smartphones is also trending upward but trails well behind tablets. Smartphones no longer present major technological challenges, as most are as powerful as a tablet. However, their limited screen and keyboard size, as well as the lack of a mouse, present several usability challenges.
These challenges can be overcome but often require different design elements than those in courseware designed for delivery via desktop computers, laptops, or tablets. Therefore, offering training via smartphones normally requires development of smartphone-specific versions of training. This can increase the initial design and development costs significantly, as well as the ongoing maintenance costs.
2. Concise courseware (Microlearning)
Stakeholders often disagree on what content to include in training programs. Subject-matter experts and lawyers tend to favor longer programs that cover all related content, while business leaders and learners tend to favor more targeted programs that focus only on what learners absolutely “need to know.”
Well, “need to know” has finally won out. Organizations have recognized that designing concise courseware, sometimes referred to as microlearning, provides several benefits. Such programs require less time to complete and have been shown to boost learner comprehension, retention, and satisfaction.
The uptick in the use of smartphones and tablets has also had an effect. People have grown accustomed to walking around with tremendous computing power and access to the combined knowledge of the world in the palm of their hands.
This trend has changed human behavior and memory. We have less patience and less focus. We multitask—and most of us, not very well.
Training programs for learners of all ages have shifted to accommodate this change in how we process and engage with information. Multiple short, focused sessions over a period of time tend to be more effective than one long, expansive session. It might seem counterintuitive that shortening a program would lead to better results, but our minds can process only so much information at a time.
As we increasingly demonstrate poorer retention and less focus, learning modules are adapting to fit these needs. It’s better to engage a learner for ten to twenty solid minutes and have them retain that information, rather than force them to complete an hour-long program and waste much of that time. Breaks between training segments are also an effective way to increase knowledge.
Finally, while in-person teaching leaves room for off-topic questions, repeated information, and general chattiness, elearning systems allow for precise, exact teaching. It’s easy to trim down an instructive course to just the information necessary to teach a specific demographic.
3. Increased Multimedia
In today’s modern world, we receive more and more information via multimedia, whether through TVs, computers, tablets, smartphones, digital kiosks, or even digital billboards. We have grown accustomed to being presented with a high level of text, images, graphics, animations, video, and audio. These elements engage us on a variety of levels, and learners expect a similar level of multimedia engagement from their training.
While basic elearning—glorified PowerPoint presentations or digital reading assignments—were always recognized for their limitations, today’s learners may simply zone out unless provided with a higher level of multimedia. Learners may still complete the elearning to “check the box,” but they’re less likely to get much value from the experience.
When it comes to elearning, learners now expect:
- Less text and more multimedia
- More visually appealing user interfaces (ditch the PowerPoint template)
- Larger and higher resolution images and graphics
- Videos that may include live action, motion graphics, or whiteboard-style animations
- Professional narration
- Sound effects, when relevant
Gamification has gotten a lot of attention in the elearning world over the past few years, and with good reason—the market is expected to reach $5.5 billion in 2018! So what is gamification?
Well, it’s when you gamify something. Just kidding, but that really is at the heart of it. Remember in elementary school, when your teachers would create fun little games to help you learn fractions, times-tables, or parts of speech? Think of that as the ancestor to gamification in the elearning industry.
Gamification takes a page out of the books of video-game designers and applies those principles to elearning. According to a study, some 77 percent of American homes contain video games, 55 percent of gamers play games on their mobile devices, and gamers play 215 million hours each day in the United States alone!
The most popular gaming techniques include progressing to different levels, scores, avatars, and virtual currencies. Lesser techniques are competition with friends, virtual gifts, narrative (“interactive fiction”), and real-time performance feedback and activity feeds.
Gamification promotes engagement, and companies including IBM, Xerox, and Deloitte Leadership Academy have all implemented effective gamification programs. When they work, they really work. Successful gamification programs have been shown to increase scores in skill-based knowledge assessments by 14 percent and in fact-based assessments by 11. They also increase retention rates by 9 percent.
But there’s one caveat, and it’s a pretty big one. An estimated 80 percent of gamification attempts fail, so don’t expect each try to be a home run—or a level-up, as it were. More often than not, a gamification attempt will be “game over.”
5. Elearning in academia
After resisting elearning for years, academia has finally recognized what the corporate world discovered long ago: Elearning can be a highly efficient and effective means for conveying knowledge on a wide range of topics.
First pioneered by for-profit colleges, elearning has found its way into virtually every aspect of academia. Traditional classes from elementary school through graduate school are now augmented by interactive elearning programs.
For example, most algebra classes incorporate several online components, which reinforce rules teachers introduce in the classroom and allow students to practice what they learn. In addition, many topics can be taught entirely online. For example, high school students in Hanover County, Virginia, have the option to take economics online or in class.
At the college and graduate-school level, faculty rely on asynchronous elearning to teach students basic concepts, freeing up class time to focus on more advanced concepts. Many non-profit schools offer most, if not all, of their core classes online and via a traditional classroom. Faculty record lectures, develop online activities, and set up quizzes so students can complete the course on their own schedule and at their own pace.
This trend even extends to the graduate level, where specialized programs, like a master’s degree in social work, can be earned online. Offering some classes online enables schools to make the best use of their faculty while also providing educational opportunities to people who might not otherwise be able to participate in a traditional classroom.
Finally, hundreds of free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) provide people around the globe with access to quality education. These courses are similar to university courses, but most don’t offer academic credit. Anyone interested can simply sign up and start taking classes, some of which were developed by professors from the world’s most prestigious schools.
What started as a trickle is now a raging torrent of knowledge, and we will all benefit. Those craving more knowledge will have greater access, and their children will enjoy even greater educational opportunities. And, indirectly, we will all benefit from a more educated populace.
What about Virtual Reality (VR)?
VR has captured everyone’s attention, and industry thought-leaders have high expectations for VR-based training. We agree that VR shows a lot of promise as a training medium, but it’s still too early to call it a trend.
Early adopters are piloting VR with mixed results. Comprehensive VR systems that include full-body suits to enable users to “feel” the simulation have shown a lot of promise but are very expensive to install, operate, and maintain. Entry-level VR systems that provide a 3-D visual experience but support only rudimentary movements provide far less value.
We look forward to watching VR progress as a training medium as technology continues to evolve and organizations gain more insight into how best to apply this fascinating technology.