eLearning and Development Trends for 2018

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What does 2018 have in store for the eLearning sector? Are we looking at exciting new developments, or more of the same? Read on to review six of 2018’s eLearning trends and explore what they have to offer.

eLearning and Development Trends for 2018

Last year, we wrote about six of the top eLearning trends in 2017. What’s still “in” this year, and what’s new to the list? I’ve read through a number of articles for 2018 to find six of the top trends for this year. ”

Three items from last year’s list are still in vogue:

1. Gamification and game-based learning
2. Virtual reality and augmented reality
3. Microlearning

And three new items are common on this year’s lists:

4. Virtual assistants
5. Personalized or adaptive learning
6. Social learning

1. Gamification and Game-Based Learning

Gamification and game-based learning have been trending for a few years now. These related terms are often used interchangeably, but for the purist there is a difference:

  • Gamification means applying game mechanics or features such as points, leaderboards and badges to non-game activities. In eLearning, it often involves awarding points for completing traditional learning activities.
  • Game-based learning, often called serious games, is when learners learn by playing an actual game.

Gamification is increasingly popular across the board. In addition to eLearning, it has appeared in fields including:

Workplace performance gamification offers exciting possibilities for corporate learning. Ensuring the application of newly-learned skills and knowledge has long been a challenge for the learning industry. Now it’s possible not only to gamify your LMS, but to extend the game to the workplace, encouraging and motivating learners as they develop new abilities and engage in them on the job.

Game-based learning provides different opportunities. Scenario games allow learners to practice complex and high-risk skills like decision making in a risk-free environment.

One reason serious games have remained in the public eye for so long is that what they can offer is constantly evolving as the technology supporting them progresses.

2. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)

Virtual and augmented reality are significant drivers for scenario learning and serious games, and they’re developing quickly.

In virtual reality (VR), the learner is immersed in a simulated, 3-dimensional environment, while augmented reality (AR) involves adding a digital element to the learner’s actual environment. Flight simulators are the classic example of VR; pilots leave the “real world”, entering a chamber where they see and feel a simulated flight. The full experience offered by a flight simulator is extremely expensive, so modern VR is often delivered through headsets, like Oculus Rift, that block out a user’s surroundings.

With augmented reality (AR), the learner remains in the real world, but a digital layer is added. Pokemon GO, for example, overlays an image of digital characters on the player’s environment on the player’s screen. The anticipated Google Glass is a more complex interface. Users wear a special headset with several features:

  • See-through glasses that allow them to see and interact with their environment
  • A projector that displays information or images onto the glasses
  • Speakers to present audio

Suresh Kumar DN at eLearning Industry sees different uses for VR and AR. VR offers the chance to remove the risk from the practice of hazardous tasks and complicated procedures, while AR is likely to play a key role in just-in-time learning. Learners will soon be able to look up information on a task or product instantly, without pulling out their phones and sorting through irrelevant search results.

3. Microlearning

Microlearning is another topic that’s enjoyed longstanding popularity in the eLearning world. It’s certainly a common enough term that an attempt to trademark it last year was largely unsuccessful.

Microlearning means breaking learning content into small nuggets or sections focused on a single concept. There’s no absolute standard for how small the bits should be. I’ve seen recommendations of less than 5 minutes, less than 10 minutes and 5 – 15 minutes.

Microlearning is much easier to implement than gamification, serious gaming, VR and AR, and it’s less dependent on technological advances. Its current popularity has more to do with decreasing attention spans and research into how people learn best.

There are several advantages to microlearning:

  • Just-in-time: Learners can access the material when they need it and apply it immediately.
  • Retention: When learning is applied immediately, retention rates improve.
  • Less disruption: It’s easier and less disruptive to find 5 or 10 minutes of downtime than to set aside 2 or more hours to work through a longer module without interruption. Learners can use spare moments to master the single concept in a microlearning element.
  • Shorter development cycle/ easy to update: Microlearning can be implemented and updated faster than traditional learning, making it easier to keep up-to-date.

With the popularity of microlearning, it’s important to remember that it’s not the answer to everything. It doesn’t tend to work well for complicated concepts. Additionally, breaking existing courses into smaller sections is often a recipe for failure as the results lack the concept-focused structure of successful microlearning.

If you’d like to learn more about how to make microlearning work for you, take a moment to read Microlearning: The Dos and Don’ts of Successful Implementation.

4. Virtual Assistants

We’ve come a long way since Microsoft Office’s Clippy debuted in 1997. That pestiferous paperclip was so annoying it made Time’s list of The 50 Worst Inventions.

Two decades later, Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant are ubiquitous. The eLearning community has decided it’s time for another look at what virtual assistants might have to offer.

I think we’re going to decide they have a lot to offer. They have the potential to become the ideal technology for just-in-time learning. Have a problem? The virtual assistant will tell you what you need to know.

The question now is when we’re going to see that potential fulfilled. Artificial intelligence may be developing rapidly, but with such a complex field even rapid development will take some years to produce the results we want.

5. Personalized or Adaptive Learning

Personalized learning has been a feature of well-designed eLearning for some time now, but its importance means that it will always remain an issue. Much of the focus so far has been on providing materials that a specific learner needs to know about.

Any good LMS will let you assign specific learning paths to groups and even to individuals. It’s relatively simple to identify the material a given learner or job position needs to know. It’s a lot harder to customize the learning path according to what they already know.

It’s often said (and I’ve been one of the people who said it) that one advantage of eLearning is that learners can work through material at their own rate. Slower learners can take their time, and faster learners and those who are already familiar with the material can take less time. But why should the ones who already know the material have to review it at all? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to let them start with what they don’t yet know?

Adaptive learning means responding to an individual’s unique requirements, including what they already know. In its simplest form, learners take a pre-test and are then presented with material relating to the areas they need to learn more about.

Adaptive learning is not (in most usages) the same as “challenging” or “testing out” of a course. When challenging a course or accreditation, a learner takes the final exam. If they pass, they skip the course. If they fail, they take the same course as everyone else.

With truly adaptive or personalized learning, the learner is only presented with those portions of the course material they performed poorly on. They are not required to review elements they have already mastered.

Adaptive learning can take effort to implement, but it has substantial benefits in terms of efficiency and learner engagement.

6. Social Learning

Social learning has come up on a number of “2018 eLearning Trends” posts lately, but I wondered if I should include something that wasn’t strictly eLearning on this list. I (obviously) decided I would. Social learning can not only be facilitated by technology, but, more importantly, it’s something that eLearning developers should consider when designing learning.

Social learning is learning gained from interacting with, observing, and imitating other people. In a corporate environment, it includes:

  • Conversations with colleagues
  • Coaching
  • Mentoring
  • Access to experts
  • Formal and informal debriefs and assessments

Developers’ ability to include a social learning element in eLearning will depend somewhat on organizational culture. On the other hand, humans are social creatures. Some degree of social learning will occur whatever the organization or the learning developer thinks of it. Since it’s going to happen anyway, why not guide social learning rather than leaving it all to chance?

LMSs increasingly include forums and other mechanisms for online interaction in an effort to encourage and enhance social learning. Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and other social media sites can also be leveraged, along with actual, in-person meetings and informal gatherings.

Conclusion

This article reviewed six of the top eLearning trends for 2018. It will be some time before we find out which trends have long-term implications and which are more ephemeral, but it’s worth considering what they might offer. Which trends have the most potential for your field?

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Jill W.

Jill is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems with more than 10 years of experience researching, writing and designing effective learning materials. She is fascinated by the English language and enjoys the challenge of adapting her work for different audiences. After work, Jill continues to leverage her professional experience as she works toward the development of a training program for her cats. So far, success has not been apparent.

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