10 Trends Disrupting Digital Learning: Bersin’s Review and our Take

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Digital Learning has changed. 10 years ago the default model was buy an LMS and load courses into it. But that’s not enough any more, if it ever was. In a recent review, veteran analyst Josh Bersin called out the trends that are disrupting the digital learning landscape. We share our take on them here, and what they means for Learning Professionals.

Change has come quickly

If you’re a buyer or vendor in corporate learning, change probably feels quite low. But as Josh points out, things have changed very quickly. We’ve moved from a fixed view of courses and platforms to a model of continuous digital learning, where people access whatever content they want, on any device, at any time:

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Here are the 10 Trends driving continued change in corporate and digital learning:

1. The LMS is no Longer the Centre of the Universe

At one time, the LMS was at the core of the Learning Infrastructure. But for many organisations, it became no more than a repository for course catalogs, failing to take all other forms of learning into account.  Donald Clark referred to it as a dungeon – nobody went there by choice. Customer feedback on the LMS is low. This chimes with Fosway’s recent findings that over 60% of customers feel their LMS provider fails to provide good service, and only 25% think their LMS shows innovation. The primacy of this platform is falling away, with organisations including IBM and Visa turning theirs off.

Our take: The LMS is not dead. It’s still a $4bn sector. But the market has evolved. Andy Wooler has talked about “The invisible LMS”, where API’s bring in content from multiple sources to provide a better experience, experience and the LMS just manages tracking and administration in the background. The future of the LMS is to be more open to evolve, embrace learning beyond courses, and focus on experience not administration.

2. All experience Counts: xAPI to Track it

Everything we do is part of learning. The Experience API (xAPI) is designed to track that, whether it’s watching a video on YouTube or working on a project. Bersin sees the xAPI standard as a key tool in helping users and employers make sense of a continuous stream of learning and activity.

Our take: xAPI is the permanent vapor trail for continuous learning. It’ll become increasingly important to employers and individuals to track how we continuously learn. Google and others hire for learnability – how adaptive and curious we are. xAPI will become a core indicator of this over time, and platforms need to evolve to include it.

3. Learning goes Micro and Macro

Bersin draws a distinction between Micro and Macro Learning. Microlearning is  short form, sub 10 minute content such as articles, videos, and podcasts. It’s vital in keeping us smart every day and supporting tasks on-demand. Macro learning is  for the long form, usually course-driven element. Early in a career or new role, we need macro learning to help build our knowledge and set context. But we need bursts of micro learning throughout our professional lives to help us stay on top of trends and developments.

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Our takeMicrolearning has always been here, we’re just calling it out specifically as a category now. It’s what helps us to stay relevant. New content is published every day, 3 million blog posts are published every day. We’re surrounded by microlearning. The challenge is finding what’s relevant to us as professional individuals and teams.

4. We need Continuous Learning

Building on the previous point, microlearning is our daily workout to help us stay on top of daily insights. We need fresh insights daily. But as Bersin points out, the challenge is finding good content, and finding the time to consume it. The average worker spends 19% of their week looking for information, and only 24 minutes a week learning:

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The result is an overwhelmed worker with less than 1% of their time for learning:

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Our take: 24 minutes a week on learning may sound low. But if you spend 5 minutes a day reading a useful article, and sharing it with your team, that would be about 260 a year. That’s a pretty healthy continuous learning habit. The key is to reduce the amount of time it takes to sift through the noise and find useful relevant content. If we’re spending 2 hours a day looking for information, we’re wasting time that could be spent continuously learning. That’s about better filtering. As Clay Shirky put it: It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure.

5. Spacing it Out

We forget things. The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve is one of the most regularly shared graphics in learning. In case you’ve forgotten:

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Rather than bingeing and cramming (which didn’t work in school and still doesn’t), we learn more effectively if we continuously revisit, apply and reinforce content in micro doses. New platforms that are focused on spaced repetition and reinforcement are taking hold in corporate learning.

Our take: Spaced learning is closely connected to continuous learning. But more important than reinforcement is relevance – serve the article or resource that’s relevant to me and what I’m trying to achieve right now. It’s less about remembering it, and more about applying knowledge to get a job done. Good recommender engines that serve relevant content on demand like a Netflix or Amazon will be part of what embeds this idea deeper into the workflow.

6. The New Learning Architecture is Emerging, with New Players

As William Gibson said, the future’s already here, it’s just not evenly distributed. The future of learning is in a new, distributed architecture. No one platform, social network or content library will own it all. Rather a new breed of players has emerged. They provide open infrastructure which plug in content and apps from a variety of sources, giving the client more control over the experience, plugins and content available. Fuse, Netex and Red Panda are examples of these. Each uses a range of APIs to bring in multiple sources of content and allow a more configurable experience for the user and the team. They still do the needful LMS admin tasks, but that’s not what they lead with.

Our take: Along with micro-learning, within these new platforms we will see more micro-transactions for learning. As Bersin says, we expect a model where we “pay by the drink” rather than buying the whole firehose of a content library from a specific vendor.  Like Spotify, I don’t want to be forced to select the the artists and albums I want to listen to for the next 12 months. I pick what I want, when I want it. Winning vendors will be the ones that break through the outdated model of selling whole catalogs and give more fine-grained access on demand, with curated collections and recommendations if you want them.

7. Coaching and Training Hasn’t Gone away: Culture Still Matters Most

Lest we get swept away by the shock of the new, Bersin points out that traditional models of coaching and support are still vital. What’s changed are the channels. We can scale coaching better through Slack, IM and other channels. We can provide new training support fuelled by a programme of micro-learning.

Our take: New technologies alone don’t change training and learning. At the core of doing this right is understanding the culture in your business, piloting and experimenting with different models. Performance Reviews are falling away, many businesses have dropped them. But we still need to coach, support and provide continuous feedback. The challenge now is to reinvent.

8. Rent, Don’t Buy: A new Consumption Model for Learning

Building on the new learning architecture, Bersin argues that owning large systems and libraries makes less sense in an open, distributed model. We should pay for what we need. The vendors who shift to this model will disrupt the traditional annual licence approach for content and platforms.

Our take: This is already happening. The SaaS market for software is well established outside of learning and many vendors have already switched to this approach for platforms and content. As Bersin says, this can create a threat to vendors who aim to take a larger share of client training budgets, he warns against lock-in and committing too much spend to a specific vendor. You can fight against that, or play nicely with others by making integration easier through APIs and open architecture. The vendors that don’t may not be around to play in a few years, he says.

9. Slack, Google, LinkedIn and Facebook will Disrupt Corporate Learning

These platforms are already in your stack. But you may not see them as learning platforms. That’s changing. Dropping a relevant article into a slack channel for your team is continuous learning. Getting a Lynda course recommendation via LinkedIn (and as you use other Microsoft products) is learning in the workflow. Facebook Workplace aims to be a Slack alternative, as does Microsoft Teams and the revamped Google Hangouts. These are the places your work teams hang out. Where people share and discuss is where learning will happen.

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Our take: If you can’t beat these giants, join them. They all have APIs. Plug your content into their channels, create bots that serve relevant content based on the conversation and interests of these teams. Go to where your audience already hangs out, that’s the best way to support continuous learning in the workflow.

10. L&D Needs a Skills Disruption 

Disruption in digital learning means developing new skills in L&D. Being an instructional designer or trainer isn’t enough any more. As Nick Shackleton Jones has said, it’s about delivering engagement and improving performance with better experiences. We can draw from a much wider palette of tools and resources as part of the new learning architecture.

Our take: You’ve heard this before, but L&D has to lead by example with continuous and micro-learning. We need to curate for ourselves and stay on top of the changes in our own sector. It makes it a lot easier to sell the benefits to the organisation if you’re a believer yourself.

Thanks to Josh Bersin for keeping us all alert to the disruption on our doorstep in learning. Interesting times to operate in.

You can read more about the role of continuous learning, and how to make it happen in our free eBook.