Thoughts about hr and management in the real world – extra information I couldn't fit in my books!.

The Future of E-learning (part 2)

Last week Robyn Viljoen from Modlettes shared her thoughts on the future of e-learning.

This week we meet Sussan Ockwell, Director of Optimism (pictured on the left at the L&D Game Changer Conference). Optimism can help you create learning frameworks and strategies, engaging learning experiences, and powerful support tools that will enable performance and drive business success.

Sussan and Robyn and ColinWhen I asked her about the future of e-learning, Sussan tells me that we are using the wrong term entirely! She says:

Rather than use the term eLearning these days, I prefer to use ‘digital learning’.

Digital learning doesn’t just refer to using different technologies to create learning.  It refers to how people will learn in a digital and connected world.  It raises the question of how we can better bring learning to people right where they are, in what they are doing.  It means learning and performance needs to be available to them on whatever device or digital access method they have on hand, the moment they want or need it.

Sometimes you can predict when and where they’ll want it, but sometimes not.  So digital learning must be multi-device, responsive and readily available, removing any barriers to access.

I use the term digital learning (rather than eLearning) to encourage everyone to think beyond the traditional 20-minute structured eLearning module (authored in Storyline, Captivate or similar).  That doesn’t mean structured eLearning modules will completely disappear, in the same way that workshops didn’t disappear when eLearning became popular. These are just different ways of providing learning experiences (LX), and we can choose which is most appropriate for each situation.  New technologies will give us even more options for creating digital learning experiences, which is why it’s so exciting!

I do see that there will be fewer large eLearning modules, and these are probably best suited to foundational learning or, as Josh Bersin calls it, macro-learning.  But the style of these modules is continuing to evolve from information-based modules, to scenario-based or simulation-style learning experiences.  The focus will be on what people need to do, not what they need to know (thanks to Cathy Moore for helping to popularise this!).  Newer authoring tools (eg. Twine, Rise) will give us options for developing learning resources faster for more agile or disposable learning (by learning and non-learning experts), but there will always be a need for indepth analysis and design to get better results in significant areas.

Given that foundational or macro learning generally happens before it’s needed, reinforcements are becoming more prevalent to help people retain what they’ve learned.  Spaced reinforcements will extend and embed the learning, and keep it top of mind so the learning is actually applied.  This could be through a set of digital ‘push’ reinforcements with questions, scenarios, ratings, reflections and personal action plans which are sent to them and their managers.

Within their workflow, people mostly want and expect small, targeted learning chunks which will support them in the moment.  That’s where micro-learning and nano-learning will happen, and L&D’s job is to make sure people get what they need, when they need it.  This could be quickly-found answers to written or verbal questions (eg. Google, Siri, Alexa) how-to videos (eg. YouTube) tips (expert blogs or vlogs) and static or interactive support around processes or decisions (eg. support tools, social learning, coaching).  A great example of learning in the flow, or performance support, for systems is Leo from Kryon, or WalkMe.

For a while now we’ve been hearing that “content is king”, but we could add “visual is queen – or even ace”.  Packaging and presentation has always made a difference, but visual design (UI) is even more important now.  It needs to look good.  And with bandwidth and connectivity improving, we can use richer media – imagery, animation, audio, video.    Video (whether linear, 360 or interactive) has become more important as a learning delivery method, and it won’t be going away soon.  People like to learn by seeing, observing and watching.   Being able to interact with video is even better!  And it’s okay to have a mix of casual / informal clips as well as professional footage (just like in the news).

It’s somewhat of a natural progression from this love of video to more immersive and interactive experiences like virtual reality.  Virtual reality is still expensive to produce for outcome-based learning but is becoming more accessible.  The overlay of augmented reality (think Pokémon) also has some applications, but we think that it is mixed reality that will be the future of learning, blending the physical world with the digital world.

As we move forward, self-directed learning becomes even more important.  Because roles and environments are changing so rapidly, it is largely up to individuals to drive their own learning and their own career development.  Proactive people will take responsibility for filling skill or knowledge gaps, for improving performance, for proactively seeking to develop their own self-management and leadership skills, and for staying relevant.  They will continue to supplement their workplace learning with blogs, podcasts, TED talks and best-selling books, and even virtual and mixed reality learning.

With regards to platforms or portals (Learning Management Systems, Learning Engagement Platforms, etc) there’s already a big movement towards App-style learning portals (think Netflix, YouTube, Amazon) which adapt to you personally (using AI elements), visually displaying your channels of learning interests (topics, genres or people), as well as offering ’recommended for you‘  ’most popular‘ ’highly rated‘ and ’latest‘.  Content will be easily searchable by key words, and you will be able to rate any learning chunks or content.  Not only does this make learning much more approachable and accessible, but any learning developers (L&D or SMEs) will quickly see if their content is valued from ratings and feedback, allowing them to amend or replace accordingly.  I see this as a great thing for L&D departments!

In addition, more companies will adopt xAPI (Experience API) and link through to Learning Record Stores (LRSs such as Learning Locker) so that employees can develop their own digital record of learning that they can take with them wherever they go.

So the future of eLearning is better phrased as digital learning.  And it’s all about how people will learn in a digital and connected world.


Thank you to Sussan for some really interesting ideas about the future of digital learning! For more about Optimism just click here.


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This entry was posted on April 4, 2018 by in Learning and Development and tagged , , , .
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