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The antidote to digital learning trends, or not?

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…

This time of year usually sees a flurry of predictions about what will be big in digital learning in the coming 12 months.  Let’s hypothesize … it might be some new technology or content type, or maybe it’s a new learning methodology that is going to transform the future of learning!

But one of the benefits of analysing this industry for over 20 years is that I’ve seen enough of these trends come and go (and often come back again…), that I’ve become rather sceptical of the point of these big predictions. Yes, they drive a few headlines or social ‘likes’, do they really help L&D move forward? Probably not.

So instead, I’m going to share with you what our research data is actually telling us about the year ahead.

1. Investment in digital learning continues to increase

All the research data we gathered around investment in digital learning this year shows that companies are going to spend more on it and in almost all areas.  Interestingly, investment is increasing especially on digital learning platforms and digital content, but also on specialist services and the internal team.  Most recent numbers show that over 50% of organisations are increasing investment overall, and unlike some areas of HR such as recruitment, payroll or core HR technology, digital learning is the one area where almost nobody is expecting to reduce their investment!

2. Next-gen features that support continuous, personalised and agile learning are now critical

The trends of recent years – making learning more social, more mobile and more engaging – are now converging.  We’ve gone past the point where it’s enough to consider these in isolation.  Instead, organisations are looking to create true ‘learning experiences’ rather than one-off interventions or pieces of content.  And they need to be able to do this faster than ever before to keep pace with the demands of their business.  Increasing business agility is now the #2 business driver for 86% of HR professionals.  So, moving faster is now a must.  L&D has to be much more agile in its approach and in its delivery.

3. Learning ecosystems continue to diversify

With the rise of different content types including microlearning, curated content, user-generated content and the unstoppable increase in video, the platforms that support them have had to evolve too.  LMSs are having to rapidly evolve to deal with all kinds of digital learning, and new platforms are emerging all the time.  Whilst many larger companies are now investing in next-gen platforms in addition to the core learning management solutions, for many this is too complex.  Integrating multiple different systems and creating a coherent user experience continues to be a challenge, and expensive.  As fast as organisations consolidate their learning technology ecosystems, new solutions are appearing even faster.  Meeting this challenge is only going to become more critical and more complex throughout 2019.

4. L&D needs to get really comfortable with analytics and data…

Better analytics drive more powerful insights and senior executives now expect all functions to embrace that.  Currently, analytics provide executives or board level staff with the lowest levels of satisfaction of any HR or learning technology at just 49% being satisfied with what they get.  For L&D this has been a major challenge, with most organisations still only grappling with learning activity data and happy sheets.  That’s no longer acceptable.  L&D has to grasp the nettle and go big on analytics, both to understand and accelerate change in what is really impacting the business as well as what’s not working and should be stopped.  The predicted investment in analytics overall is huge at 68%, making it the #1 area for increased HR investment in the year ahead.

5. …especially as the pressure to demonstrate business impact increases

Ultimately, what better analytics does is show what really matters and what doesn’t.  With only 18% of L&D effort currently focused on developing performance, it is clear that learning needs to be more closely aligned with organisational goals, or risk being sidelined as a function.  The opportunity to play a key role in shaping the future of an organisation – especially at a time of such huge external change – is enormous.  But L&D has to be a driver of that change, not a follower.  This is probably the biggest shift of all that needs to happen in the year ahead.

6. And a word on AI (Artificial Intelligence)

One final comment.  I couldn’t resist the need to mention AI.  It seems impossible now to avoid talking about AI – just go to any learning or HR conference and hear how it is going to change everything.  As someone who scarily started their career working in AI over 30 years ago (yes true), it is easy to be sceptical about all the vendor AI stories as well as the hyperbolae or doom-mongering from on the main stage at conferences.  But the truth is, AI is going to be a massive game changer, but not quite yet!  95% of HR professionals expect AI to have an impact on their strategy, and 45% believe it will be truly significant in less than two years.  Make no mistake – its effects will be significant and long-lasting.  Chatbots, automated services and voice-activated assistants will be here to stay.  But it’s not the story of 2019.  Despite the fact almost all technology providers have an AI story around their solutions, the majority are still in their infancy.  Check back this time next year and I have no doubt that the predictions on AI will be more assertive for 2020!

So there you go, some not really predictions but clear realities with specific research back up.  Interpret them as you will, I look forward to further discussions with the ghost of learning future …

You can follow David via @dwil23 and fosway on @fosway for more on digital learning in 2019 and beyond.

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