JD’s Workplace Learning Hype Cycle

Trending the Progress of Major L&D Concepts

Emerging technologies plotted against a development curve
Gartner’s Latest Hype Cycle

Gartner introduced the hype cycle to track the common path of new technologies – from creation and promise to disillusionment and meaningful application. Not every innovation follows this exact path, and technologies may move through the cycle at radically different speeds. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty nifty way to visualize society’s overall ability to make sense of new tools over time.

As part of my Get Past the Hype webinar in December, I put together my own hype cycle for workplace learning topics. I wanted to visualize the disparity between thought leadership and frontline reality. Conference sessions and blog posts often make it look like the industry is progressing A LOT faster than it really is. This is because thought leaders typically don’t have to deal with the hectic, stifling, day-to-day realities of modern business.

Using the Gartner model as a base, I plotted the progress of the most-discussed L&D concepts of the past few years. Here’s what I came up with.

Workplace learning concepts plotted against a progress curve

There’s no science to my plotting. No formal interviews or research were conducted (this time). It’s just a combination of gut feeling, years of experience and hundreds of conversations with industry experts, business stakeholders and frontline practitioners over the past 18 months.

What do you think?


We’re finally figuring this one out. After a decade of slapping badges on stuff, we’re now making the effort to connect employee motivation with right-fit game mechanics. There are still plenty of people out there who want gamification because it “looks fun” and “millennials like it,” but the majority of conversations are more informed and strategic as compared to five years ago. Thanks, Karl Kapp!


Video is now too easy to avoid. Six years ago, I needed a prosumer camera, Adobe editing software and extra servers to even attempt to use video. Now, every employee is carrying a high-quality recording device. It’s table stakes for any technology platform. The barrier to entry is all but gone. Even more important, rapid consumer technology evolution has given us the opportunity to test and adjust. YouTube has proven that substance wins over form, and internal stakeholders and users are now ceding that point.


This was never in L&D’s control. The workplace had to evolve to make mobile access a reality. We couldn’t provide support when and where it was needed until the organization made the technology available and capable – or let people use their own. Thanks to disruptions in areas like retail and manufacturing, mobile devices are almost a fixture in the workplace. Solid wifi is an expectation in public spaces. Internationally, BYOD is a well-established. In North America, CIOs are actively looking to evolve HR guidelines to maximize available, familiar tech (and save money at the same time). L&D can piggyback on this evolution and leverage contextual technology to provide real-time support.


Right now, the data conversation is dominated by the xAPI. Until recently, it was mostly a builder conversation. Once you escape the limitations of SCORM, you can design data collection into online content in a pile of new ways. However, last year, I started to find bigger leaps in the use of data to improve user experiences in real-time. Examples included using real-world behavior data to shift the way employees were supported in order to drive improved outcomes and prove results. Now THAT is the data story we’ve all been waiting for!


We’ve still got a way to go with this one. Folks like Mark Britz continue to champion the true nature of social learning – meaningful sharing and discussion to reveal the knowledge between us. The industry is still overly concerned with social tech contrivances, including the option to like or rate instructional content. Social is hard because it’s not an L&D concept. It’s a cultural issue embedded deep within an organization. Until people are valued for their insight and experience in meaningful ways, we’ll be stuck with empty social platforms.

Brain Science

The science of learning is slow moving not because we fail to recognize its value. To the contrary, most people “get it.” The problem is that applying evidence-based principles requires a complete rethinking of L&D strategy. When you can’t rely on one-and-done, firehose content, you have to shift the organization’s mindset regarding what learning in the workplace really means. Everyone went to school. Everyone remembers going to a place at a specific time to learn. It’s going to take a while to shift that mentality and embed the science of learning as the foundation of our approach.


This is the current HYPE MONSTER on the graph. Microlearning is everywhere. Everyone wants it! No one really knows why! I expect this concept to fall quickly into the through of disillusionment as the year moves on. Like gamification, we need the noise to fade before the majority of organizations recognize the real value in designing learning that fits.

Self-Directed Learning

Microlearning is #1. Self-directed is #2 on the hype chart as denoted by the rise of the learning experience platform. L&D pros are proclaiming the need to put the employee in charge of their own development, and I’m all for it. However, as I mentioned with brain science, we can’t just declare a shift in support strategy and expect people to follow. The majority of employees are time-starved and resource-hungry. Companies are constantly shifting strategies and preaching agility to stave off disruption. Therefore, providing right-fit support requires a meaningful balance of push and pull opportunities. It’s going to take a while for the “give them control” chants to slow down and recognize the need for parity between business priorities and individual development.

Adaptive Learning

This one is rapidly rising in awareness and expectations on the back of data, self-directed and microlearning. After all, a personalized experience is an established expectation in the consumer world. I firmly expect adaptive learning to come to the forefront in the next 12 to 18 months. It will still take a little while to get it into play in the average workplace. As the related stories shift into productive application, adaptive learning will become our opportunity to address individual needs at enterprise scale. Of everything on my graph, this is the topic about which I’m most excited!

Virtual Reality

There are already several quality examples of VR application in workplace learning (Walmart). There are equally as many nightmares (KFC). Safety critical environments are a great fit for VR and are already blazing a path. However, the average organization, which is still trying to figure out the use of mobile devices, is still a ways off from integrating VR into their tech stack. Wide-spread consumer adoption and familiarity is a must for VR to make it through the cycle.

Augmented Reality

I expect AR to lap VR in the near future, as the potential applications are much greater in number. Consumer tech orgs like Apple and Disney seem to be of similar mindset and focused on layering information onto the real world rather than taking people away from it. Similar to VR, consumer adoption, device availability and content costs will dictate the pace for this trend.

Augmented Intelligence

We’re several years away from a meaningful, wide-scale application of Alexa (for example) in the workplace.

How does my hype cycle compare with your L&D reality? What would you change? What should I add in my next iteration?

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