Before we dive into the future of learning …
Remember my Learning poll? It received just 54 votes, so a bit too few to derive any generic conclusion. I’d say we like online learning, but we also value human interaction. The good news is that technology can offer the best of both worlds: online, self-paced where applicable and offline, in-person when needed.
A whole new way of learning
With the advent of new technologies like the Internet of Things, augmented and virtual reality and the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning, we are on the cusp of a new era in education and learning.
Companies are changing the way they train their employees, to benefit from the changing technological landscape and bridge the skills gap. Traditional institutions like schools and universities are facing major challenges in trying to remain leaders in education.
I often talk about ‘disruption’, but here it’s entirely justified!
An immersive experience
The new education and learning systems are different from those of today: for starters, they are immersive, personalized and focus on improving human skills rather than providing more information that needs to be memorized. There is also more emphasis on ‘just-in-time’ learning.
As example, think about a surgeon and her team while preparing for a difficult operation. Using these new technologies, they can visualize that operation, use data from that specific patient, and go through the procedure several times. They can practice different scenarios as they are faced with unforeseen circumstances.
Or imagine a procedure to repair equipment on a wind farm in the middle of the ocean. For safety and cost reasons, you can’t send apprentices there to gain experience. But you can have them practice in a VR lab. Once they get out there, they know what to expect.
The main goal of immersive learning is to make students feel like they are “in” the content, rather than viewing the content at a distance. Immersive learning enables you to learn complex concepts and be trained on various skills as if you were actually doing the activity.
Learning is personal
Learning is also personalized: the learning experience places the learner in a simulated environment. They are provided with multiple feedback modalities in order to learn and to develop certain skills. Once they’ve mastered the skill, the program moves on. If not, the learner receives personalized interventions until they’ve shown proficiency.
Immersive learning can be used to simulate a decision making process and enables the learner to make decisions in a risk free environment. And because the environment responds to those decisions, every experience is tailored to the skills of the user.
Immersive learning is a hugely effective way for many learners to develop their knowledge and skills as it’s practical and hands-on. It provides artificial, digitally created content and environments that accurately replicate real life scenarios so that new skills and techniques can be learned and perfected.
Learners get to be active participants who directly influence outcomes, which increases engagement and makes the experience more enjoyable. It’s a risk-free and safe process where learning can be repeated and success can be accurately measured.
However, this immersive, personalized approach to learning can’t be a stand-alone experience. It needs to be part of a holistic approach to the future of learning. And that starts with a learning ecosystem.
Where companies used to rely on Learning Management Systems (LMS) to deliver training to employees, they are now creating learning ecosystems. The main difference is that a learning ecosystem isn’t just focused on learning. It takes the full talent journey into account, and links learning to the corporate strategy.
The learning ecosystem starts with indexing jobs and skills mapping. It includes career paths and development, talent marketplaces and projects to discover gaps. Which then ultimately leads to content discovery, learning and training. The business strategy underpins the direction, and predictive analytics are used to track the success (or failure!) and to improve over time.
A learning ecosystem can be extended via APIs to pull in content from other sources where that is needed. The idea is that all these pieces work together to ensure that you have rightly skilled and trained workers, and learning experiences are beneficial to your employees and contribute to your business strategy.
So what are the elements of a learning ecosystem? Let’s take a look at some of “must-have” technologies.
Analytics are an essential part of the ecosystem as they measure, collect, analyze and report data about learners and their success. It should be obvious, but measuring the contribution of learning to corporate strategy is key.
Analytic tools capture data like learners’ progress, test results, course completion rates, online vs in-person training efficiency, and any other data that is relevant to your training. They should also capture learner activities while going through the training, e.g. the mistakes they make, where they run into difficulties, and what makes them decide to quit. The system then provides insights that enable you to adjust your learning approach and/or courses.
These dashboards also document training effectiveness at a higher level. You can e.g. assess which teams are more successful, what approaches they use, or look at other employee characteristics in relation to learning success or failure. Do learning programs lower attrition? Is there a correlation between learning and employee success? And if so, what is it and can it be used for others?
Ecosystems should come with a variety of feedback options, from real-time responses to comments and surveys after the training has been completed. This data should be merged into the analytics dashboard to optimize the experience for future learners.
Feedback mechanisms include social-like tools that invite learners to provide feedback on individual training courses. That can be a quick response (thumbs up, thumbs down) but also more elaborate, in the form of comments and suggestions for improvements that can be made to enhance the experience.
But depending on user responses is not enough – feedback mechanisms should use algorithms (based on AI) to understand what really happens when employees go through training. This will provide you with an extra, more independent level of feedback that can be used to design better learning journeys, or select more appropriate ways of learning to successfully achieve a certain skill.
Gamification in learning is on the rise. Just as feedback uses tools usually seen in social media, gamification does the same, to create an interactive experience for the user that helps them stay engaged longer.
As example, users can collect badges or points when they achieve a certain goal. Some companies use leader boards, especially for mandatory training, that ranks users or teams based on completion. Rewards like gift cards or discounts are also used to keep learners motivated. Gamification can be used to create a fun atmosphere around a serious topic like learning, and help a company achieve its goals, e.g safety or compliance certification.
And while you might frown upon the use of gamification, it falls within the expectations of the younger generations: this is how they learn. Achievements are rewarded in the moment. Gamification should be part of any learning ecosystem.
Microlearning delivers learning or training in small, bite-size pieces. With emphasis on “just-in-time” and “learning in the flow of work”, people run through a short training to help them prepare for what to do next. They are an essential part of your corporate learning approach: People have shorter attention spans and don’t have time for long courses.
Microlearning is often contextual. Think of it as in-app tooltips, daily task reminders and such. It’s fact-based or task-oriented, helps people get things done quickly and typically lasts around 5 minutes.
Short, focused videos (think: TikTok style) are better understood by learners of all backgrounds and improve knowledge retention. Secondly, microlearning can be consumed on all devices and is particularly suited for mobile use.
I’ve mentioned ‘mobile’ a few times so far and with the global penetration rate of mobile phones being around 67% , it’s clear that mobile is the way to reach the largest number of learners.
Mobile learning allows employees to consume content when and where they want. Mobile technology can be merged with immersive technologies (remember the success of Pokemon Go?) to deliver high-impact learning materials.
Mobile and microlearning go hand in hand, and you’ll have a much better learning adoption rate if you think mobile first when designing your learning strategy (or any people strategy).
One of the biggest trends that transforms the learning experience is extended reality, in particular augmented and virtual reality. As more headsets come on to the market and higher bandwidths are available, virtual reality is becoming more popular. This is not about the metaverse, this is the technology that enables the immersive experience that I described above.
Augmented reality on the other hand, provides learners with additional information on top of the real world. Think for instance about a manual overlaying a machine, to help people find the right button to push or the correct part to order.
Augmented reality can be shown on devices employees already own, like mobile phones. Because it provides ‘just-in-time’ support, it’s eminently suited for the modern learning experience.
Visual is key: video-based learning
Who hasn’t used Youtube to quickly find out how to fix something? And watch someone else go through the steps? Even though you might not consider that learning, it really is.
Today’s learners prefer visual content over words and texts, and video is visually appealing and engaging. Videos capture the learner’s attention and hold it longer than any other learning means. Interactive videos are nothing like Youtube though: there are enhanced with interactive polls, surveys and assessments etc so people get the full educational experience.
In addition, because it’s easy to divide videos in short bites, you can include them as part of your mobile and microlearning approaches. Videos are often used in combination with in-person training, which we’ll look at shortly.
This term covers a variety of items, but assistive technology makes learning more accessible to students with disabilities. In a time where diversity and inclusion are high on the agenda, it’s critical to understand the needs of your workforce, and ensure that learning is available to all.
There are many products and services on the market that ensure people with disabilities can fully participate in the learning experience. As example, some mobile devices can connect to braille displays to help visually impaired people learn. Special training is available for autistic students and students with dyslexia.
Make sure that your learning ecosystem does not overlook this important topic. Everyone wants to learn, and learning should be as holistic and inclusive as possible. And while the majority of learning trends is focused on technology, the human element should not be underestimated. So I’ll end the list with the human approach.
The human element: Mentoring & coaching
Remember the poll above? It showed that learners prefer a combination of online and in-person education. They complete what they can online, and then turn to a mentor or coach to guide them to the result. Or discuss the findings with peers in a cohort.
Mentors and coaches used to be an executive experience. But it’s becoming clear that they can make a real difference when made available to a much larger part of the workforce, and not only to train soft skills. Human teachers can reinforce messages and highlight the most important topics to help learners internalize knowledge.
With the earlier mentioned personalized approach in mind, offering mentoring and coaching to employees at all levels can lead to higher levels of engagement and retention. In addition, they can bridge the gap between theory and practice, by assigning students assignments, the results of which are then discussed in a follow up session. Or help students get a handle on a tough topic, that wasn’t immediately clear.
Learning preferences vary wildly and so do learning abilities. People often learn from others, by listening to them, watching them in action, or by imitating them. Don’t underestimate the human connection when creating your learning strategy.
Ready for the future of learning?
The future of learning evolves around ecosystems built on data, that provide an immersive and personalized, just-in-time learning experience with the right balance between digital and human interaction. Let me know how your learning strategy is taking shape.
And I’ll leave you with some inspiration by introducing you to companies that are disrupting the learning landscape as we speak. I selected them because they received funding this year, or were just established. None of them provide a full ecosystem, but they all use the latest technologies to make learning more engaging.
Attensi – Gamified simulation training
Bravely – Employee coaching
Coach-like Leader – Online learning with live virtual pods
Degreed – Upskilling platform
Moth + Flame – Immersive learning experience
Motive.io – Create VR training
Retrain.ai – AI platform to transform and reskill talent
Rocky.ai – Microlearning to increase performance
Spekit – Embed your playbooks, tool training and SOPs in the flow of work
360learning – Collaborative learning platform