For many years, it’s been a popular pastime at the turn of the year to peer, short-sightedly, into the foggy far- and misty middle-distance to identify key trends.
There’s no reason to abandon this hugely entertaining and sometimes challenging activity at this particular turn-of-the-year – even if some geopolitical events are currently exerting seemingly extreme influences over the state of nations. These, in turn, are having profound effects, both actually and potentially, on many industries and, consequently, livelihoods.
Here are ten predictions of the influences on, and trends for, the e-learning sector over the next 12 months. They are based not only on personal observations and deductions but also on views expressed by a straw poll of industry specialists and practitioners.
- The key ‘elephant in the room’ issue, from a UK- and EU-perspective, is Brexit. Whatever the consequences of ‘Brexit’, there will be learning and development implications for all organisations – from anywhere in the world - with operations in the UK and the EU. These could be positive (as new procedures and regulations produce new learning needs) or negative (perhaps as firms move their operations from the UK to the EU and so don’t require learning content relating to practices in the UK). In the short term, Brexit can only produce disruption to the online learning market – in terms of demand for online learning materials.
- There will be lots of investment money looking for a home in the online learning sector around the world. Investment in the corporate online learning sector appears to be ‘hot’ while the K12 market seems to be ‘very chilly’ in investors’ eyes for 2019.
- Adaptive learning will mature. This is a necessary pre-cursor to the move to the widespread use of artificial intelligence (AI) in learning. Adaptive learning case studies and user cases will be important as part of this process and will be the midwife of the iLMS. An iLMS is an integrated, highly configurable, next generation learning management system (LMS) that enables administrators to deliver and manage eLearning, classroom training, social learning, blended learning, gamified learning and competency-based learning. One aspect of this continued development of adaptive learning will be the increased use of chatbots in online learning materials – offering a degree of sophisticated, personalised learning interaction for users.
- Where AI is concerned, watch for smart vendors of online learning materials and systems integrating with the technology giants. For example, Valamis Group – formerly Arcusys - (an enterprise software company headquartered in Joensuu, Finland, which has developed software used in the corporate and academic sectors for online learning) is partnering with IBM Watson to make learning more ‘personalised’.
- Those catering for the learner experience (LxP or LEP) market will continue to make lots of noise. Consequently, LMS vendors will devote considerable resources to amending their platforms to be on-trend – and emerge with what some are calling ‘Next Generation LMSs’. The LxP rationale is that learners are asked to be agile workers, to multitask and accelerate their time to performance. They use digital tools; have access to many resources anytime, anywhere - via any device - and can be overloaded with information. Learners expect immediate answers to their questions, and look for on-demand, individualised, on-the-job learning experiences. So, learning suppliers can no longer offer dry, emotionless content and complex learning pathways. Instead, they must guarantee learners’ engagement; ensure that what is learned is relevant, meaningful, and valuable, and that the whole learning journey is streamlined, easy, and brings positive emotions from start to finish.
- Many LMSs will integrate with other parts of the corporate technology stack, especially in the new and fast-emerging financial technology (Fintech) market – which is seeing the rapid rise of many new technologies as well as new companies.
- The trend towards greater consolidation in the online learning sector, begun over the last few years, will continue. Both the authoring tools and generic content markets are in a state of over-supply as ever-greater amounts of content are either curated from the internet or built quickly into an LMS without any concern about standards and interoperability. There could even be the beginnings of a return to the early days of LMSs (when each LMS came with its own authoring tool), with LMS vendors buying authoring tool vendors to ensure interoperability within their platform.
- The long-running xAPI saga will continue. However, xAPI’s originator, Rustici, appears to be changing its focus – with the launch of Content Controller (a web-based application that supports SCORM, cmi5, AICC and LTI as well as xAPI). Content Controller lets users host their content centrally and then, seamlessly, deliver it to hundreds of LMSs. Others have similar products to allow SCORM, LTI and xAPI to be put into other LMSs while control is maintained. This should help e-learning content vendors to grow strongly - and weaken some in the LMS market that have a ‘walled gardens’ model.
- A number of new platforms focused on augmented reality (AR) and/or adaptive learning will emerge. To counter this, established platform vendors will add AR modules to their products and engage in more disruptive pricing models and business models. Since single-focus platforms built around video (such as K-Tango and Noodle) soon failed, what are now the key differentiators in this market?
- Despite these market changes, little of the ‘fabric’ of the corporate online learning industry will change. Compliance and regulatory online learning materials will continue to comprise some 80 per cent of all online learning activities – and, thus, will continue to be the major justification for the industry’s existence. Furthermore, senior executives will continue to ignore or downplay the valuable role played by ‘learning’ in their organisations’ performance, and line managers will continue to see their teams’ learning activities as a short-term counter-productive cost to their operations, which hinder them from meeting their targets.
With all this in mind, it’s time to wish a ‘Happy and Prosperous 2019’ to all learning and development professionals – and to all learners – whoever and wherever they are!