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Beyond the hype: What you really need to know about digital learning this year

David Wilson, CEO of Fosway Group, Europe’s #1 HR industry analyst, joins us to share his thoughts on digital learning in 2019 and beyond…


As we enter a new decade, there is the traditional flurry of predictions about what the hot new trends will be in digital learning. But rather than succumb to the hype, David Wilson, CEO of Fosway Group, Europe’s #1 HR industry analyst, shares his thoughts on digital learning in 2020 based on current research and data…Welcome to the new year everyone.

Ironically, the one trend in L&D that has never really gone away is the ongoing hype that surrounds new tools and technologies. Every year some new innovation is hailed as our saviour…but guess what (spoiler alert) there is usually a huge gulf between the hope and the reality that surrounds these things. 

But it’s a time of year to look ahead to what’s next, so I’m going to base this on real data and insights from our research of the digital learning market today. As analysts, we spend our time understanding the challenges that organisations are facing in L&D as well as the broader talent and HR agenda – and listening to how vendors hope to help tackle these issues with their technology. Context is key and everyone has a unique set of problems that they’re trying to solve. However, here are some inescapable developments to look out for in the next 12 months. 

  • Learning is the MOST important part of your organisation’s Employee Value Proposition

Talking about the ‘war for talent’ might sound like a well-worn cliché but the reality today is that there are new roles emerging all the time and skills gaps opening up like never before. Chances are your organisation needs to attract new people, and/or retain and develop existing staff in order to be fit for the future. And with our research showing that the opportunity to learn new skills is the #1 reason why people join an organisation –learning in 2020 (and beyond) will be a key differentiator in your Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and your path towards becoming an employer of choice that can recruit and retain the best people. Additional Fosway research shows that access to digital resources is now the leading way to power learning and development, so building out a digitally-led learning strategy and ecosystem will go hand in hand with strengthening your L&D offering this year. 

  • Real learning experience is bigger than most digital learning systems

When we talk about learning experiences at Fosway, we are referring to far more than just the user experience (UX) elements of learning platforms and digital content. Don’t get me wrong, this has been lacking in the past and is an area we have seen receiving huge investment from suppliers and an equally huge focus on from buyers. However, it doesn’t end there. Our PLASMA learning model encompasses the full learning cycle and we are starting to see the notion of experience design being harnessed in a much broader way. 

Digital learning has its limits, but by creating programmes that include coaching and mentoring, on-the-job training, space for reflection, measurement and assessment, you can build out a much richer and more rounded experience for your learners. Forget the forgetting curve or worrying about learner engagement – when learning becomes an ongoing experience that fits into the flow of work – these challenges disappear into the horizon of the last decade. 

  • Manage innovation.  Don’t simply chase shiny new tools

Striking a balance between innovating and harnessing new tools and technology versus simply jumping on yet another bandwagon isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s something our analysts spend a lot of time doing, working with organisations to figure out what they really need and what’s just window dressing. But our research gives us some unshakeable insights. Video in learning is rapidly becoming the media of choice. Whether it’s for performance support, learning nuggets or user-generated content, video is set to grow even further during 2020, with almost three quarters (74%) of organisations increasing their use of it in digital learning last year. Its proliferation across the social networks we use in our personal lives and improved 4G and 5G access mean people’s expectations around video quality and usage will also continue to rise. 

Whilst the adoption of bite-sized learning has been a trend for over 15 years (scarily true) its latest incarnation under the label ‘microlearning’ will continue to feature in the year ahead – especially when combined with video. But beware the trap of relying on what is essentially just another form of e-learning content as your great white hope. Learning is a process and a journey. Short snippets of learning in this form can be hugely helpful to performance support for example, but on its own it can only ever be just a part of the answer. (And as for the so called nano-learning, that really is just hype!)

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are worthy of a mention here. We are seeing both technologies delivering some compelling niche solutions, but they are still unlikely to go mainstream this year. Some use cases for hands-on and situational skills training, especially in high risk environments are impressive but the barriers surrounding cost and hardware/access in particular remain significant. Still ones to watch for most of us.

  • And a final word on AI – move from thinking about it as Artificial Intelligence to ‘Assisted Intelligence’

We wrapped up last year’s predictions by talking about AI. It still remains pretty impossible to avoid it as a topic especially as the hype remains high. From personalisation to analytics to the ways in which machine learning is driving recommendations and learning pathways, the opportunities offered to L&D by AI are significant. Chatbots, automated services and voice-activated assistants will emerge as a reality in corporate learning although at present are only being harnessed in small pockets of companies or via more experimental pilots. But now is the time to research, understand, discuss and explore implications as part of your IT Teams overall strategy – as this is a trend that is here to stay and grow as we look out to 2025.

  • Finally, focus on Real Business Outcomes and Measurable Business Results

This list is by no means exhaustive, but our top piece of advice would be not to get too side-tracked by any shiny new tech. Focus first on how you can positively impact your people’s and organisation’s performance. Concentrate on adding tangible value and remember, digital tools are just a means to doing that better, faster, stronger, this year and beyond…

You can follow @fosway for more on digital learning in 2020 and beyond. You can also take part in the 2020 Digital Learning Realities research here

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