3 Learning Trends, 2 Predictions in Less Than 1 Hour

BY Celisa Steele

robotic hands manipulating puzzle pieces

Like so much these days, it can seem like the learning field is innovating at an unprecedented pace. Or is firmly mired in old and ineffective ways. The reality, of course, is both—learning is happening all along the spectrum that ranges from stale and outmoded to outlandish and novel for the sake of novelty.

Last week Jeff and I got to spend some time talking about points on the learning spectrum where we see meaningful trends setting in and about the future of learning in 2015 and beyond.

We did that talking in the last Webinar we’re offering in the Leading Learning series this year. While we normally only make the recordings of our Webinars available to registrants, we decided to make this one available more widely. Think of it as our holiday gift to you.

The Webinar recording is embedded at the end of this post, where I’ve also included a link to the presentation slides.

To whet your appetite, I’ll highlight the three learning trends we talked about in the Webinar below, but check out the recording for more nuance on each (including the practical implications of the trends) and for our predictions for the future of learning.

3 Trends in Learning

The Validation Industry

What we term the “validation industry” has been evolving steadily. The range of accepted options for consuming educational content and participating in learning experiences has expanded, and learners need new ways to validate those experiences so they’re viewed as a legitimate part of their educational track record.

There are a number of different strands to this trends.

  1. Competency-based education

Arguably “competency-based education” has become the biggest buzz term in academia over the past year—even bigger than MOOCs. The idea is that being able to demonstrate mastery of a skill or body of knowledge is more important than seat time. So institutions are coming up with new approaches to awarding credit and even entire degrees. These include assessment-based approaches to verify learners’ knowledge and experience. In these models, it really is the validation that is the key to the business model more than the content.

  1. Nanodegrees

Udacity, one of the companies that has led the MOOC movement, has started supporting what it calls “nanodegrees.” Nanodegrees are a way for learners to establish their expertise in a particular skill or topic area without having to earn a full-blown degree. You could argue that in many ways a nanodegree is simply a traditional certification under a different name, but they are potentially much more flexible and dynamic than certifications often tend to be.

  1. Learning lockers

Degreed is a company that provides a “learning locker,” enabling people to collect all of their various educational activities and credentials in one place. Degreed is not actually providing credentials itself—at least not yet—but this is a form of validation in that it nicely packages a learner’s efforts together in a way that makes it possible to easily present them to employers and other third parties.

Small Is Beautiful

It’s a little unorthodox to use the title of a 1973 book of essays on economics to encapsulate a learning trend in 2014, but the phrase Small Is Beautiful really does encapsulate a lot of what’s going on. E.F. Schumacher was arguing against the bigger-is-better mindset of the early days of economic globalization and making the point that smaller systems can do a better job of taking people as well as financials into account in economies.

In learning, the corollary is that sometimes smaller formats are more effective for the learners who are presented with essential information, boiled down for greater absorption and application.

We see the small-is-beautiful trend playing out in a number of ways.

  1. Nanolearning

In nanotech, tiny technology can do great things—we can swallow microcameras so doctors can see real-time internal images; there are drugs that work at a molecular level to attack cancer cells.

Nanolearning is the cousin of nanotechnology. Nanolearning is about really small elements of learning, and nanolearning grows out of the old belief that learning can and must happen every day—not just when we have the time to attend a conference or access an online module.

We’ve seen the continued growth and adoption of nanolearning in 2014—think about formats like Ignite (first used in 2006), where each speaker uses 20 auto-advancing, 15 seconds for each, to deliver a fast-paced five-minute talk. Or PechaKucha (started in 2007), where you show 20 images or slides, each for 20 seconds.

  1. Social learning

The modern version of social learning, driven by social media, is also grounded in the small-is-beautiful, or less-is-more, mindset. Think about Twitter with its 140-character limit. Even social platforms, like LinkedIn and Facebook that don’t enforce a tight limit, tend to be dominated by relatively short posts.

  1. Just-in-time learning

Just-in-time learning implies a kind of just-enough-and-no-more approach to content. To really deliver just-in-time learning, you have to pare the content down to a particular question or task or skill that might be needed.

  1. Microcredentials

Microcredentials and digital badges too reflect mastery of specific skills and knowledge—not the sweeping breadth of a bachelor of science in computer science but the granularity of a microcredential in HTML5 coding.

Support for all kinds of smaller formats comes from both practical time constraints—it seems we all struggle to find the time to do what we need and want to do—and from learning science. As brain science is teaching us how we learn, we’re finding out that even longer content needs to be broken down into to smaller chunks to be most effective.

The Impact Imperative

The big idea of the impact imperative is that, with the growing range of learning opportunities that technology has made possible (and with an amazing slice of them offered for free), it is becoming imperative for education providers to create and demonstrate real impact if they expect to grow and thrive. Employers will look for clearer signs of impact, as will learners if they are going to commit the time, attention, and money to participating.

This trend plays out in three key areas.

  1. Learning analytics

We have access to a wide range of data about how learners engage with learning opportunities—and not just traditional LMS data but also data from social platforms and a variety of informal learning resources that people use across the Web. In the world of learning technology, this is an area Tin Can, or the Experience API, is specifically designed to support. We’re going to see leading learning organizations make better and better use of learning analytics to show impact and to drive the design and personalization of learning experiences so they create even more impact in the future.

  1. Maintenance of competency

Related to the ability to collect and analyze data, we’ll see continued growth of efforts to help learners maintain and improve knowledge over the long term. We already see this, for example, in the maintenance of certification (MOC) efforts in the medical education market, and more non-medical organizations are taking the idea seriously. This is a focus on sustained impact.

  1. Design premium

Our past research at Tagoras has shown relatively low use of professional instructional design in association learning programs. But we’re seeing this change, and we’ve heard a lot more buzz over the past few years about creating learning experiences that truly align with how adults learn.

In increasingly competitive education markets, the ability to maintain sustainable pricing will come down to a perception that your learning products have been professionally designed to support real, measurable impact. That’s the design premium.

The Practical Implications of These Trends and Some Predictions

In our Webinar last Thursday (free, thanks to the sponsorship of WBT Systems), we unpacked these three trends and talked about the practical considerations for organizations in the business of lifelong learning.

If you want to better understand these trends and how they impact lifelong learning, professional development, and continuing education and get a glimpse of the future of learning in 2015 and beyond, check out the Webinar recording (embedded at the end of this post). I’ve also included, below the recording, a link to the presentation slides.

Leading Learning Webinars Continue in 2015

While our free 2014 Webinars wrapped up with “2014 Learning Trends, 2015 Learning Forecast,” we’ll again offer a series of Webinars in 2015, starting in January.

To be notified of Webinars and the valuable resources focused on the market for lifelong learning, continuing education, and professional development that we’ll offer in 2015, subscribe to the free Leading Learning newsletter.


“2014 Learning Trends, 2015 Learning Forecast” Webinar Recording and Slides

Below you can view the Webinar recording. You can also download or view the presentation slides from the Webinar (as PDF).

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