Seven Trends Shaping E-Learning for the Future

Developments in brain science and technology are dramatically changing how training is offered.

We are on the cusp of a massive shift in the world of e-learning. New scientific research in how we learn combined with technology advances and engagement tools are set to radically transform the corporate learning landscape.

It’s about time: Businesses have been grappling for years with the cost and value of training, which has driven developments such as e-learning. Even so, it’s not enough.

  • Businesses still need quantifiable results. With the competition of today’s global markets straining budgets, training can’t be a luxury. It must provide a clear-cut return-on-investment.
  • Training hasn’t become significantly more effective. In fact, in most cases, existing classroom training has simply been ported to e-learning platforms.
  • Training still uses a firehose approach, showering participants with as much information as possible in a single session and hoping some of it sticks.
  • Employees still see training as something to be endured (and often almost unbearable except for the catered lunch).

Seven key trends are shaping the new e-learning reality. When combined, they allow businesses to transform training into something truly significant: converting learning to improved job performance, which realizes substantial and lasting returns on training investment.

Trend #1: Spacing

We all know that people retain very little of what they learn in a classroom or e-learning event—some sources say as little as 10 percent. Instead of wasting 90 percent of training effort, many organizations are realizing the benefits of “spacing,” which provides ongoing learning over extended periods of time.

Spacing—or interval reinforcement—provides information to learners in a repetitive and consistent way that reinforces a prior learning event, such as a workshop or e-learning session. Research into cognitive learning and memory is helping us optimize the spacing effect for maximum mastery of knowledge: We’ve learned how frequently we need to deliver training bursts and feedback, and which time intervals between each instance are optimum.

Spacing can be used to enhance traditional e-learning sessions, or daily to deliver new learning. Regardless of the goal, spacing allows organizations to create a continuous learning environment by weaving learning into every workday.

Trend #2: Chunking

Most memory experts acknowledge that the capacity of short-term memory is about four items, but it can be expanded by chunking the information. Chunking means creating small units of information that can be combined into larger more meaningful ones. Overall, chunking helps people take in more information, and remember more of it.

In today’s learning environment, chunking usually is manifested as short bursts of learning—anything from 60 seconds to 60 minutes. Combine chunking with spacing to deliver these short bursts on a consistent basis, and you begin to create a continuous learning environment.

Trend #3: Mobile learning

Mobile devices in business are becoming ubiquitous (even in unexpected places such as retail and hospitality), and it makes sense to deliver learning to employees on a platform that is integral to their personal and professional lifestyles.

Mobile is suited to short bursts of information, which allows you to integrate on-demand learning into your performance support system. Deliver information to employees when it’s most important that they receive it, such as for:

  • preparation prior to a learning event
  • just-in-time learning to deal with a specific situation
  • consistent reinforcement after a learning event.

Trend #4: Social media for learning

People often learn as much from one another as they do from the course materials. And better than 50 percent of the workforce (and growing) is plugged into social networks as a way of life.

Organizations already are incorporating social media into their core training strategy, including:

  • using Facebook to provide advanced materials, conduct intersession activities, and build learning communities
  • using Twitter for introductions, pre-training preparation and instruction, conversations, debates, reflecting, brainstorming, and polls
  • using YouTube for training videos
  • creating blogs for additional learning information
  • creating wikis for learning resources
  • creating discussion groups around specific topics, such as onboarding for new employees
  • creating more immersive learning environments such as virtual experiences, which are particularly useful when hands-on or experiential training is required.

Trend #5: Gamification

One of the key challenges with training always has been to get people engaged. Using game mechanics is proving to be one of the most important measures to get people eager to learn, and continue to learn.

In addition to being fun, gamification offers other key benefits.

  • It can engage learners of all ages.
  • The fun aspect creates less resistance to learning.
  • It can be used to teach a variety of subjects.
  • It’s suited to different domains of learning, including knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs.
  • It encourages experimentation, which often leads to innovative thinking.
  • It’s less stressful than traditional learning with lectures and formal tests.
  • It can be used to encourage a competitive spirit and teamwork.

Whether your gamification strategy includes video games, games of chance, role play and adventure, simulations, building and construction, or puzzles, you can be sure that it offers a strong engagement element to your training approach.

Trend #6: Personalization

Learning is an individual experience, but corporate training programs traditionally have been conducted in groups. With the advancement of learning technologies, businesses now can implement a more personalized approach to employee training, based on each individual’s unique competencies and learning preferences.

Personalization involves providing employee learning in a way that maximizes retention and application on the job. Personalization considers

  • the learner’s preferred and habitual mode of learning
  • their current state of knowledge—What specific knowledge, skills, and attitudes are required, and where are the gaps? What learning can be skipped, and what needs to be repeated?
  • other considerations that may impact learning: Are there any generational, cultural or language considerations that need to be addressed to improve learning?

By creating a personalized learning experience, businesses can address knowledge gaps and performance improvements at the individual level, which improves the overall knowledge and ability level of all employees.

Trend #7: Experience API

Experience API (xAPI) is a game changer. No longer do we need to guess how well employees are learning, or wonder what is the value of learning support mechanisms. Now with xAPI, we have the ability to capture solid information on all diverse learning experiences that employees participate in—information that is quantifiable, sharable, and trackable.

In contrast to manual data collection such as surveys, observation, and reviews, the xAPI technology allows all kinds of applications and systems to track employee knowledge and performance, including whether e-learning, mobile learning, interval reinforcement training, games, online reading, social media, performance management systems, and even equipment safety check systems. xAPI records employee activity, and sends this information to a Learning Record Store, which can be accessed by a learning management system or reporting tool to generate meaningful data.

Armed with granular details about employee learning experiences, you can evaluate which types of experiences provide the best learning for each employee, as well as identify where knowledge needs to be increased—across all learning experiences.

Shift to the future

Bill, a sales rep at ABC Pharma, fires up his tablet first thing in the morning and receives his daily training burst. Today it’s a video on a new product, followed by a short series of questions related to product training he participated in last week. As he answers the questions, he’s given feedback about his knowledge, and tries a few more questions until he’s getting all correct answers. After that, he spends five minutes on the company learning portal about a product he’s promoting to customers today.

Later, Bill logs on to the company learning portal on his mobile phone, and checks the discussion board about one of the products. He’s curious to see how well other reps find it’s being received and whether he can learn something about how to position it against the competition.

Meanwhile, in the training and development department, Sarah generates a report on the sales training program from last week, analyzing participation levels in the daily training bursts and looking at how effective the knowledge bursts were on each topic. She also looks at Bill’s training to see how he’s progressing along his personalized knowledge map.

She reviews data captured by xAPI on different learning experiences to see which are the most popular. She creates a graph to track individual sales rep learning performance on the new product and will track sales of that product on a per-employee basis to correlate success in learning to success in selling.

Let the future begin

Never before have we seen this intersection of technology and cognitive science being put to such stunningly effective use.

The key to these trends is they allow businesses to integrate learning more firmly into the culture of the organization and directly affect business performance. These new technologies and training design approaches allow for more effective learning retention, improve employee engagement in the learning process, and allow businesses to capture solid data that identify the bottom-line impact of learning.

But these are not trends of the distant future; solutions already exist that allow you to integrate these trends into effective employee training, and new developments are being introduced almost daily. If you aren’t already incorporating these trends, add them to your learning strategy and begin implementing them as soon as possible. It’s a fair guess that your competition is.

For more information about Easy, Effective, Engaging, Economical, e-Lerning, contact us today:

Originally posted by Carol Leaman: Sunday, December 08, 2013 ASTD


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