Revisiting 2014’s key trends for learning

Training in the workplace

There is absolutely nothing wrong with following trends, but they don’t always pan out for all of us. Take, for example, the baggy-jeans trend in the nineties — that was an absolute no-no for me. (I’m sure you’ve committed your own fashion faux pas over the years!)

But what about the trends in L&D? Are they something for us to adopt wholeheartedly, cautiously dip a toe in the water or avoid completely?

Back in January 2014, I presented a Citrix GoToTraining webinar called 5 Key Learning Trends for 2014. (If you missed the event, you can view the recording here.) During the webinar, I looked at five key trends that were constantly being discussed in tweets, articles, blogs and learning conference sessions in the L&D community at the time.

I now want to revisit those trends and explore how well they were actually adopted or implemented versus those that were nothing more than ‘shiny objects’ – trends that would have consumed time, energy and investment for little or no return or trends that would just fade into the background.

So what were these five key trends and where are we now with them?

Learning Sciences

Defined by Wikipedia, Learning Sciences work “…to further scientific understanding of learning as well as to engage in the design and implementation of learning innovations, and the improvement of instructional methodologies”.

You just need to Google the phrase ‘learning science’, and you get 1,110,000,000 hits. The level of knowledge that we have about how people learn is expanding all the time.

There are countless institutes providing research that will help to inform us on how to create and deliver learning that “fits better” with how our audiences learn.

As educators we are now in this amazing position of knowing more about the brain sciences than ever before, with the works of luminaries like David Rock – director Neuroleadership Institute, John Medina – Brain Rules et al.

ATD (formerly ASTD) – established a new community of practice named ‘Science of Learning’ aimed squarely at this side of the learning and development market.

Research into learning science is only going to better inform our decisions in how we construct, design, and deliver more effective and impactful training initiatives for our learner audiences.

This is definitely a trend that is going to stay and evolve in 2015.

Social Learning

In 2014, social learning truly came of age. Almost every conversation with clients, educators, conference goers had a reference to how can we create and leverage the collaborative knowledge of the group.

We, of course, have been providing social learning for many years when we bring learners together and ask them to learn as a group, but now we have technologies that can help us do that outside of the classroom or formal learning environment.

These technologies are the myriad of social media tools in the workplace such a Yammer, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest to name a few – you can find a fantastic resource Top 100 Tools for learning on Jane Hart’s Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies website.

In Tony Bingham’s and Marcia Conner’s book – The New Social Learning: A guide to Transforming Organizations through Social Media there are many great examples of organisations that have successfully embraced social learning with great results, including TELUS, Deloitte & Touche, IBM and even the CIA; when done well, social learning has proven to be very effective.

But on the flip side many organisations have jumped on board this trend and done so without great results – believing technology is the full solution.

We see countless examples of organisations that have introduced Yammer as a social learning platform only to see it wither and almost die, because learners do not embrace the new technology or have the right support and culture established within their organisation to truly leverage the promise these technologies bring – reminiscent of the phrase “build it, they will come”.

Again a trend that is here to stay, but one word of caution – it is not just about adding the technology, but it’s also about ensuring we provide the right support to our people in adapting to the technology

Connected Learners

Unless you have been hiding in some dark cave, you will have seen/experienced the proliferation of mobile devices supporting us in learning – whether our tool of choice is smartphone or tablet we know that learning is continuing beyond the classroom where learners are accessing the web, downloading apps, or accessing learning portals – we all want access ‘anytime, anyplace, on any device’.

Mobile devices are, in fact, becoming our external brains. We no longer need to retain as much information as we used to because of how easy it is to access that information. Consider how quickly you can find out how to change the settings on your smartphone without having the manual by searching online.

Clark Quinn’s book Designing mLearning states “Mobile is not about courses, but instead supports a broad definition of learning, including innovation, collaboration, research, design and more, generating new products, services, and problems solved. Whether providing needed tools, augmenting learning, or connecting individuals, mobile is a powerful new tool for supporting performance.”

Bersin by Deloitte’s Meet the modern learner recognises this trend as part of the makeup of the modern learner, going on to cite that “37% of the global workforce is expected to be mobile by end of 2015”.

However just because our learners are enabled with technology, have organisations began to truly leverage mobile learning?

GoodPractice, a UK organisation, conducts an annual survey with L&D Managers – you can access the 7th UK Learning Trends Index here.

In the report they cite that “33% of respondents said they had recently introduced or piloted a mobile learning initiative”. While it’s an increase of 12% on the previous year, it still appears that L&D are cautious, perhaps because they have not got the in-house technical knowledge and expertise, or confidence of this trend.

I expect this trend to increase in some areas like wildfire but in others, possibly more of a slow burn.


During this section of the webinar I spoke about using video four ways:

• Recording your virtual classroom session
• Using a webcam to collaborate
• Leveraging online video such as YouTube and TED talks
• Users creating their own videos

A significant advantage of delivering training through virtual classroom technology such as Citrix GoToTraining is that you have the ability to record the actual session so that learners can revisit the learning points or catch up on elements they may have missed.

Of course in virtual classrooms we can also overcome the challenges of an “invisible” audience by utilising webcam technologies to bring the faculty and learners closer together.

With the fact that most smartphones have a camera – everyone becomes a filmmaker and when harnessed well in learning, using video can prove groundbreaking.

This is definitely one of those trends that will keep on growing in 2015.

Beyond the Course

Training professionals need to consider how we support the learner beyond the course.

We need to think beyond the training course and to actually support the learner as often the training is not necessarily delivered at the point of need.

German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered the forgetting curve, which many of us have probably experienced – the fact that information gets lost over time when there is no attempt or need to retain it.

Imagine getting training on a new piece of software and then two months later the software is not installed and up and running. How effective was the training? How much of how the software worked can you remember? Probably not, depending on the quality of materials provided or your note-taking abilities.

In our social lives we have “learning” at our fingertips, if we need to learn how to approach a DIY task in the home we can search online for it and there is no limit to the amount of resources that we can access.

We need to bring that into our organisations. Countless hours are lost every year by individuals having to learn what others have learned before them, elements that can be best captured in an online repository and signposted for all to see and revisit.

Key for organisations in the next few years as our Silent Generation of workers leave our businesses is harnessing the implicit or tacit knowledge that currently resides in their brains. Can we afford to have that knowledge lost forever?

This is very much a trend that will keep on growing.


So, in looking back at those five key learning trends for 2014, they have all found their way into mainstream corporate learning in one way or another. Some organisations have adopted them whole-heartedly and implemented them into their blended learning solutions.

But many will say “Not for us, or maybe not yet!” I often wonder if we bring learning technologies in too quickly, are we in danger of overloading the sensory circuits of our learners? Are our learners ready for them?

But then I remind myself that we are all harnessing technology in such a way that it is a physical extension of our existence as human beings that we leverage the latest and greatest to improve ourselves.

Let’s see which 2015 learning trends we will have adopted at this time next year.

Watch David’s recent webinar Learning trends or more shiny objects for L&D in 2015?‘ for more details on the 2014 learning trends, and a look ahead to what’s coming up in 2015.

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About the author

David Smith is Global Director of Virtual Learning Solutions at TMA World, he is passionate about virtual working whether communicating, meeting, presenting or training virtually. He is also a regular speaker at international training conferences and Citrix webinars. In his spare time he enjoys many sports (unfortunately, most as a spectator), has a family that keeps him young, loves Spanish Tapas and great red wines. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter More blog posts by David Smith ››
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