• January 25, 2018

eLearning Trends: How Will Organizational Learning Evolve in 2018?

The world in which we live and work is rapidly transforming due to technological advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), human augmentation systems (HAS), and responsive applications, which help people achieve their goals and leave more time for creativity and innovation.

This technology will continue to influence the design and use of eLearning in the workplace in years to come. Smart eLearning management systems that respond to human input will become commonplace. Digital learning content will be supported by chatbots and directed by automation based on user preferences. Social learning will continue to drive participation in communities and will have a pivotal role in enhancing learning through feedback systems. There will be more choices than ever before for how, where, and when employees access learning materials.

What can we expect from organizational learning in 2018? To find out more, we interviewed the leading minds in the fields of learning and development and business development. We asked each expert to identify the most important factors impacting learning and design, as well as why learning has become fundamental for organizational success. A few trends rose above the others:

  1. Learning strategy must be aligned with business strategy
  2. Measuring learning will become crucial
  3. Personalized learning will connect the organizational objectives
  4. Employees need a constant flow of information so that they can keep up with new fields.

Read further to find out more organizational learning trends and why these four are the ones crucial to take in consideration when it comes to any organization.

Learning cultures, leadership and digital compliance at the forefront of organizations

eLearning Trends 2018 by Josh Bersin
Principal and Founder of Bersin by Deloitte

  1. Professional development aligned with other goals;
  2. Organizational transformation is digital, but it’s not about going out and getting digital;
  3. Stay compliant - the GDPR updates taking place in the EU currently.

In 2018, we will continue to see organizations putting modern professional development ahead or at least in line with other goals. All employees are part of the success of the organization and this means every person needs skills that will lead to future leadership capability. At the same time, the entire business world is being disrupted by new technology and a shifting workforce.

During a February 2018 presentation, Josh Bersin, Principal and Founder of Bersin by Deloitte, shared his insight in regards to the top eLearning trends impacting organizations this year, including the critical areas where the workforce is being impacted. He outlined a ‘culture of leadership’ that requires all management teams to focus on empowerment of both the individual and teams. In an environment of full transparency, employees are in the driver’s seat and they know more about their organization than previous generations. Employees must see themselves as part of the success of the companies they work for.

“Employees must see themselves as part of the success of the companies they work for.”

Additionally, Bersin mentioned that there will be a major restructuring of organizations and that some of this will happen without human resource involvement. Case in point - the introduction of automation into standard HR and recruitment practices. Bersin says, “Organizational transformation is digital, but it’s not about going out and getting digital”. The digital age is already upon us so it’s time to either embrace it or get out of the way.

Bersin also advised that all organizations need to be mindful of the GDPR updates taking place in the EU currently. This impacts organizations conducting international business or with employees working overseas. “Being complaint with the GDPR rules by May of 2018 includes understanding how employee data is used and who actually owns it”, he says.

Automation maintains pace with artificial intelligence in corporate learning

eLearning Trends 2018 by Dr. Daniel Araya
Technology consultant, author, advisor to government

  1. Learning in today’s work environment requires ongoing adaptive learning systems;
  2. Executives and decision-makers will need to incorporate advanced AI-driven learning systems in order to adapt to a nascent machine age.

In 2018, the eLearning market has already seen an increase in the number of automated tools which harness artificial intelligence to essentially “drive” content delivery to learners. This is especially helpful given the on-demand needs of most learners today who are accustomed to finding information on-the-go using mobile devices.

To gain further insight into the realms of automation and AI in corporate learning, we spoke with a leading mind in this area, Daniel Araya, PhD, who is a technology consultant and advisor to government with a special interest in technological innovation, public policy, and learning. He is a Sharing Cities Policy Fellow and a regular contributor to various media outlets including Futurism, The Brookings Institution, Singularity Hub, and Medium. His newest books include: Augmented Intelligence (2018), and Smart Cities as Democratic Ecologies (2015). He has a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is an alumnus of Singularity University’s graduate program in Silicon Valley.

Dr. Araya told us automation is a natural progression for most industries. He said, “Given the capacity of technology to automate labor, it stands to reason that developing the right set of learning technologies has become critical to the future prosperity of knowledge-based organizations. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are now the basis for a wide range of mainstream applications including web search, medical diagnosis, and smart phone software.”

How did all this get started? It’s time for a little history lesson:

Dr. Araya shared, “Since its inception some sixty years ago, AI has evolved from an arcane academic field into a powerful driver of social and economic change. Deep learning, for example, has dramatically improved pattern recognition, speech recognition, and natural language processing.” He added, “This technological revolution has significant implications for how knowledge-based organizations learn and develop today.”

In terms of the corporate learning market, there are some things to consider before implementing AI to automate systems. Dr. Araya told us, “Learning in today’s work environment requires ongoing adaptive learning systems. And this means employing AI to stay ahead of automation. In fact, organizational learning is already becoming foundational to managing waves of automation.” But can AI and learning automation keep pace in the coming years?

Ironically enough, Dr. Araya shared that organizations with knowledge embedded in and through technology are more resistant to accelerating technological change. “For this reason”, he says, “executives and decision-makers will need to incorporate advanced AI-driven learning systems in order to adapt to a nascent machine age.”

Where are we headed next? Is this the “Rise of the Machines”? Dr. Araya partly agrees. He said, “As Brynjolfsson and McAfee (2014) suggest, we are moving into a “Second Machine Age” in which advanced technologies have begun a systemic transformation of routine labor across multiple industries. The truth is that fully automated systems are a very real destination for some enterprises.”

Something to think about: According to research by Gartner, one-third of all jobs will be converted into software, robots, and smart machines by as early as 2025. That’s only a few years away! Dr. Araya warns, “As AI continues to expand and evolve, knowledge-based organizations will need to adapt by employing advanced organizational learning technologies to stay ahead of the automation curve.”

Accessible Learning is Happening in the Digital World

eLearning Trends 2018 by Dr. Charles Camarda
NASA astronaut and Sr. Advisor for Engineering Development at NASA Langley Research Center

  1. Learning needs to be more personalized and student-centric;
  2. Employees need a constant flow of information so that they can keep up with new fields;
  3. Learning content needs to be developed quickly so that employees have access to emerging fields.

The entire learning market is evolving in order to maintain costs, yet the challenge exists in making all learning accessible. Dr. Charles Camarda, NASA astronaut and Sr. Advisor for Engineering Development at NASA Langley Research Center says, “The digital transformation of how we deliver learning is happening online. Not only does this address the way that learners prefer to access information, but it addresses the very real challenges that our system has with keeping costs down.” Camarda mentioned how the cost of corporate education is growing four times the rate of national inflation, which makes it non-sustainable. Things like traveling to conferences or bringing in trainers can add up. This needs to change and digitization is the solution.

Businesses can emulate the way that American colleges are managing adult learner programs. Micro-learning has become the preferred way to deliver learning content so that the information can be immediately applied to the workplace. At the same time, Camarda told us, “Learning needs to be more personalized and student-centric. As we gain more knowledge about how employees learn, we have the ability to tailor learning experiences to suit individual needs.” Technology delivers the biggest impact. 

Another elearning trend that’s growing is the need for a constant flow of information so that employees can keep up with new fields. Younger employees respond well to on-demand learning.

“The products that we see that are being developed and the ability to manipulate the data that's needed to determine learning patterns, we can better understand how to focus and personalize learning so it has more of an impact.”

Why should companies invest in this learning technology? Camarda says we can drive the costs of education down and scale it effectively to reach all employees around the world. New fields are rising quickly (for example data science) so as new skills are needed, we have to be able to create the learning content that reaches all employees.

“Learning content needs to be developed quickly so that employees have access to emerging fields.”

Learning impacts the business strategy best when new concepts are delivered online, so that all employees are trained simultaneously.

“The way we train can be different, but this should be assessed so that we know employees are applying new knowledge to their jobs.”
Camarda warns.

Making Improved Decisions and Business Impact with Big Data

eLearning Trends 2018 by Janne Hietala
Chief Commercial Officer, Valamis

  1. Gathering the data and starting to look at the data, while applying different research is going to be the main thing for 2018.
  2. Knowledge management, information management, learning and performance start to merge in the leading organizations globally.
  3. Organizations will be moving learning from being a support function to becoming aligned with the core of the business.

An emerging area of corporate learning that will take center stage in 2018 is that of big data in making improved business decisions. Often relegated to a human resource function, data analytics can help organizations track progress of learners and how it affects performance. But, there are so many other uses for big data in the area of learning that organizations can tap into. 

We made time to sit down for a talk with Janne Hietala, who is the Chief Commercial Officer for Valamis. He shared some best practices for how data can and should be used. Hietala said, “there is a movement of learning design that is directly related to the learner experience that also impacts business outcomes. So, I think gathering the data and starting to look at the data, while applying different research is going to be the main thing for 2018.” 

There’s already been more pressure to understand the impact of corporate learning. While the learning organization is creating this relationship with the business side, they are looking to understand the business better. Hietala told us, “the data is really the key to direct the process better and impact that. Learning analytics will be a few years ahead, but it's more the combination of data science and predictive analytics that come from the learning and development side we can be looking at.” 

The Limitations of Learning Data

Right now, Hietala advises that any data produced by learning activities is very much limited to behavioral data. He says, “The big picture is how users behave with learning content, and how they learn, and what kind of impact that's making on their performance in business. It also comes down to how do you boost the right skills of the right people and change the way individuals work in the most efficient way possible? It needs to connect the two points: the method of learning and how it will deliver the impact to the organization.” 

The big picture is how users behave with learning content, and how they learn, and what kind of impact that's making on their performance in business.

Hietala predicts, “What we’ve seen from the leading organizations globally is knowledge management, information management, learning and performance start to merge. These areas are increasingly overlapping.” This is seen where cognitive search capabilities are being introduced. Then there's the realization that there are silos of people in the workforce accessing information whether they get recommendations to the information through the community search. This overlaps with micro-learning in the organization. 

Hietala warns, “Chief Learning Officers and Chief Knowledge Officers need to start to work together and think about working with HR they can start putting together a bigger picture about how technologies are changing and how the organization can support individuals.” He said this comes from an understanding of how learners find information efficiently, how they solve problems more efficiently, and how cognitive technologies like IBM Watson can be leveraged. 

One solution is the use of chatbots, which can be made available to employees to try to recommend the right kinds of learning content. Hietala told us, “The functionalities are blending which puts pressure on learning management systems to have a greater integration capability. This includes both internal and external sources of information, so it's no longer just about information inside the organization, but it’s about how people access and learn from different kinds of learning sources found on the internet.” 

The challenge is to curate all content, from whatever source it originates. There is a lot that companies can do to improve learning content, but it always needs to have the human in the process. 

HR Shares the Responsibility of Learning with Operations 

The question of who should be responsible for driving learning initiatives often comes up. “Traditionally it's been HR,” says Hietala, “but we’ve seen more organizations moving from learning being a support function to becoming aligned with the core of the business. New learning systems are being driven by operations. For example, from the financial side of things, whether it’s leadership, safety, and things like that. It’s becoming a blended approach, although it's not quite there yet.” 

On the good side, management teams and the CTO are working together with CHROs and CLOs. Hietala mentions, “I would say that the learning side of the organization is responsible for delivering the learning in a strategic way. But they need to make sure that it’s aligned with the business outcomes and strategy --- these requirements come from the business side.” 

“But the business side needs to understand also what kind of impact learning can make and what kind of investments can be made in learning programs. What can be done with digital learning, simulation, and what are the learning economics calculations to be made to support the right decisions to be made for the business. It's incorrect to think just in terms of cost. When you increase the production value of of a digital learning program, most of the time you will also capture more of the benefit that the learning produces in terms of business output. This is the responsibility of the CFO,” Hietala advises us. 

It’s Mission Critical to Invest in Learning and Development 

Why should organizations be focused on investing more in L&D for their workforce? There are two key drivers. One is the combination of knowledge management and performance support. The other is that the amount of information available for employees and that it’s increasing exponentially. This means it takes more time to access all the information and define the right information. It’s essentially an information searching problem that can have a negative impact on the performance. 

We have to create information, and at the same pace, learn how to improve how we can provide access to the right information at just the right time.

If we want to maintain productivity, Hietala shares, “In the information age, we have to create information, and at the same pace, learn how to improve how we can provide access to the right information at just the right time. That’s where micro-learning and AI can help, using the learning experience and chatbots to improve the performance at the same time. 

From another perspective, there’s always the issue of workforce transformation. Hietala highlights that organizations are always working on huge amounts of information and that's having an effect on finances and professional services, where people are knowledge workers. A lot of jobs are getting alternated and even though there’s a positive forecast due to automation and AI, it’s not the same people essentially in those roles. 

Hietala says, “Some people will be getting fired from their organizations, some are getting hired -- there’s an overheating job market in data science already. That’s just going to worsen the situation because there’s more demand than people. Basically, it’s an economic question.” 

A final thought from Hietala,”It’s more sensible to develop retraining programs to move people into new roles where the jobs are getting alternated and there is a demand for new kinds of skills. It’s a matter of comparing the cost of firing and hiring to cost of retraining. Then it’s up to leadership to determine what is the right size investment to capture as many people to do the retraining in order to transfer the knowledge.”      

Relevant training is the key

eLearning Trends 2018 by Jerome Hanafi
Manager of the Instructional Design Group at Amadeus Customer Service

  1. Learning materials need to be delivered to the right people, whenever and wherever they need it;
  2. Modular approach to learning: bite-sized pieces of information will continue to be the best way to introduce learning concepts;
  3. Empowering employees within a learning culture is what leads to long-term retention and performance.

As part of this renewed focus in eLearning on the individual in eLearning, technology will support the on-demand needs of learners and instructors. Jerome Hanafi, Manager of the Instructional Design Group at Amadeus Customer Service advises organizations, "to have learning or support material when and where it's needed." He explains, "More and more people don't want to spend five days attending a generic classroom training. They'd rather have contextual learning support because they want to know the exact information when they need it -- much like using a search application."

Hanafi says that bite-sized pieces of information will continue to be the best way to introduce learning concepts; what he refers to as the ‘modular approach'. This seems to be the preference among today's learner. This content comes from a variety of sources, from short "how to" videos to live sessions. This is a very flexible method, enabled by responsive technology that branches out and directs learners to related information. Learning platforms that automate content to users, based on their learning style and interest are becoming more prevalent. However, this needs to be relevant to the learning materials. Hanafi shared, "Once the learning system knows a user's preferences, the system needs to provide relevant information and relevant learning."

“Bite-sized pieces of information will continue to be the best way to introduce learning concepts.”

He explains, "eLearning integrated in a blended learning course is becoming more and more like synchronous learning where the individual feels like he or she is part of a group, led by a facilitator. You can watch some materials on elearning and then at some point you have a meeting with this facilitator. You can have group exercises where the facilitator can ask you to revise what you have learned. When people need to work together to complete a task, time and space boundaries are being blown away more and more."

Even with responsive technology leading the way, learning remains a very human activity. Hanafi shares, "It's not only individual learning, it's more and more group learning. A group can belong to the same company or it can belong to other companies. And because of social networking and mobile devices, with a bit of gamification, you can make online courses very interesting and more human than they've ever been before." He adds, "Even if you think of artificial intelligence, the human workforce is still the best machine ever invented."

The increasing globalization of the workforce combined with generational trends mean that companies should be looking to the future now in terms of training needs. Hanafi says, "Talent can come from everywhere, can go everywhere, and investing and empowering employees is crucial. People come and go -- we see this a lot with millennials. They don't expect to spend more than a few years at the same company." The solution is to "invest in accurate training, but also really adapting and answering the questions that employees have."

“Empowering employees within a learning culture is what leads to long-term retention and performance.”

He says, "If you invest in human talent if you do it properly, they will evolve. They will grow and then that's where you get a return on investment. This is clearly this something that can be accomplished through training and development."

Micro-learning and rewards based on individual learner needs prevail in 2018

eLearning Trends 2018 by Antti Kuivalainen,
Head of Consulting at Valamis

  1. Focus should be in the unique learning needs of the employees
  2. Organisations recognizes competences over the titles
  3. Microlearning will grow rapidly

The year ahead appears to be even more focused on the unique learning needs of employees. Learners are increasingly motivated by rewards based systems, such as badges, as proof of their efforts. Micro-learning looks to be a continuing trend, with short learning modules delivered on-demand to learners.

Antti Kuivalainen, Head of Consulting at Valamis advises, "the demand for quick and targeted bursts of information (a.k.a microlearning) will grow rapidly. This is simply due to the fact that there is a larger share of employees who are familiar with searching for information online."

It's common for employees to require information for their work assignments, and so they are used to consuming this information in small bursts, he explains.

The way jobs are designed is changing too. Kuivalainen shares how organizations place a higher emphasis on competencies vs. job titles. He says, "Nowadays titles don't tell much about the work profile or competence of the employee." Learning badges make more sense -- an idea that comes from the gaming world. He says, "This will transform organizational learning as it allows employees to prove their talent/competence levels, at the same time it allows employers to compare talent and plan their career development." How is this accomplished? "Providing learning content for each learner's own learning style will become essential. This means identifying the suitable content and method of learning, based on creating specific learning paths."

It's critical for organizations to invest in eLearning for a number of reasons, including the decreasing need for traditional manual tasks due to automation and robotization in the workplace. Kuivalainen predicts:

"When there are less human resources required for simple tasks, those companies who can build up the specialized skills of their workforce will have a competitive edge against others."

Technology, supported by data, connects learning to organizational objectives

eLearning Trends 2018 by Dmitry Kudinov
Chief Technology Officer at Valamis

  1. Organizational learning will be a part of company strategy
  2. The role of learning analytics will be amplified
  3. Advancing learning with technology (AI/AR)

The future of learning has become centered on how learning efforts translate into real business results. The only way to measure this is with real data, analyzed and tracked by technology. "Organizational learning as part of company strategy will become a norm, as more leaders accept that changes and disruptions to their business are unavoidable and the way to deal with them is related to continuing education and retraining of personnel," says Dmitry Kudinov, Chief Technology Officer at Valamis.

Kudinov warns, "In companies where the HR department is solely responsible for training that is loosely coupled with the goals of a company, gaps between strategy and execution will become evident." He adds, "Such companies will become more vulnerable to market disruption because of technology changes as well as new competitors, who will be capable of using technological advances."

Learning analytics play a vital role in how well learning initiatives correspond with outcomes, and must be a continual effort. "As organizational learning becomes a part of company strategy, the need for its measurement will be raised, " says Kudinov. From the executives to individual employees, understanding the positive impact that learning has on the organization and desired behavioral outcomes can be optimized.

This new breed of learning technology must advance, with the most promising being Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (VR/AR), which adds another dimension to corporate learning. Kudinov shares his insight:

"If AI is linked to analytics, personalized learning could be then linked to organizational goals, making learning the most effective for strategy goals to be achieved."

It's not surprising then that Kudinov believes investing in learning technology should be part of an overall strategy, complete with well-defined goals.

"Companies have their missions and strategies, but all need to see that the world we are in is constantly changing. Adaptation is only possible through learning."

Learning is to be delivered within the flow of work

eLearning Trends 2018 by Andy Lancaster
Head of Learning and Development Content, CIPD

In 2018, there are three primary trends in organizational learning, according to Andy Lancaster, Head of Learning and Development Content at CIPD. This includes aligning learning with corporate objectives, the digital interflow of work, and how learning and performance data are managed. These trends reflect the increased use of human capital technology.

Companies will be increasingly concerned about how well their learning platforms and methods are producing results in terms of employee skills development, productivity, efficiency, and performance.

"In the coming year, there are some very practical things that organizations should be focusing on."
  • First, he advises, "We really need to know where the business stands and what the learning needs are – including key performance indicators.
  • Secondly, learning needs to be delivered within the flow of work itself. This requires methods that enable employees to learn as they work, not interventional types of learning that take employees out of their natural work habits." Lancaster advises organizations to become more agile in their overall approach to learning.
  • The third factor that organizational leaders need to consider is how to become more comfortable handling large amounts of data. This can shed light on how well the organization is doing in terms of meeting organizational objectives.

Learning technology already supports all of these goals, provided decision-makers place priority on a well-trained workforce.