As the rapid advancement of technology in the elearning industry makes our head spin, sometimes we need to sit down and decide which innovations are just going to clog up our strategy and make things complicated, and which are going to make our lives easier.
We understand that every company has individual needs and budget limits, but we asked thought leaders about which of the new technologies are most worthy of precious time to evaluate and any money you might have to spare.
We also got them to share with us how these technologies can work in the real world, so that you can ignore technology fantasies and reign in practical ways of implementing innovative elearning trends.
These are the elearning trends that can take your strategy to the next level, save you time so you can focus on what matters most, and produce ROI.
Elearning Trend #1: Training with Comics – Kevin Thorn
Owner of NuggetHead Studioz, Kevin Thorn, has been bringing an old-school training method into the modern elearning world: comics. “We’ve used the comic medium for decades for sensitive subjects.” He described the way comics are used to address issues of mental illness. The visuals, the characters, and the narrative all make the information memorable and relatable. “Research and evidence support that comics have higher retention rates for the same material.”
Talk of using comics to teach might bring to mind strips like Goofus and Gallant, the classic children’s comic going back to the 40s that teach young people manners by showing two ways to behave: the Goofus (rude) way or the Gallant (polite) way. But comics can be much more sophisticated.
Thorn, for example, is using comics as a medium to bring information about neonatal care to nurses in Bahar, India, a city struggling with a large population of new babies. The custom comics are designed to fit in the culture they will speak to, bypassing cheesy pre-made avatars and characters. “Evidence is that generally people tend to comprehend and retain the material faster and longer than stock imagery.”
This reduces the need for additional mentoring, as much continuous training, or wasted time re-training people who have forgotten. This tends to save money, although creating comics is still a process. “The instructional design is still there.”
Thorn explained it’s just a medium. You could choose a video, or something else, and have the same expense, but you can also choose a medium that has stayed effective for generations – the comic.
“The comic can be anything from a single printed comic or a full, self-paced online scenario-driven comic.” He isn’t sure which they will choose for the nurses in Bahar, but they will discuss it with the client and devise a best-fit solution.
Thorn also worked on a solution for the U.S. Navy: a 7-module curriculum with characters and stories leading the charge in training.
The challenge? “When you say comic, the first thing you think of is superman and you have to break through that.”
And to those who may think a training medium that has been around since before computers can’t be a trend: “Innovation is not just chasing technology. You don’t have to use technology to be innovative, you can be innovative in the way you present the material.”
Elearning Trend #2: Adaptive Learning – Rebekah Clarke
Adaptive learning faces the challenge of creating personalizing learning in a large-scale, computer-driven environment. Online learning doesn’t necessarily have opportunities for teachers to personally tailor learning. Adaptive learning uses more technology as the solution. It actually uses computer algorithms and learner input to determine what material to deliver that will best suit learner needs. Rebekah Clarke, a Learning Solution and Experience Designer at Holman-Clarke Group said, “I think Adaptive Learning is probably the most important trend I see happening.”
She explained how important it is that adaptive learning enables the content and the feedback to dynamically adjust as the learner answers questions in a quiz or interaction. Picture a quiz that offers different questions depending on their responses to the first questions. “They are
- Receiving what’s relevant to them or
- Receiving materials to address a specific gap they have”
Clarke told us about a project that teaches coping mechanisms for learners who are dealing with a family member that has a mental illness. The course involves interactive scenarios that allows the learner to identify behaviors and symptoms. The feedback from the interaction provides both the correct answers and additional options that allow the learner to discover more about the illness featured in the scenario. “Why this works so well is because all illnesses will not affect every learner, so they have the option to learn more about the one (or ones) that are most relevant to their own circumstances.”
To Clarke, adaptive learning is important to invest in because “it’s all about basic adult learning principles. Adult learners want to learn material that is relevant and applicable to their current job role or interests.“
And how will adaptive learning affect the future of elearning? “While the design of interactions will still be highly valuable, the focus will shift more toward how the learner receives their feedback and what they receive as feedback.”
Elearning Trend #3: Narrow AI – Brent Schlenker
Brent Schlenker is the community manager for dominKnow, and he feels that the way people think about artificial intelligence are giving them a “bad AI hangover”. AI feels like the stuff of science fiction, and the public imagination relevant to AI is tied to movies and to visions of AI that won’t be possible for another ten to twenty years.
But, the realities of AI are still here and already automating repetitive tasks to make learning environments more responsive to learner needs independently of close monitoring by trainers. This AI that is already present is called by the industry “narrow AI”.
“Narrow AI is already in place and active within commercial learning environments like YouTube, LinkedIn, Microsoft Office 365, Facebook, and so many other large-scale systems. Recommendation engines are a good use case. Instead of actually calling a friend or mentor, the system recommends new content based on prior actions behaviors performed by others in your network.”
The way this applies in a learning environment should be apparent: elearning narrow AI can help direct users to the next best learning module to engage with based on their job role, their scores, their previous learning, and more. This makes learning more personalized and engaging. It also frees up talent development professionals to focus on deeper tasks.
“Should talent development professionals invest in this trend? Most definitely.”
Schlenker is excited about the new technology but is concerned that other talent development professionals may fear AI, or that the technology might reduce their value to the company. “The investment involves understanding the tech well enough to see, and understand, how a TD professional can add even more value to the business by embracing it.”
“Change is hard. If you can only see your current tasks as the things that define your role as a professional then you are in trouble. But if you see beyond your current role and into a future that supports more impactful, and meaningful, work from TD professionals then you’re super excited about the future.”
Elearning Trend #4: xAPI and More – Jeff Batt
Jeff Batt, of Learning Dojo, says “One of the most important upcoming trends for me and the one I get most excited about is advancements in personalized learning.”
He explained that every student comes to the course on a different level, with different background knowledge, different skills, and different brains that need different things to learn. Students get stuck if the instructions don’t align with those things. Personalized learning helps the individual learners bridge gaps and learn what they need. Technology is allowing that to happen in an elearning environment, including AI, machine learning, xAPI, and AR.
“With xAPI we can get greater insights into how the learner learns and how knowledge is transferred. We can then use those analytics on an individual level to see what a learner has or has not done and then adapt and change future content based on what we know about the learner in xAPI…With Machine Learning and AI we can gain greater insights from any app or tool and we can use that to create custom learning paths and custom role based suggestions.”
“I have been playing around a lot with using xAPI to personalize future content. So I track and send statements from courses to get a baseline for what the students know. This helps feed future course decisions. Then in future courses the first thing I do is see what the learner has already done. This is done through a query to the LRS. I set up various paths for the learner in the course and decide what I want to change based on what they know, then once I have the data back from the LRS, I simply adjust a few variables and then the course is now personalized to that person. I am still early on in what I can do but there is huge potential there.”
And should companies invest in these technologies? “ABSOLUTELY yes. If anything it allows us to know how effective our training is. It always baffles my mind when I hear an organization say they are not worried about tracking a course. Then how do you know if the money and time you spent to build that course was effective or not? How do you know if the student gained what they need to gain from it?”
“There is just a lot that can be done with the technology we have at our finger tips today. But this does require us to break out of our comfort zone and learn new tools and new languages.”
Elearning Trend #5: Extended Enterprise – John Leh
John Leh, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning said after five years of discussing and promoting it at his company, finally “organizations are taking extended enterprise seriously.” Companies “need to train customers and potential customers about proprietary services.”
With training, customers are going to be more successful, they’re going to get more value out of the services and products, and they’re going to return to the company again and again. “The best part about extended enterprise training is it is so easy to measure the effectiveness and impact.” When companies track the differences between trained and untrained customers for example, they find that trained customers are:
- More likely to use that company’s services longer
- Less likely to call support and use up support’s time
- More likely to buy more products
Extended enterprise training is being strategically deployed in most industries including technology, software, healthcare, manufacturing, consulting, financial, franchise and training companies. For example, when a company releases innovative equipment or software to the market, “they need people external to their company to understand how to implement, use and maintain them successfully.” After all, who will invest and keep investing in expensive equipment or software if they can’t make it work?
The reason extended enterprise learning is mission critical now, as opposed to just a trend five years ago, is that technology has enabled it and organizations see it being used competitively and measurably in their respective markets. Cloud technology, advanced and easy API integration and specialized LMS systems are built to embrace internal and external audiences – at reasonable and scalable pricing levels. It used to be a prohibitively expensive process reserved for the world’s largest organizations, but it can be done so cheaply, extended enterprise learning solutions are available even to those who 10, 100 or 1,000,000+ customers and partners.
Elearning Trend #6: The Three-A Combo (AI, APIs, Analytics) – Kathleen “KK” Kruse
Kathleen “KK” Kruse, consultant at Talented Learning, says “Innovation is redefining so many aspects of elearning, it’s difficult to say which trend is most important right now. So maybe in this dynamic environment what really matters most is the ability to leverage multiple advances, simultaneously. Coordination can make a much more powerful impact.”
For example, KK expects more forward-thinking companies to use these three technologies in combination:
- Artificial intelligence (AI)
- Application programming interfaces (APIs)
“Individually, each of these ‘3As’ can add value,” she says. “But when they work together in a cohesive strategy, it’s like strapping a rocket booster onto a learning experience.”
Why is this the case? KK explains, “Increasingly, AI is built into point solutions – for example, content recommendation systems and chatbots. However, these standalone applications don’t shape the entire learning journey. That journey involves many interactions across diverse applications, interfaces, systems and data sources.
“This is where APIs provide the heavy lifting needed to share data securely across the extended enterprise, regardless of its source or format. In other words, APIs are the real-time connections that breathe life into AI-driven learning experiences for customers, business partners and employees, alike.”
She continues, “But how do you know if AI-enabled learning initiatives are hitting the mark if you don’t have relevant insights? Integrated analytics fill this gap. More than simple activity reporting, analytics tools process complex data from across the learning journey to identify relevant audience-level behavior patterns and benchmark individual performance. They also pinpoint weaknesses within the learning experience, so organizations can continuously improve content quality, information structure, interaction design and functionality.”
KK believes the ‘3As’ are rapidly becoming a priority for enterprise learning leaders, especially if their organizations are pursuing broader digital transformation initiatives. “Staying open to a cross-functional implementation strategy makes sense,” she says, “because AI modules, APIs and analytics tools originally designed for other purposes can often be reused as building blocks for learning-related solutions. Early adopters are already demonstrating significant business benefits from an integrated approach, and this is motivating others to initiate pilot programs.”
Elearning Trend #7: Machine Learning – Craig Weiss
Craig Weiss, CEO of The Craig Weiss Group and founder of FindAnLMS.com, said “expect to see the machine learning (which eventually will be referred to as deep learning down the road), as the top trend.”
He said, “with machine learning it is all about how it was “trained” and what data or data sets did the vendor use and how old or new is the data? Consumers never think about that, and as such, the words of saying “algorithm” seems to solve it, but it really doesn’t. That said, it will change everything as the technology improves. I have mixed feelings because I think some folks see it as a way to fully automate everything in e-learning, especially learning systems (LMS for example), and we still need and want a human touch to it. Plus, depending on how it is trained, it can be skewed so the data algorithms can be misleading and thus you end up on a tangent then where you should be. You need to have an open algorithm, whereas the administrator can change weights, points, etc. (they do not get access to the code) and offer multiple variables for it to work well.”
“There is a great example of how the trained issue and data, and it happened to Amazon. They were getting job applicants in technical roles that skewed towards males. Why you might ask? Because the data they trained on was 10 years old and back then, the tech side was heavily male-dominated. Once they realized what was happening, they removed that data and now everything is working well.”
He also said that skill building and development is an important trend to invest in, but companies have to “make it about the learners – the number one reason people leave companies is the lack of personal and professional development. Which is an easy fix with e-learning and with skill building, development and expansion of skillsets.”
Elearning Trend #8: User Knowledge Share – Mark Anderson
Mark Anderson, CEO of eLogic Learning, believes one of the most important things that’s starting to become more common in online learning is “knowledge sharing from learners within their peer groups.”
Organic knowledge share is very common among people who sit next to each other at the office, but in companies with multiple offices or remote workers, the effect is limited. By not all being in the same place, users lose a valuable source for strengthening common knowledge. Using LMS software to encourage sharing knowledge with all workers is a solution to that. Features like video management and user file share can turn an LMS into a place where people learn both from courses and from each other.
Anderson explained: “Users in roles, let’s say sales, are the ones experiencing the consumers’ requests and opinions, so socializing this information on experiences, best practices, learning lessons, etc. provides real-time relevant information. This type of peer sharing also fosters a team culture and group commitment to organizational goals through excellence.”
This knowledge share and social learning makes the whole team stronger by bringing the knowledge of all members to one place. It always fosters healthy communication amongst team members. “Team leaders need to cultivate a trusted atmosphere where peers interact freely without criticism, so members may share ideas, vet out ideas or situational concerns, and provide constructive feedback without fear of criticism or consequence. This ultimately leads to a stronger cohesive team recognizing the contributions of team members.”
As an example of how this knowledge can bring ROI to an organization: “Many organizations use our Video Management functionally where a user can upload a video directly into the LMS. The video is usually reviewed by the manager for quality control, and then distributed to the group. Then then company can award, points, prizes badges, recognition, etc. to encourage participation. And guess what? This is practically 100% ROI to the organization because there is little additional expense, save some payroll, for the organization.”
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