Top Learning Trends for 2017 (according to the experts)

It’s the beginning of the new year—the perfect time to evolve corporate learning within your organization. So, to help you kick-start your thinking, and maybe even inspire you to try something new, we thought we’d give you the inside scoop on the top learning trends expected to surface in 2017.

But, instead of simply offering our POV, we thought there was no better way to provide you with the best insights than to consult with some of the leading experts in the field. After all, they’ve got their finger on the pulse and definitely know their stuff! So, without further ado, here’s what Josh Bersin, Karl Kapp, Connie Malamed, Bob Mosher, Lori Niles-Hoffman, Arun Pradhan, Clark Quinn, Megan Torrance and Trish Uhl believe will be the hottest trends in L&D this year.

Josh BersinJosh Bersin
Industry Analyst
Principal and Founder, Bersin by Deloitte

L&D will have a new role and create many disruptions

As an analyst who has studied this space for almost 20 years, I’ve never seen corporate L&D go through so much stress. Employees today are highly distracted (2/3 of organizations tell us they are “overwhelmed”), we spend 4-5 hours a day on email, and employee engagement and culture have become CEO-level issues. It’s not that companies aren’t trying very hard to make work enjoyable, it’s simply the problem that the world of work has changed, and we live in an “always-on” environment.

At the same time work becomes relentless, 24/7, and real-time, the need to learn is greater than ever. Almost every profession is advancing faster than ever, and even employees in sales, service, and operational roles need regular updates on programs, processes, and core skills to stay productive and grow. And careers are so dynamic now that if you aren’t learning something new every few months, you feel like you’re falling behind.

The original focus of L&D was to build “programs” to solve these issues. But people don’t have time. In 2008 more than 70% of L&D spending went into formal corporate training, today its less than 30%. We, in L&D, are becoming a team of curators, experience designers, and consultants who must find ways to inject and infect learning into the company.

This new role has created many disruptions for L&D. The LMS, as I write about in the article “Corporate LMS Technology Takes A Turn,” is becoming marginalized. Content must now be shorter and more relevant (“micro-learning” is the new buzzword). We need more tools like Axonify to make content relevant and targeted to the role and time it is needed. And there are now so many external content providers, our new job is to curate and integrate, not just develop and teach.

Added to this is the fact that L&D is still a face-to-face domain. People need to meet each other, collaborate, and work together to learn. So we see an upswing in corporate universities, innovation labs, and face-to-face experiences that get people away from their phones and actually get them to interact and meet each other.

I think we are at a turning point in L&D, where CLO’s and other HR leaders now realize that this new world has become urgent and needs attention. I think 2017 is going to be a dynamic year of growth, innovation, and many new ideas. I applaud companies, like Axonify and others, who are reinventing the learning experience in a practical, useful way. This is what is so badly needed in the new world of “finding time” to do what’s most important.

Karl KappKarl Kapp
Gamification Analyst, Author, Consultant, Speaker, Professor

Games and gamification for learning will continue at a strong pace
Once again this year, I’ve seen increased interest in gamification and games for learning and I am not alone. According to Markets and Markets, the compound annual growth rate of the global gamification market is 46.3%, growing to $11.10 billion USD from a mere $1.65 billion in 2015. This may be due in part to the large interest in games in general. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 63% of all US households are home to at least one person who plays video games regularly (3 hours or more per week). Additionally, interest is not confined to the United States. This year, I’ve traveled to both Belgium and Switzerland to talk about games and gamification for learning, and have been working with companies in the UK talking about games and gamification as well companies in India and Mexico. In all of these places there was a great deal of interest—not so much in what it was but how to implement gamification. I am definitely seeing a shift from the question “What is gamification?” to “How can I implement gamification effectively?”

Virtual reality will be used for larger-scale learning projects
A number of companies are exploring how to use virtual reality to increase immersive learning experiences. These are ranging from checking out a large piece of equipment to helping someone be empathetic towards others in the customer service realm. Companies will expand from isolated instances of using VR for learning to larger scale implementations. The first wave of implementations seems to be related to physical activities like inspecting physical equipment or job sites for safety issues and the second wave will be the actual instruction on how to perform certain tasks. It’s important to remember that VR is one step in a training process and not as the entire training. Once someone has been trained to be safe on a work site, they still need to go to actual physical work sites to gain the final bit of experience before they are ready to be “let loose.”

Connie MalamedConnie Malamed
Author of Visual Design Solutions: Principles and Creative Inspiration for Learning Professionals

Asking what people want from a learning experience will drive the direction

Rather than thinking in terms of the latest instructional strategy and technology trends, I suggest we ask ourselves a different question this year: “What do people want from their learning experiences?” In answering this question, we may see the direction that our industry will take in 2017 and beyond.

What do people want from their learning experiences? Perhaps they want the same attributes they find delightful in their favorite products and services.

  • If you order a drink using the Starbucks mobile app, the order will be ready in about five minutes. The outstanding attributes of this service are efficiency and speed.
  • If you shop from an online retailer, you have access to all of their products, not just the ones in the physical store. The best online shopping services provide the products people are seeking. The outstanding attribute here is relevance.
  • If you’ve ever used Dropbox to back up or share files, you may have been surprised at how quickly you could complete a new task as a first-time user. One key attribute this application provides is a highly usable interface.

Efficiency and speed. Relevance. Usability. These may be the trends of the coming year because forward-thinking organizations and vendors want to satisfy the needs of a busy and rapidly changing workplace. Borrowing the best features embedded in popular products and services might be the smartest way to predict where we are headed in the coming years.

Bob MosherBob Mosher
Chief Learning Evangelist at APPLY Synergies

Content curation will mature to content aggregation

Much of L&D has tried to do its best at getting its arms around the many knowledge assets and nuggets that are distributed in, and even outside of, its companies. Collecting information is one thing; distributing it in a meaningful and easily assessable way is another! In 2017, we’ll see a deeper focus on the aggregation of content, both learning and support, in a more powerful way. This aggregation will involve using existing tools, but also the adoption of new tools which specialize in this area.

Learning will continue to become MORE personalized

As technology, learners, and methodologies all move closer and closer to allowing true learning and support to happen in the workflow, and not outside of it, learners’ ability to personalize their learning, often without even knowing they’re doing it, will increase. How will L&D’s role change when their traditional training deliverables are no longer the tip of the sword?

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will continue to be disruptive, but not quite ready for prime time

This is an area L&D MUST keep its eye on. Technologies, like adaptive learning, are already here and becoming mainstream. Their bigger brother, VR and AR, are working hard in the wings to become more powerful, intrinsic, and cheaper. This is an area we need to keep our eye on and not have it broadside us, or even skip right by us! Mobile technologies, gaming, and other non-traditional training modalities are making great strides in this area. It will be interesting to see how this area continues to grow in 2017.

Lori Niles-Hofmann Lori Niles-Hofmann 
Data Driven Learning Strategist

We will see the death of the traditional LMS, alongside an increased value on data and predictive analytics

These two trends I predict to peak in 2017 are actually a bit of a paradox. Most LMSs have not evolved much since their inception of tracking completions for compliance. Without naming names, the big enterprise players in this space do not even have viable apps to support mobile. That’s simply not acceptable. Likewise, the traditional LMS is an artificial barrier of logins and passwords. With digital content everywhere, the learner will not jump through obstacles to get to yours. Content needs to be in context, accessible, and relevant.

The LMS has survived because we require data. Today, however, our data appetite must extend far beyond completions and test scores. To really understand how our audiences consume and interact with digital content, we need robust tracking and analytics engines. For 2017, this means integrating xAPI into your builds, adding the role of data scientist to any high-functioning L&D team, and ditching your clunky LMS for an LRS. Failure to do even one of these tasks will leave you with a gap that will be difficult to recover from.

Arun PradhanArun Pradhan
Blended Learning Geek & Creator of

xAPI will help L&D provide a more holistic approach to measuring performance outcomes

There are strong contenders for key 2017 trends. VR and AR are powerful options which contextualise learning and can increase empathy through immersive experiences. They’re particularly impactful for physical and context driven situations but, in my experience, tend to have limited applications for common office-based work challenges. They will contribute much, but are not necessarily the game changers that some suggest.

Chatbots will become more common, leveraging platforms like Slack & Workplace, but will tend to be limited in scope while they remain hardwired auto-responders. Their true impact will arise when out-of-the-box AI solutions develop enough to make them more predictive, personalized, and engaging. They’re a significant development which will contribute to just-in-time support and workflow learning, but I don’t believe they’ll be disruptors until that next level of AI driven capability becomes mainstream (and, despite the hype, that could be awhile coming).

That leaves, in my opinion, a clear winner for the most important trend, which will emerge as L&D continues to embrace xAPI. Until now, L&D has largely focused on useless metrics like attendance/completion or multiple choice assessments which have led to an obsession of knowledge over performance. It’s like the joke about the Soviet factory that reached its ambitious production quotas by only creating left footed shoes. The factory, like L&D, was efficient and successful by their own metrics, but lost sight of real-world impact.

The rise of data analytics, credentialing, and xAPI, presents the opportunity to measure what matters—real and meaningful outcomes. We need to keep the artistry in L&D, and continue to develop a human-centered approach to design, but new xAPI-driven data points will allow us to work more like scientists who hypothesize, test, measure, and continually develop improvements. For me, this represents a major paradigm shift where L&D embraces a holistic range of strategies, including training, but encompassing much, much more, to achieve evidence-based performance results.

Clark QuinnClark Quinn
Executive Director at Quinnovation

Focusing on a ‘learning engineering’ approach, measuring what matters, and aligning more closely with how people think and learn will be key

Several things are being hyped right now. Things ‘on the bubble’ include Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and data analytics. Yet, we’re not hearing enough about measurement and smart design. I reckon there’s an opportunity for 2017 to be a year where we make some sense of this.

VR is cool, no argument. And there are real empirical benefits. But the market’s not mature yet; the tools have gotten cheap, but there aren’t the standards nor the common platform that will help it reach mainstream use yet. While it has already gone through a hype cycle, there may yet be another.

AI, too, has some major inroads, but we’re still not applying enough human intelligence yet. While the probabilistic nature, and learning algorithms, may be part of the cutting-edge and research labs, I don’t really see major breakthroughs yet.

Instead, here’s hoping that this coming year is when we start using human intelligence more appropriately, and look seriously at learning science. Too little of what we do reflects what’s known, and instead still is more mired in learning myths. If we start taking a ‘learning engineering’ approach, applying science to design, we have the ability to achieve real outcomes.

This leads, naturally, to another point. We’ll only really be able to use data for good when we start measuring what matters. Too frequently, still, we’re measuring our efficiencies in learning (keeping costs/seat/hour below an industry average) instead of measuring impact (did we achieve a significant impact on an operational business measure). When we do this, we’ll have data to analyze about our learning.

One other thing is within our reach, and that’s getting more systematic about the backend, the infrastructure integration that will setup possibilities like AI in the future. This includes content strategy, and an ecosystem approach. In general, we’re not aligned with what’s known about how people think, work, and learn. When we get serious about that, we’ll make real progress. And that’s my hope for 2017.

Megan Torrance
Megan Torrance
TorranceLearning CEO / President

xAPI will make serious gains in terms of adoption

Early projects demonstrating the power of xAPI’s data tracking and analytics were typically custom-built learning experiences feeding custom-built data visualizations. In the early days, there were no off-the-shelf products that were xAPI-ready so everything was a custom code endeavor. These projects were beautiful, but out of reach for most instructional design and development teams. As course and content development platforms adopt the specification, as learning record stores come online, and as LMS providers offer LRS support, xAPI will emerge into what I call a “geek-free zone” in much the same way that SCORM has been for years. The products are still evolving, shaped by the efforts of early adopters and the Data Interoperability Standards Consortium (DISC), and I believe that instructional designers now have at their disposal tools by which they can create and track the learning experience at far greater depth than ever before. This will both delight and challenge us as we learn to wield this new power. Experiments are valuable. Interoperability is key.

“e” will continue to evolve

At the same time that xAPI is gaining traction, we will see some real momentum behind a growing shift beyond traditional elearning as we know it. There is still a time and a place for long-form elearning courses: I still send hand-written notes even though I have email, instant group messaging, and social media at my fingertips. In much the same way that sending a thank you note has evolved, organizations are now seeing the value in meeting learners where they are, and providing learning when they want it with exactly what they need—and no more. Unless they want it. Microlearning, social networks, adaptive or “smart” learning, on-demand performance support, reminders and refreshers—even hand-written notes—are all being wielded by savvy instructional designers who know that the goal is not to create training, but rather to improve performance on the job.

Trish UhlTrish Uhl
World-Class Author, Trainer, L&D Strategist and Coach


L&D will renew its focus

Advanced analytics, adaptive technologies, and Artificial Intelligence are most powerful when they enable people—helping them to advance in new skills and adopt new behaviors—to better adapt to fluctuations in the hyper-evolving workplace environment.

One of the hot trends in L&D is a renewed focus—not only on the cognitive (knowledge) and the psychomotor (skills)—but also on the affective (attitudes) domain, with emphasis on developing employees’ personal resilience and cultivating happiness to promote health & well-being, enhance human performance, and positively impact the bottom line.

More info in my post: ‘2 Out of 3 Ain’t Bad’ May Have Worked for Meatloaf, but it Doesn’t Jive for L&D

For more information on the hottest trends shaping L&D, register for our upcoming webinar on January 23, 2017, featuring learning veteran Don Taylor, and Axonify CEO Carol Leaman. You’ll learn about the top 3 corporate learning trends to watch in 2017, based on the results of Don’s annual Global L&D Sentiment Survey.

Corporate Learning Trends 2017 Webinar

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