The Future of Learning

dreamstime_xs_32069680It’s that time of year when people often ask for our thoughts on what lies ahead in the following year.  I’m actually going to look to 2016 and beyond and share my opinions on what I believe to be the overall future of learning.  And I apologise now for my sometimes convoluted use of the seemingly popular Cs model as I write my 12 Cs of Tomorrow’s L&D.

In alphabetical order…


Even now, we still place a lot of emphasis on developing courses and blended learning programmes based around the sequencing of pieces of course content.  And when we create “courses”, we think “instructional design”.  But there is another way.  Just reflect on the marketing and advertising we experience every day.  Just think how powerful some of those campaigns are.  Some get millions of consumers to change their purchasing behaviours.  Imagine how successful learning could be if it was developed along the same lines.  Already “alternative” providers are creating learning campaigns using the best practices from the worlds of marketing, advertising and brand management.  In many you might even struggle to identify anything that resembles a course, but they still deliver powerful results.  So look to your colleagues in marketing and communications in 2016 and work with them on your next training project.

Cellular (mobile)

Without any doubt, mobile learning is with us.  Even if you just start with so-called responsive content that adjusts to fit different screen sizes, then 2016 is the year to explore multi-device learning.  But mobile is more than just pushing a traditional course to a smartphone, so use next year to concentrate your efforts on developing learning resources that work well on the small screen and double-up as tools to support workplace activity.


Learning has always been collaborative, but with the arrival of digital approaches, now is the time to put it back into those solutions where we’ve tended to favour isolated self-study.  Don’t just look to create discussion forums to support certain learning programmes.  Look at how you can design virtual collaboration into blended learning programmes and work with your tools and technology providers to explore ways to integrate real-time collaboration within the self-paced courses themselves.  And examine which communities – both internal and external – could be leveraged to extend the scope of collaboration.

Colleague insights-driven

Your typical training needs analysis will probably pay attention to the business objectives for that learning and will seek to determine the content needed to close the perceived learning gaps.  But how much time is taken to explore the learner – the end user?  Do you really know how that group likes to learn?  What approaches work best for them?  What motivates them to start and want to complete a piece of training?  We’re starting to learn that having an appreciation of these factors, amongst others, results in a more engaging and successful learning intervention.  The future success of learning will require more work in this important area and a different definition of learning data.

Competitive (gamification)

If you have yet to think about how to gamify your learning programmes and introduce gamification into your learning strategy, then set some time aside in 2016 to look into this.  Whether it’s using learning games more, or using the principles behind gaming to reward learners and desired learning behaviours, then look for projects where you can start to experiment in this area.  Also make sure you work with your colleagues across HR and communications, as gamification should extend organisation-wide, beyond just L&D.

Complementary (performance support)

Learning has to support the job in hand.  It has to complement any formal courses with tools that support people back on the job.  So we need to invest more time in creating resources that reinforce prior learning and provide real-time hands-on performance support to completing each discrete task.  In fact in many cases, a deeper analysis of the requirements should lead us to develop performance support resources on their own, without the need to invest time and resources in creating formal training content.

Condensed (micro-learning)

The working environment is changing rapidly and there is less time for learning.  As a result, people are now learning differently with a corresponding shift in learning behaviours.  There is less time now for full courses – even ten minutes is too long for many learners – but a stronger appetite for short bursts of learning that focus in on discrete tasks or micro-skills.  These need to be in easy reach and deliver the objectives in as direct a manner as possible.  Successful micro-learning is not just about breaking a longer course into smaller pieces.  Micro-learning requires us to rethink how we design content.


Future learning content needs to be convenient.  It needs to be there just when and where we need it and available with no more than a few clicks.  In 2016 begin by spring-cleaning your learning management system.  Work with learners to define how they now need to access learning and make it as seamless as possible.  Explore how to better use the corporate intranet for signposting content and look for ways to use learning portals as your learning shopfront.

Corroborated (evaluated)

Evaluation is never going to stop being a key aspect of future learning.  I do believe we are getting better at it too.  As we move to multi-device learning approaches, people will ask for proof that the new ways are working as expected.  As we move away from courses to more resource-based learning, people will want reassurance that the end result is as least as good as with the old ways.  And this needn’t be difficult.  By simply agreeing what success will look like with your stakeholders – in their terms – you’ve got a “gut feel” benchmark in place.


Gone are the days when all learning content should just come from the L&D department or the subject matter expert.  So much great content can be shared by individual employees, based on their first hand successful experiences doing the job.  Learners have a habit of factoring in the context of the learning too, so making it more valuable for different audience groups.  So in 2016 not only do you need to find ways to encourage more user-generated content, you also need to determine how best to filter, quality-control and then disseminate this content across the organisation.  This may also challenge established instructional design approaches, but remember that “good enough” is increasingly just what learners appreciate.


With less time to learn, learners themselves are asking what’s the most important thing they need to learn.  They want to prioritise learning depending on what will have the greatest impact.  We’ve seen that short is good, “just good enough” is sufficient and that it needs to be there when they need it.  This should challenge us to develop learning content that addresses just the key areas, minimises or even eliminates content creep and enables us to work more efficiently and effectively.


Should all learning be created afresh by internal or external sources?  No, not any more.  The internet, especially YouTube, is awash with learning content that ticks all the boxes for the modern learner.  The only issue is that there’s so much of it and learners often need help to separate the good from the bad.  So start to set some time aside each week in 2016 to explore what already exists and to be alert to new relevant content sources that pop up on Twitter, in blogs, in discussion forums or in your industry press.  Begin sharing links to great content within internal discussion boards, or as add-on resources in blended programmes or hyperlinks within e-learning modules.  And sit down with business leaders more and look to provide fast answers to their current issues from external curated sources.

X Cs of Today's L&D.png


The Future of Learning

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