2017 Instructional Design Trends Compass: Your Accu-Learningcast

Summary: Happy New Year, Instructional Designers and Learning and Development professionals! In this article, we’ll look at Instructional Design trends for 2017 – what clients and learners might be expecting. And there’s more! We’ve included links for further reading so that you can embrace and employ these 2017 Instructional Design trends for your learners.

The Top 2017 Instructional Design Trends Compass

Look at you! You made it to 2017! Why not celebrate another trip around the sun by going away on a week’s vacation? Before you start packing, be sure you check the weather forecast. After all, you’re going to the Caribbean and those two giant wool sweaters are taking up precious suitcase space.

I asked a select group of Instructional Design “Al Rokers” to plug into their industry Doppler radar to share any high-pressure systems or microbursts we might see in the coming year.


It’s one thing to know which way the wind is blowing, and it’s quite another to have your umbrella readily at hand. We want you to be well prepared for whatever weather comes your way, so I’ve also given you suggestions for further reading for each highlighted trend.

Here’s your 365-day outlook for 2017 Instructional Design trends.

1. A Warm Front Featuring Personalization In Instructional Design

Across the globe, the time we spend on mobile phones continues to rise. Now more than ever, when we want to retreat to a familiar place, the apps on our smartphones are often our home away from home. Clare Dygert, Manager of Instructional Design at SweetRush, compares the traditional, page-turner-type eLearning that is surprisingly still around to a lumbering dinosaur struggling to catch up with everything else in our technological landscape.

Citing Facebook as a prime example, Clare notes, “It [Facebook] knows what I like, who I am, what I’ve done, and what I’d be interested in. Then I come to work and take an eLearning course that’s nothing like Facebook, on a system that doesn’t know who I am, doesn’t understand what I want to know about, and doesn’t have any information about me.”

The personalization that makes social media apps so “sticky” is largely missing from eLearning and Learning Management Systems. Larger organizations will likely be at the forefront of rolling out next-gen Learning Management Systems and learning portals, integrating intelligent content curation and Amazon-like recommendation engines.

Not quite there yet? Take heart: There’s some low-hanging fruit here. According to Annie Dickerson, Creative Director at SweetRush, “Visual IQ is rising faster than any other type of IQ. People can tell when a visual asset is authentic or quality and when it is not—and they’ll respond to that.”

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Think about incorporating imagery from your real work environment instead of stock photos. Or add a little company- or industry-specific humor in a multiple-choice question. These small details can go a long way toward creating a more personalized “feel” within learning programs.

2. Strong Convergence Of Millennials And Values-Based Corporate Culture

There’s so much written about Millennials—and for good reason! There are 92 million of them in the US workforce, and they represent the largest generation in our history.

Apart from being the generation that grew up on the Internet, Millennials have values and behaviors that are different from those of older generations. They’re interested in devoting their working hours to companies that reflect their own values and that offer opportunities for training and advancement.

As a result, employers who wish to attract and retain Millennials are challenged with not only creating an admirable culture but also communicating it well. Look for companies to attract and retain Millennial talent with training and communication about corporate values and culture.

Instructional design trends 2017_SweetRush

SweetRush CEO Andrei Hedstrom has this to say about this self-aware generation: “Millennials are positioned to offer a significant tipping point for human consciousness, as they challenge the world to practice values that ultimately lead us into a more abundance-minded place. A place in which we see our organizations as unique human parts within a larger and dynamic single planetary community.”

While defining an organization’s culture may be the role of leadership, training and Instructional Design will play a role in reflecting those values authentically within learning programs. This may be through referencing those values as you clearly express the “why” behind taking the training (in other words, harnessing intrinsic motivation). Or it may be modeling those values within scenarios or role-plays that are part of the training program.

3. Consistent Periods Of Culturally Enlightened Instructional Design

Our world is getting smaller, and organizations looking to leverage training dollars are rolling out learning programs to global audiences. This puts high pressure on Instructional Designers to ensure they serve up content that all learners can identify with.

As a UK-based Lead Instructional Designer at SweetRush, Emma Klosson designs eLearning for multinational clients. She notes, “Learning has to not only be globally accessible and understandable but also authentic and culturally sensitive”.

Regarding treatment of graphic elements in her courses, Emma shares this example: “I’ve got an avatar that’s holding up three fingers, and we have to check that gesture against the cultural norms of our learners.”

Instructional design trends 2017_SweetRush

Language and cultural considerations can become challenges to rapid delivery. An up-front cultural analysis phase can help make future development more efficient by identifying the overall tone for training that works for your global audience and flagging potential trouble spots to avoid in language and imagery.

4. Ideal Climate For Behavioral Change And Advances In Blended And Social Learning

The business problems that training is asked to solve nearly always involve some sort of behavioral change. Hernán Muñoz, Creative Director at SweetRush, says, “We can’t teach behavioral change unless there is contact with another human being. It’s one thing to train someone on how to use an ATM machine, but the kinds of problems clients are coming to us for are behavioral in nature. There is only so much we can do without the connection to another human being.”

It used to be that a “good" blended learning solution meant eLearning pre-work followed by an instructor-led deep dive. These days, the blend is getting richer and more complex. Expect a learning solution to incorporate social, mobile, and gaming elements as well as promotional/motivational videos, marketing communications, and even custom learning portals for learning programs.

Gail Eisenstein, Lead Instructional Designer for SweetRush, is noticing this metamorphosis when she speaks to clients. More often than not, a learning deployment consists of a combination of eLearning, instructor-led content, and a social learning component. Gail says:

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So we’ve arrived at a place of universal acceptance that, as learners, we need a debrief or processing opportunity, a way to apply what we’ve learned, or just to have a conversation about it. Gail suggests that this next step could be a webinar, VILT, structured learning, facilitated conversation, or a traditional classroom experience.

Sounds like a sunny outlook, but is a cold front coming in? Gail notes the barriers to entry for social learning: “Companies love the idea of having a place to respond to questions and post ideas, but if there’s no in-house sanctioned platform that happens to feature a social piece, it’s difficult to implement.” From a security standpoint, a public platform isn’t an option. And closed environments are costly.

To complicate matters, companies don’t generally issue smartphones or computers to hourly employees. Some companies are starting to invest in tablets so that everyone can learn on a company-issued device, which is often the only option in light of new labor laws.

Creating space for and encouraging human connection within a virtual learning program is a challenge, yet many of us do this every day in our personal and professional lives through social media tools. The success of these platforms, along with a greater recognition of the role human connection plays in learning, is driving—and will continue to drive—demand for social collaborative learning in training programs.

5. A Low-Pressure System Bringing Some New(ish) Technologies Into The Region

Tech literacy continues to rise. And as Creative Director, Hernán points out, “The really good experiences people have on their phones puts pressure on eLearning developers to get onto the same playing field as the best-designed app”. Augmented reality, virtual reality, and beacon technology continue to be technologies to watch on our list of 2017 Instructional Design trends.

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Augmented Reality

For the better half of last year, it was nearly impossible to go anywhere without seeing clusters of people hunting Pokémon characters with their smartphones. Pokémon Go fits into a category of technology called “augmented reality” or simply “AR”. In the game, users position their phone (or device) in front of something in their environment and the device displays information that can’t be seen in real life - as the name implies, “augmenting” reality.

AR’s been hovering on trends lists for years, but the success of Pokémon Go made everyone sit up and take notice - and put some deeper thought into how it could be applied in training. Early adopters like museums see a natural fit. Now we’re seeing retail organizations jump on board with, for example, in-store product training. However, budget can be a barrier to entry; app-based training remains on the high end of the budget spectrum.

Virtual Reality

With a vast array of devices exploding in the consumer market, virtual reality, or VR, is also maturing, though the “killer app” that Pokémon Go has been for AR has yet to surface. Even so, Learning and Development organizations are starting to pilot VR training, from immersive simulations for high-risk environments to buzz-building games to augment live events. This year will be an important year for VR in the consumer market, so keep an eye on device and game sales to see how far and how fast this trend is taking off.

Beacon Technology

College campuses have been using beacon technology for a few years as a way of pushing nonacademic content to students and staff. The beacons themselves are small wireless transmitters that emit a signal and can connect to mobile devices in close proximity (about 30 feet or nine meters).

When they connect, they can do a variety of fun things, such as push messages and trigger certain functions on nearby phones. This technology is comparatively less expensive and less immersive than AR and VR, but it holds great potential for effective, fun, just-in-time learning experiences.

6. Extended Periods Of Responsive Design

Designing for computers and designing for smartphones are very different. If you design for one, you abandon the other. Responsive design is the solution to the problem. Born in the web design industry, responsive design, simply put, is designing once and deploying on different platforms; the underlying code then optimizes the page content for the screen dimensions of the device you are using.

We have a coding language called HTML5 to thank. HTML5 is universal, and it is easier to find developers for. It features cross-browser rendering, and content written in it can be viewed on a phone, tablet, or computer.

Acknowledging that the same challenge facing web designers also faces eLearning authors, we’re starting to see authoring tools that offer responsive design features.

Yet, as Clare Dygert points out, “Taking a compliance course while riding the subway just doesn’t happen”. Instructional Designers will need to decide which learning solutions need this feature, depending on the audience, objectives, and content.

In the right circumstances, platform-agnostic eLearning development does cater to the learner, and it makes the curation of content easier for developers. Yet we need to be clear about when and how learners will actually take the training and what will be most effective for learning. Everything has to be on the learner’s terms.

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Pack Your Suitcase For An Exciting 2017!

2017 will undoubtedly show us an increasingly blurred line between learning, entertainment, and collaboration. Development and deployment tools are getting better than ever and less expensive.

Like the good meteorologist who keeps her eye on wind, jet stream, tides, sunrise, and air pressure, we must keep constant watch on personalization opportunities, cultural sensitivity, learning modalities, new technologies, design methodologies, and other Instructional Design trends that have the potential to contribute to engaging and effective learning solutions.

Check out the highlights from this article in our 2017 Instructional Design Trends infographic. Enjoy!

eBook Release: SweetRush
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