eLearning Trends in 2021: Perspectives To Help You Reframe And Rethink Your Training Programs

Perspectives Of eLearning Trends In 2021
Summary: Post pandemic, L&D teams are re-evaluating the options taken in 2020 to arrive at a long-term blueprint for corporate training delivery. In this article, I list 19 eLearning trends in 2021, highlighting how to use them in the new workplace dynamics.

Understand The eLearning Trends Of 2021 And Stay At The Top Of Your Game

We have been living under the dark cloud of the pandemic for several months now. While there are many unanswered questions and uncertainty at several levels, one thing is certain that the pandemic has redefined the workplace dynamics. From temporary work-from-home measures, we are now witnessing the “new normal” of remote operations across the globe.

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eLearning Trends In 2021 — A Strategic Guide For Corporate Training Programs In The New Normal
Discover all the trends that will help you succeed.

As L&D teams look ahead to 2021, the following focus areas emerge:

  • Improve remote learning experiences by leveraging immersive virtual training techniques rather than just addressing the mandate of remote training.
  • Create room for continuous, remote learning rather than offering discrete trainings.
  • Leverage frameworks that promote formal, informal, social Learning, as well as performance improvement rather than limiting the training budgets to only formal training.
  • Provide nudges to create habits of learning rather than delivering training and ending it with the validation of user registrations.
  • Adopt techniques to protect the training investment by offsetting the Forgetting Curve and replacing it with the Retention Curve.
  • Focus on the learner; align trainings to what remote learners seek:
    • They should have the flexibility to “pull” content rather than the mandated “push.”
    • The content should be appealing, support multiple devices (mobile-ready), and be relevant and preferably personalized.
    • The learning journeys must be highly specific to their needs and, in fact, align with their career pathways.
    • The content should not be limited to just formal training. Instead, learning aids/job aids must be available on-demand, preferably in the workflow so that learners have access precisely at the moment of their need.
  • Offer a holistic suite of trainings, needed for remote learners
    From trainings that support mental health well-being to building resilience, the pandemic triggered a brand new list of trainings to manage remote employees. Supporting leadership skills over a distance and sustaining productivity levels were other areas that got added. Of course, the standard trainings continue but are aligned to business goals (even at a distance).
  • Provide multi-pronged training and learning aids (70-20-10 model)
    The training strategy must be multi-pronged and not limited to offering discrete formal trainings alone. There must be provision for social/collaborative and experiential learning.
  • Create the value chain between learning and performance gain
    The training assets must be aligned to help learners accomplish learning, practice, application, and result in a tangible performance improvement.
  • Adopt strategies that address the spectrum of modes and align with remote learner expectations of:
  • Leverage microlearning and other immersive learning strategies that can deliver value from a distance.
  • Identify approaches to evaluate training effectiveness and impact. 

With this background, here’s my list of eLearning Trends in 2021. These trends will help you firm up your plans for 2021 as you rechart the training delivery to meet the mandate of the new normal of the workplace for an effective virtual training transformation.

What Are The eLearning Trends In 2021?

Given the large number of trends, I have grouped eLearning trends into 5 sections by emphasizing their relevance in the altered workplace dynamics.

Section 1: In The Spotlight—“Must-Have” Trends To Offer Remote Learning

  • Mobile learning
  • Mobile apps for learning
  • Virtual training—conversion of ILT to blended or fully online learning
  • eLearning accessibility considerations

Section 2: Trends That Equip Remote Users To Learn Quickly, Apply The Learning Effectively, And Get Access To Relevant Content And Just-in-time Learning Aids—In The Flow Of Work

  1. Microlearning
  2. Personalized learning
  3. Performance Support Tools (PSTs)/job aids

Section 3: Trends That Foster Continuous Learning

  1. Informal learning
  2. Curation and User-Generated Content
  3. Social learning
  4. Self-directed learning

Section 4: Trends That Help You Deliver Engaging, High-Impact, And Immersive Virtual Learning Experiences For Remote Learners

  1. Gamification
  2. Scenario-based learning and interactive story-based learning
  3. Video-based learning (videos and interactive videos)
  4. AR/VR and MR or Immersive learning
  5. NextGen learning strategies

Section 5: Trends That Help You Ascertain The Impact Of Remote Training And Help You Maximize The ROI

  1. Learner analytics
  2. Learning Experience Platforms (LXPs)
  3. Artificial Intelligence (AI) in learning

Let's see what exactly is going to happen in each of these sections.

Section 1: In The Spotlight—“Must-Have” Trends To Offer Remote Learning

eLearning Trends In 2021: Mobile Learning

With the altered workplace dynamics, training delivery must indeed accommodate remote learners, and mobile learning is the right approach to do it. Accelerated by what learners are looking for today, this trend remains at the top. This trend will be the main mode for online training delivery as well as complement facilitated or Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT). You can leverage it to meet the entire spectrum of your training needs, including formal training, informal learning, instant/just-in-time learning aids, self-directed learning, and social or collaborative learning.

This is a “must-have” trend and will continue to see accelerated adoption in 2021.

eLearning Trends In 2021: Mobile Apps For Learning

Closely related to mobile learning, mobile apps for learning offer the flexibility to learn anywhere and at any time. Their influence can be felt when they are used for instant or Just-In-Time learning aids/Performance Support Tools to provide the required on-the-job assistance. They can be seamlessly updated and deployed promptly, and you can easily promote relevant notifications to the learners. Furthermore, you can personalize the assets for every learner (based on surveys or pre-tests).

They can be instrumental in offering formal and informal learning. Both microlearning and gamification techniques can be effectively used to provide gamified learning, starring a series of microlearning nuggets. These can be effortlessly personalized (centered on the learner’s role, region, interest, or proficiency).

With the ability to personalize and offer learning journeys from a distance, mobile apps for learning are an “absolute must to invest in” in 2021.

eLearning Trends In 2021: Virtual Training—Conversion Of ILT To Blended Or Fully Online Learning

With remote operations and constraints of social distancing, even in 2021, classroom or ILT trainings will not be feasible, and converting these trainings to a virtual mode continues to be a priority for L&D teams.

A significant part of this conversion exercise is to identify how to transform the fully facilitated or Instructor-Led Training (ILT) to a Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT), a blended mode, or a fully online mode. Looking at the time frame for conversion and budget, you can choose from Rapid development to semi-custom or high-end fully custom designs.

This transformation involves change management on many levels, selecting the right platform for delivery, managing expectations of the remote learners, and upskilling the trainers to adapt to the new medium. Do plan for this bit to sustain the momentum.

With value-adds that include the flexibility to learn in a remote environment, the ability to rapidly scale, the facility of personalization, and recognition of multi-generational workforce support, this trend is definitely a “must-have” in 2021.

eLearning Trends In 2021: eLearning Accessibility Considerations

With increased flexibility for employees to work remotely (from home), I anticipate a more inclusive workforce in the years to come. This would create a need to offer online training that can also address special needs. This is where designing online courses that conform to eLearning accessibility guidelines comes in.

There are high chances that each training group may include at least one learner with a special need of some form. eLearning accessibility ensures that everyone experiences training in a positive and engaging way. Accessible eLearning highlights the importance of attracting, upskilling, and retaining talent in your organization and demonstrates care for all employees.

In digital learning, accessible content is designed and developed in a way that allows people with special needs to find, understand, and navigate learning elements with ease. It puts the learner in control of their learning process while opening up a wider plethora of possibilities. Several authoring tools (notably, Trivantis Lectora and Articulate Storyline) offer features that can make your online trainings compliant to different degrees of eLearning accessibility standards.

While this trend would certainly not be a front-runner in 2021, it is worth factoring in—in particular, training programs that cover a majority of your employees. For instance, compliance trainings and induction and onboarding programs could be a good choice as you explore integrating this trend into your overall training delivery strategy in 2021.

Section 2: Trends That Equip Remote Users To Learn Quickly, Apply The Learning Effectively, And Get Access To Relevant Content And Just-In-Time Learning Aids—In The Flow Of Work

eLearning Trends In 2021: Microlearning

Microlearning has been described as a popular training approach, and it has now progressed to the center stage for remote learning and virtual training. Microlearning is action-oriented, and every bite assists learners to achieve a specific outcome. Featuring short, purposeful bites that can be seamlessly consumed (at home during breaks), it is undoubtedly learners’ favorite format to learn in, meet certain on-the-job needs, or even explore further.

Its adaptability is what makes it a distinguished choice for L&D teams to apply it to the entire spectrum of virtual training requirements, including formal training, Just-In-Time job aids; learning aids to reinforce, recap, or test the learners to revise primary learning; and, complement VILT programs (pre-workshop assets, during workshop assets, and post-workshop connects).

With the altered workplace dynamics and the need to offer short, focused remote learning (particularly in the flow of work), microlearning will continue to lead in 2021. This trend is absolutely a “must-have” for your virtual training delivery in 2021.

eLearning Trends In 2021: Personalized Learning

A notable challenge that L&D teams deal with as they provide remote learning is how to ensure remote learner engagement. One measure that helps you gain your learners’ attention is personalized learning, which presents highly custom and relevant content to them.

This custom-made journey can be based on their existing knowledge, interest, future needs, or simple indications like role or region. It gives them a sense of control over what they want to learn, how they want to learn, and at a pace that functions the best for them.

Personalized learning allows L&D teams to bring the learners in line with the business goals, upskill, or reskill them way more effectively as compared to generic training. It also adopts a sense of continuous and self-directed learning.

Personalized learning proposed as a learning journey that aligns to the career pathways that learners require is a technique that will maximize the impact of your ROI positively and is undeniably worth investing in, in 2021.

eLearning Trends In 2021: Performance Support Tools (PSTs)/Job Aids

Today’s learners want more in less time! Pressed for time and with multiple tasks at hand, they do not want a laborious path to learn—that means accessing the LMS to find the solution that can address their challenge or need. With working from home being the new normal, they need access to learning resources that are within their workflow (read–on their smartphone) and packed precisely to help them or tend to their needs.

Performance Support Tools or Just-In-Time job aids can address their wide-ranging needs, including:

  • Apply what they have learned
  • Learn more on a specific topic
  • Learn new concepts
  • Solve challenges
  • Clear a bottleneck or a showstopper

The extensive use of PSTs or instant learning aids and job aids will accelerate in 2021 to help organizations improve employee performance over a distance.

Section 3: Trends That Foster Continuous Learning

eLearning Trends In 2021: Informal Learning

The 70:20:10 model for Learning and Development charts the learning to be:

  • Chiefly experiential learning (70%) that ensues on the job.
  • Social or collaborative learning (20%) that occurs when learning with or from peers.
  • Formal training (10%).

Organizations now realize the necessity to transfer their training spend that is used mostly for formal training to a multi-pronged training delivery approach. This is reflected in offering avenues for informal learning.

This trend is definitely going to pick up speed in 2021 as organizations leverage this to enable continuous learning for remote learners. It can offer strong support for formal training.

eLearning Trends In 2021: Curation And User-Generated Content

The internet provides access to information in seconds, but we still need to go through and review a maze of data to classify what we need. This can be a dampener, particularly for remote learners as they do not have access to a peer or an expert to seek help and zero in on what they should pick. Content curation is a great way to offset this challenge and offer on-demand, relevant content to users.

Content curation enables users to find access to information that they can use at the moment of their need. It can offer a recommended learning path (personalized), which can be further customized as per the user’s learning needs. It is an excellent method to promote informal learning and, more significantly, self-directed learning.

If you are new to the idea of virtual training, you can start by curating information and data from your existing knowledge base and also from the public domain. This can be applied to support formal training and improve costs. Over a period of time, it can also enable user contribution (User-Generated Content) to allow the knowledge base to be current and relevant.

With a wider usage of LXP and NextGen LMS platforms that use AI and Machine Learning to provide curated and personalized learning, this trend is fast becoming a noteworthy part of training delivery. Its ability to offer on-demand and relevant content to the users is the key reason to adopt it in 2021.

eLearning Trends In 2021: Social Learning

As children, our main method of learning was watching and learning with and from others. This remains to be a significant way we continue learning, even though we are working adults.

In the past few years, many organizations have capitalized on offering platforms to endorse social or collaborative learning. The NextGen LMSs and the LXPs provide a strong hub to leverage social learning and create a culture of continuous learning.

While ascertaining the impact of social learning can be tricky, it does work on many levels. It aids in creating communities of practice, and you can apply it as a great lever for continuous learning as well as change. In today’s world of spread-out remote workforces, this can assist employees in not only staying connected but also learning together.

This trend should certainly be adopted in 2021, and you must leverage it to connect to your remote learners easily and effectively!

eLearning Trends In 2021: Self-Directed Learning

As a part of informal learning, self-directed learning (SDL) is an excellent way to empower learners and give them complete control of learning. In this mode, the onus of learning, determination of learning paths, and how they consume it is with the learners. They can draw out learning resources from the organization’s knowledge hub or from an external resource to achieve their specific learning purpose.

Since this is not tracked, organizations are quite unsure of the value or impact of this approach. Nonetheless, the investment cost (of providing curated, relevant resources, and perhaps rewards or recognition for consuming them, as well as contributing to the repository) is not high.

My assessment is that this is going to be a significant element to make continuous learning a success, particularly in today’s scenario where a majority of learners are working remotely.

I believe this trend is worth investing in. It would allow you to see a more engaged learner pool that is committed and motivated to this model of learning.

Section 4: Trends That Help You Deliver Engaging, High-Impact, And Immersive Virtual Learning Experiences For Remote Learners

eLearning Trends In 2021: Gamification

Learners are interested in gamification as it makes learning fun, and this learning journey includes rewards and recognition that all of us love!

For L&D teams, its alternative “gamification for serious learning” is a great option, as it delivers definite learning outcomes (just the same way any other learning strategy would do) while it is hugely interesting and fun for the learners.

Gamification-based techniques can be utilized to uplift the engagement quotient for the majority of corporate training needs. You can also gamify VILT or blended sessions and step up their engagement quotient.

Well-designed gamification for serious learning (across VILT/blended/fully self-paced, online training) will aid you in achieving the following:

  • A high engagement quotient
  • Higher completion rates
  • Better recall/retention
  • Faster application of acquired learning on the job
  • Proficiency improvement (practice and mastery)
  • Trigger or influencing behavioral change

With a reduction in costs, shorter time to design and deploy, quite a few use cases and success stories, this trend is positively worth a serious look at in 2021 to enhance the engagement of your VILT/blended trainings as well as fully online trainings.

eLearning Trends In 2021: Scenario-Based Learning And Interactive Story-Based Learning

Scenario-based learning is an extremely immersive learning approach, which can be applied across corporate training, notably, compliance, soft skills, professional skills, product training, and sales trainings. It provides learning with a safe environment and assists learners in understanding the impact of their selections and learning from their mistakes.

Scenario-based learning can be used alone or combined with interactive story-based learning to enable higher retention and recall, resulting in a memorable and sticky learning experience.

In the current framework of remote workplace dynamics, with dispersed teams and remote learners, the need to aid employees to align to the new normal is very important.

  • You can use stories and scenarios to guide attitudinal change and sensitize learners to specific issues. They can be used very effectively to drive the desired action.
  • Moreover, they can be used to make a complex subject simple or convert an abstract concept into something easy to assimilate or is relatable for remote learners.

This trend is worth a serious look at in 2021 to engage your remote learners and trigger change in thinking, attitude, or behavior.

eLearning Trends In 2021: Video-Based Learning (Videos And Interactive Videos)

With the acceleration in the adoption of microlearning and a reduction in costs for development, the usage of videos will endure its upward trend in 2021.

  • You will see extensive use of microlearning videos as well as learning pathways (read more/explore further) that are curated from public domain assets.
  • You will also observe an upsurge in the use of interactive videos that offer a great degree of engagement via learning interactions and assessments, like traditional eLearning courses. In contrast to classic videos, interactive videos can be tracked by an LMS.
  • You will also see the usage of 360-degree videos with interactivities overlaid on them. This format of video-based learning creates highly compelling and immersive learning experiences.

Their adaptability enables them to be applied across the learning and performance improvement mandate, which enables learning journeys from a distance:

  • To generate buzz or awareness and establish WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).
  • To set the context or explain concepts.
  • To provide learning followed by practice, application, and summaries.
  • To checkpoint learners’ progress and understanding.
  • To reinforce and offset the “Forgetting Curve.”

This trend is a “must-have” in 2021 for your training delivery to provide highly engaging and immersive learning experiences to your learners.

eLearning Trends In 2021: AR/VR And MR Or Immersive Learning

Immersive learning (in the context of virtual training) utilizes virtual and artificially augmented environments to impart training. These environments mirror the settings where learners not only learn better but also apply the knowledge learned via such training. Through specific measures (like spaced repetition) they can essentially trigger behavioral change too.

This is where you leverage the power of immersive learning strategies like Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed Reality (MR).

With solutions that are easy to implement (including from players like Adobe and Trivantis and niche AR/VR platforms), the cost and lead time to develop these solutions are reducing. There are also various use cases that use microlearning-based nuggets with AR/VR. With lower costs and higher impact, the usage of this kind of solution will further increase.

In 2021, you will positively see more traction on this trend as these solutions become more within your means and can be presented to augment or supplement formal training.

eLearning Trends In 2021: NextGen Learning Strategies

NextGen Learning strategies are an amalgamation of numerous successful strategies and will help attain a manifold increase in training impact.

For example, you can blend gamification and microlearning to deliver them as mobile learning or mobile apps for learning as shown here:

  • Gamified mobile apps for learning
  • Gamified microlearning
  • Gamified virtual reality (VR)
  • Gamified interactive videos

You can perform with infinite variations, including microlearning nuggets in a gamified learning journey that features immersive techniques like Virtual Reality (VR). On the other hand, you can have an entirely VR-driven learning path that is gamified.

If you haven’t thought of NextGen strategies yet, do so in 2021!

Section 5: Trends  That Help You Ascertain The Impact Of Remote Training And Help You Maximize The ROI

eLearning Trends In 2021: Learner Analytics

With a majority of the workforce working remotely, learner analytics is fast emerging as a notable area to invest in. With this, organizations get a pulse of how learners are consuming content, what is working well/otherwise, and how effective the trainings are for the learners and business.

It can offer valuable insights into learner behavior to confirm what is working and what is not. It can also provide actionable insights to augment or change the current approach and align it better to the goals. It can deliver cues on what more can be accomplished to improve learner motivation and engagement as well as what would enable a better application of learning.

This trend supports the key area of “continuous improvement” and offers actionable insights to enrich the learning experience, thereby impacting the ROI positively.

You can leverage Tin Can API as well as SCORM 2004 for learner analytics. Alternatively, you can leverage AI techniques (that many LXPs and the NextGen LMS platforms provide) to action and offer further recommendations and personalized learning.

This is an investment you must plan for in 2021!

eLearning Trends In 2021: Learning Experience Platforms (LXPs)

The future will see a steady alteration from traditional LMS to LXP adoption owing to the significant value that LXPs provide:

  • They are more engaging and relevant for learners (and they will assist learners in meeting specific learning objectives).
  • They help create a relevant and personalized learning experience through learning pathways that are better aligned to the learner’s interest and career aspirations.
  • They leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI) to comprehend learning patterns and tweak or make additional recommendations. Consequently, they support exploration and self-directed learning.
  • They provide inclusive learning, content curation, and enable User-Generated Content.
  • They highlight social learning and offer recognition to committed participants. They feature assessments along with badges and certificates.

There is a major churn in the LMS space, and there is a clear movement toward the adoption of LXPs and this will accelerate in 2021.

eLearning Trends In 2021: Artificial Intelligence (AI) In Learning

Earlier, I had emphasized the use of AI in learner analytics. Although it has been the talk of the town for some time, we are now seeing its practical value. It is being leveraged to provide highly custom learning journeys for the learners; based on the data of their content consumption pattern, additional recommendations are made. On a related note, using a chatbot as a virtual coach for the learners has also commenced. This provides a huge value-add to connected, engaged, and personalized learning that today’s learners need.

We can look forward to more applications of AI for learning in 2021.

Interested In Learning More About eLearning Trends In 2021?

I am sure the trends listed in this article will definitely help you in firming up your plans for 2021 and recharting your training delivery to meet the mandate of the new normal of the workplace.

Do download my free eBook eLearning Trends in 2021 - A Strategic Guide To Help You Create A Long-Term Blueprint For Your Corporate Training Programs In The New Normal. It is designed as a guide that you can refer to as you firm up your L&D plans for 2021.

Meanwhile, if you have any specific queries, do contact me or leave a comment below.

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