Discussion Of eLearning Trends For 2018

Discussing On eLearning Trends For 2018
Summary: This article is in response to Suresh Kumar's 'eLearning Trends for 2018'. It reinforces some points, and provides an alternate take on others.

Discussing On eLearning Trends For 2018: A Response

Suresh Kumar published his top eLearning trends for 2018 a few days ago. This article is a response to that; it can be read stand alone, or as a companion piece. Here, I've ordered the items based on my take on importance. The numbers in the parentheses are Suresh's original positions in the list, where applicable.

1. (-) Scientific And Evidence-Based Approaches

Surely, 2018 has to be the year that we bring credibility (back) to corporate education. As a CLO for nearly 15 years, it frustrates the heck out of me that the learning profession is awash with pseudo-science, charlatans, and snake-oil salespeople. We know what works in learning; bizarrely, most L&D organizations don't do it.

If you don't know where to start, try "The Science of Training and Development in Organizations: What Matters in Practice" by Salas et al. If ever there was a justification for why L&D functions need to exist, that paper is it. Net-net: if you are an L&D professional and you can't justify what you are doing through peer-reviewed science or hard empirical evidence, I suggest you stop now or find another job.

2. (4) Adaptive Learning

2018 could well be the breakout year for adaptive learning in corporate education.

In his article, Suresh touches on one aspect of adaptive learning. From my perspective, adaptive learning covers two related subjects: adaptive curricula (for a specific student, identifying what subjects to study or what competencies to develop) and adaptive teaching (having decided the former, finding the most optimal path to proficiency). The terms tend to be interchangeable. For me, the place to start is with adaptive teaching, as it doesn't matter how good your curriculum is if people don't actually learn anything.

Adaptive Teaching

I'm amazed that adaptive or personalized online teaching isn't ubiquitous in corporate education. Intelligent Tutoring Systems have been around for 30 years, and are widely adopted in public and university education. In the US, 1/3 of all school districts are committed to adopting adaptive online learning, and most universities and colleges have deployed some form of it.

Adaptive teaching, backed by extensive research, embodies in software many of the basic tenets of good teaching that are described in the paper by Salas, above. The 'one-size-fits-none', 'fire-and-forget' approach of almost all of today's corporate eLearning—be it traditional, video-based, microlearning or some combination—needs to be relegated to some forgotten decade where outcomes don't matter, and the quality of education is measured by how many people are registered in the LMS and how much animation you can pack into your course.

Good adaptive teaching is more efficient, more effective and more engaging than other online approaches (and many ILT approaches). If you don't know what adaptive teaching (or adaptive learning) is, start researching now.

Unfortunately, as with many aspects of L&D, there are adaptive charlatans and adaptive heroes. Not all adaptive systems are created equal. Make sure you do your research.

Adaptive Curricula

A number of the big content players are focused in this area. In my opinion, it is still immature, and the science of deciding what someone should learn is much less grounded than how someone can learn. I can only suggest you follow the tried and true medical adage—diagnose before you prescribe. What works for one person most likely will not work for another. Just because Joe liked a course and has the same job as Emily, does not mean that Emily should take it. Adaptive curricula should use meta-data from HRIS's, business systems, peers, and elsewhere to make their recommendations, but should always be linked to and focused on achieving some business and/or career-related outcome aligned to the individual and team.

3. (6) Content Curation

User-generated content (UGC) is going to solve L&D's problems! No, it isn't. If not properly implemented it could well make things worse—for L&D, for learners, and for the business. It is true that there are absolute gems trapped in the business today, and that a great content curation strategy can answer the challenge that Lew Platt, the ex-CEO of HP raised in the 1990's: "If only HP knew what HP knows".

But don't confuse giving your employees content authoring tools, capturing and storing thousands of user-generated documents and videos, and then making them all available through some cool website, with content curation. Employees are already drowning in information. Adding to the 'needle-in-the-haystack' problem isn't a good use of anyone's time.

Content is not learning. Please don't confuse the two. Likewise, don't confuse 'just-in-case' knowledge and skills with 'just-in-time' performance support. Your strategy should cover both, and use relevant technologies and approaches appropriately.

4. (5, 7) Microlearning And Interactive Video

I've put these together as they are related, and to a certain extent set out to achieve similar outcomes.

Microlearning (also known as chunking) is the breaking of content into smaller, more (allegedly) digestible parts primarily to (allegedly) meet learners needs. Likewise, video—and especially interactive video—is seen as a great thing to do, often driven by the 'I learned how to unblock my sink on YouTube' phenomenon.

The science is clear—both of these things can improve learning outcomes, but in and of themselves are not panaceas. There is lots of data about how long people watch videos on YouTube. But there is no evidence I am aware of that passive consumption of 3-minute videos is any more effective as a teaching mechanism than that of longer ones when it comes to general corporate education. Likewise, chunking content simply based on a belief that people have short attention spans is a fool's errand. If attention spans are so short, why is it difficult to drag people away from video games and the TV, or from marathon YouTube sessions. And we've all been down the Wikipedia rat-hole.

Interactive videos, on the other hand, do help with engagement and learning. But they may not be the most efficient way to drive learning outcomes. Using video within an adaptive solution gives the benefits with much less effort.

Microlearning can improve outcomes, if used with formative assessments—this is the basic idea behind many adaptive learning systems. In fact, I'd argue that without a formative component, microlearning consumes more effort in chunking the content than it improves outcomes.

5. (8) Social Learning

Social learning is particularly ill-defined—it means many different things to different people. It has been hampered by the 70:20:10 myth (you know those numbers were made up, right?). But we are social animals, and there is definitely an opportunity to expand the capabilities of today's online and adaptive systems to incorporate cohort functionality and beyond. Further, and this is especially true in the corporate setting, work is done by individuals in networks. The research tells us that learning environments should mimic the scenarios in which learning is to be employed as closely as possible, so if we work in networks it seems reasonable that we should learn in networks.

Workforce Enablement

Suresh includes workforce enablement as a separate topic—but if eLearning isn't geared towards workforce enablement, what is it for? This is really priority 0—figure out why you need the learning; i.e., what business problem are you trying to solve—before anything else.

And Now, Regarding Everything Else...

I haven't prioritized these, as it is difficult to predict how quickly these might find general applicability and adoption in learning.

Virtual Reality And Augmented Reality

AR and VR have clear and rapidly emerging roles in entertainment and business. As for learning? Niche applications already exist, especially in the military and law enforcement, in pilot and driver training, and other areas. AR is especially useful for performance support.

Will 2018 be the year that VR and AR go mainstream in corporate education? Personally, I doubt it. But it is coming.

Intelligent Assistants/Chatbots

I really don't see this as a 2018 priority for L&D. I see some niche use cases for just-in-time performance support, but many of the mainstream use cases for chatbots are to solve customer support challenges at scale.

Machine Learning And Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Here, I'm not talking about teaching humans about machine learning. I'm talking about the use of these technologies to improve L&D.

Suresh didn't have it on his list, but eLearning technologies—and especially adaptive learning technologies—that incorporate machine learning and AI are emerging. More specifically, the application of deep neural nets to assist with curation, content development, and outcomes; and natural language processing to enable new interaction modes and machine translation. It won't be long before these capabilities will become differentiators among learning systems, and not long after that, they become mainstream.

And Finally: Gamification And Game-Based Learning

Gamification. Sorry for my heretical viewpoint, but I think gamification is, in most cases, a total and utter waste of time and effort. It is the buzzword to end all buzzwords.

Gamification is a band-aid to try and fix a lack of engagement in poorly designed learning experiences. It takes time and effort away from the limited resources available to design and deliver truly impactful learning. It addresses the symptom, and not the cause. It adds effort to the development process. It takes the designer's eye away from the purpose of learning itself.

Gamification is not the same as game-based learning. There are definitely situations where a 'game' is the right modality to learn something.

Gamification is typically used to keep people playing games for as long as possible. In the corporate setting, we want people to spend as little time as possible on informal learning. The goal of corporate L&D should be to efficiently and effectively build the capability to execute the company strategy.

Efficiently and effectively. Focus on the outcome. Get there as efficiently as possible. And motivate people along the way (in a virtuous cycle to improve outcomes) through engaging learning experiences.

Wrapping Up

I'd like to thank Suresh for prompting me to reflect on these and other subjects, and I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

I wish you all the best for the coming holidays and for 2018. May your L&D efforts be impactful.