Technology has revolutionised the way we live, work and communicate with each other – and if last week’s CIPD Learning and Development show is anything to go by, it is having an increasing impact on the way organisations deliver learning trends to their people too.

Learning Trends building blocks

There was a noticeable rise over last year in the number of exhibitors offering digital products and services, from bite-sized e-learning solutions to just-in-time online feedback tools.

Of course, digital isn’t the answer to everything – there will always be a place for face-to-face personal development and programmes that bring people together to learn and develop new insights in real time. But there is no doubt that technology is providing organisations with opportunities to make learning more effective, time-efficient and responsive to the changing needs of the business.

The Open University’s Institute of Educational Technology (IET) is leading the charge when it comes to finding new and ever-more creative ways to enhance learning through the innovative use of technology. Their new report, Trends in Learning 2016 identifies seven key trends and offers a fascinating insight into what workplace learning might look like in the future.


So, what do these learning trends mean for your organisation – and how can you use them to stay ahead of the game?

1. Incidental learning

It happens in every organisation, every day. It’s the acquisition of knowledge that happens informally as we go about our daily working lives: using technology to pick up on the latest thinking, learning new skills from colleagues, working with others to find solutions to workplace problems. This kind of learning tends not to be valued by employers as it’s unstructured and ‘invisible’. But a growing number of organisations are beginning to look at how they can use technology to collect and share this incidental learning.

Internal social media platforms such as Yammer or Cloud-based collaboration tool Slack, for example, are being used to encourage people to share knowledge, interact and work together to solve challenges. It’s a trend that Cezanne HR recognised some time ago, which is why social workspaces are part of core HR systems. It’s an effective, low-cost way to create organisational ‘learning banks’ which are crowd-authored by the workforce itself. And as the IET report points out, the beauty of it is, that the knowledge is retained, even when staff leave.

2. Adaptive Teaching

People learn best when the subject is personalised to their individual needs, but the problem with conventional classroom courses is that they can’t possibly respond to people’s differing levels of knowledge, attitudes towards development or preferred learning styles.

Learning analytics are now increasingly being used to overcome this challenge, giving trainers the data they need to adjust learning content to suit the individual. The software helps adjust to the pace at which participants want to learn, taking existing knowledge into account and providing interactive support. If someone is stuck on a particular problem, for example, the programme realises this, and offers additional input.

As the IET report explains, if a person finds the content too easy, they won’t learn much. If they find it too hard, they are more likely to give up. Adaptive teaching finds the ‘sweet spot’ between the two – which is unique to each individual – as this is where the real learning happens.

3. MOOCs

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been around for a while. Latest figures suggest that almost 5,000 of these free, online courses, delivered by providers such as Coursera or the Open University’s FutureLearn, are now available.

Up until recently, take-up has largely been by individuals, but the potential of MOOCs as a tool for workplace learning is now being recognised. One of the most obvious advantages is the scaleability and the cost – organisations could potentially have hundreds of employees doing high-quality interactive training, provided by some of the world’s leading universities, at a fraction of the cost of conventional face-to-face methods. But some organisations are also taking it to the next level by co-creating their own MOOCs, tailored to meet their specific needs, with university partners. Marks & Spencer, for example, worked with the University of Leeds to create a MOOC aimed at encouraging a culture of commercial innovation.

4. Accreditation ‘badges’

One of the issues with the kind of incidental and informal learning highlighted above is that it generally goes unrecognised. There are not any qualification or markers of any kind to recognise the progress an individual employee has made.

The IET, however, highlights a trend towards the creation of digital ‘badges’ which can be used to reward employees for achieving a certain level of knowledge, acquiring a new skill or demonstrating a particular competency or behaviour. These badges are increasingly being used on virtual learning platforms to give people a sense of achievement and encourage them to move to the next level. They are a signal to the rest of the business that an employee has expertise in a particular area – and can also be used to unlock ‘privileges’, such as the ability to edit content or act as a moderator on the site for example. It’s a great way to foster a culture of learning and get people engaged and enthusiastic about their own development, while improving employees’ digital skills at the same time.

5. Learning analytics

Until now, the only way to measure the progress and transfer of learning has been via direct feedback from trainers and managers. But the growth in online learning provides organisations with the opportunity to capture valuable data about exactly how, when and where people learn.

Learning dashboards, for example, can be used to monitor when people are thriving and when they are struggling, so that content can be adjusted accordingly. These dashboards can also show people how they are performing in relation to colleagues and highlight where they need to focus their efforts to be successful. Data can also provide insights into the success of online communities and can highlight whether and how learning is being applied. The IET report suggests that learning analytics can play a crucial role in business performance, by making sure the learning is closely aligned to corporate objectives and that the business has the mix of skills it needs to compete effectively and improve productivity.

6. E-books

E-books are nothing new – you only need to look around on your next commute to see just how many people are reading everything from novels to text books on Kindles or tablets. But digital literature is also coming to the fore as an educational tool.

As E-books evolve, for example, they are providing ways for people to connect and interact while they learn – allowing groups of employees from around the world, for example to interact as they access the same content simultaneously. E-books can also be used to capture workplace knowledge and experience. Content can be co-created by employees, for example, and tailored to suit their particular organisation or industry.

Using e-books to deliver learning and development in the workplace is also cost effective, as the technology allows for them to regularly updated as new information or knowledge becomes available.

7. Mobile Learning

Research conducted by Towards Maturity shows that 57 per cent of workplace learners like to be able to access learning ‘on the go’ and only 18 per cent are now learning at their desk. The younger generation particularly now want a personalised learning experience and the ability to learn at a time and place that suits them. Mobile learning (or m-learning) is on the rise in the workplace and many organisations are already looking at how to optimise e-learning content for mobile devices. But as the use of personal devices for learning increases, companies are beginning to think about how they can reap the benefits of people’s desire to turn to their mobile devices when they want information ‘in the moment’. Some are experimenting, for example, with developing ‘micro’ content that can give employees access to the content and resources they need when they want to find out new information or answer questions quickly.

*Information courtesty of Trends in Leraning Report 2016, published by The Open University’s Institute of Educational Technology,

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Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.