A look at the future of L&D

Ilse Leen
Ilse Leen Learning Specialist

I recently bumped into a former fellow student while visiting a client. Fifteen years ago, we took lectures together, and now we were facing each other at the meeting table, she for L&D and I as a learning specialist for TinQwise.

It was a mirror image, and on the other hand it was not. It made me realise how the same studies and interests can lead you to different places.

Both of us were educationalists, and from this role we both want to develop effective learning solutions that really help people develop and grow. But were there any other similarities between the two of us? Do we understand each other’s worlds well, from opposing ends of the table?

‘If we learn to understand each other, we will have a better understanding of ourselves.’  – Sarah Gadon.

The longer I thought about this, the more questions came up. What exactly does my counterpart do at L&D? What does the target group ask of them? What does the business ask of them? What is their role in the organisation? What are they struggling with? What themes matter to them? What are their needs? What opportunities do they see? What does this mean to my work?

‘What will be hot in L&D next year?’

Fortunately, I am not the only one who asks this question. For many years, the Global Sentiment Survey has been asking over one thousand L&D professionals worldwide: ‘What do you think will be hot in learning & development next year?’

2018 in a nutshell? Artificial Intelligence is hot. Personalisation, adaptive learning and collaborative learning seem to be hot, but are not (really) hot any longer. Everything around ‘process and methodology’ is more or less hanging in the balance. The business is also doing fairly well.

Are you also curious about the Why?

Before I provide an extensive summary, it is good to know that ‘hot’ is not an absolute term in this context. What matters is sentiment, a collective hope. A kind of ‘feelings of the crowds’. So it is not big data analysis or scientific research, but a survey which has proven itself in the past few years as a relatively reliable predictor.

And the winner is...

Correct! The best performer of this year is artificial intelligence. This phenomenon is not yet taking first place, but in one year it has made a giant leap to take bronze on the victory stand.

The reason is probably that AI is specific and expressive enough for people to imagine something, but then it is also vague and intangible enough to have the characteristic of major, unexploited potential to it. It is an umbrella term that covers everything, from algorithms and machine learning, which can be used for learning recommendations, via big data and analytics that lead to superior insight into human learning behaviour, to chatbots that help you in a human and natural way in a conversational interface. I think that at least one of these terms is used in every platform-oriented project we do at TinQwise.

‘Artificial intelligence is everything that hasn’t been done yet.’ –  Larry Tesler

The idea that computers and robots are getting increasingly smarter, get to know us better, and will eventually be better than us is a most intriguing thought, also for learning. It feels as if it is more within reach than ever and leads to the wildest fantasies, also in our profession. Artificial intelligence potentially seems to be the ultimate, definitive answer to needs from the past, such as micro-learning, personalisation, and adaptive learning.

Past their prime or…?

Now that they have been mentioned: these last few trends are fading, according to L&D professionals. Perhaps the rise of AI has something to do with this. Why focus only on personalisation or adaptive learning if there is a system which gets to know your learning behaviour so well that it can provide you with everything in any form whatsoever?

‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’ –  Maya Angelou

Personalisation and adaptive learning are currently still above AI in the list, but the number of votes for these trends is falling steadily. AI is the ‘new kid in town’ which shows far greater promise. Personalisation and adaptive learning have become more general. The question is: for how long?

The same applies to collaborative learning. This is also becoming increasingly mainstream. At TinQwise, we can see it in the growing interest in social learning, for instance. Other examples include (educational) escape rooms, in which collaboration is essential to complete a mission successfully. When long-established organisations, such as libraries, the Rijksmuseum and ABN AMRO, are getting involved, you know a phenomenon has finally taken hold.

Some other trends

Finally, there are some other trends worth mentioning:

  • L&D meets the business. L&D is gradually becoming more and more of a fully fledged consultant and stakeholder in the organisation, not only as a broker who matches demand and supply.
  • Stuck in the middle: process and implementation, such as curated content, Agile, showing value, and the science of learning. They have had a position in the middle for many years. It is a clear case of not being sexy enough to be ‘hot’, but too important for L&D to be overlooked.
  • Promising new entry: next-gen learning platforms. This, too, is an umbrella term with a vague definition and of unclear but major promise. ‘
  • Drop it like it’s (not) hot.’ And then we have the big winners from the past that are becoming generally popular (e.g. mobile, gamification, video), or those that once seemed to be a great idea but were too complex to be implemented on a large scale (yep, MOOCs). These are still on the list, but are falling rapidly.

A conclusion

In the foregoing, I can see one clear pattern: the drive of L&D towards grand, dramatic technological developments. The all-embracing umbrella terms appeal to the imagination and are regarded as applicable in the learning solutions in 2018.

This says a lot about the spirit of the times and the landscape in which L&D operates. Technological developments are accelerating fast. Applications are interlinked left and right with APIs and Single Sign On. In many organisations, ‘integration’ is the magic word nowadays, and not only with products. The business and IT get involved in scrum teams. Development and operations join hands in DevOps. There is an increasing number of larger and more complex processes and systems, which also require big and all-embracing learning and other solutions. Cue artificial intelligence and next-gen platforms.

At the same time, I know that these solutions are not set up overnight. The bigger the theme, the more complex the brainwork (and programming) behind it. Big results require big ambitions, however. I therefore consider it my task to investigate together with L&D (including my former fellow student) how we can integrate this type of theme with the learning solutions we develop together, in feasible and ambitious steps. I look forward to it!

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