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.
In 2017, we put together our own hype cycle for workplace learning topics. We wanted to visualize the disparity between "thought leadership" and frontline reality when it comes to the latest industry trends. Conference sessions and blog posts often make it seem like the industry is progressing A LOT faster than it really is. Most influencers don’t have to deal with the hectic, stifling, day-to-day realities of the corporate world. Furthermore, L&D topics are often discussed in isolation rather than together as part of the overall evolution in the profession.
Using the Gartner model as a base, we continue to plot the progress of the most-discussed L&D concepts. Here’s the current (January 2020) version of the LearnGeek Hype Cycle for Emerging Workplace Learning Concepts.
Each of the 20 most-discussed topics in workplace learning is placed within one of five states along the curve.
- Early Exploration: it's still very early and the conversation is just getting started, perhaps based on inspiration from consumer applications, but without any practical detail or impact evidence within L&D
- Buzz + Hype: the concept seems to be everywhere, lots of hype from vendors, influencers and analysts, but limited definition or practical application
- Hard Reality: the party is winding down, people are starting to figure out what's real and what was just hype
- Now We Get It: the buzz is gone, all that remains are practical principles and proven ideas
- Real Impact: we know how to use it, the concept works, and we can prove it
Topics progress along the curve at varying rates and may regress to previous states depending on how practical application evolves.
There’s no formal research behind our hype cycle. We did not conduct formal interviews or distribute surveys. Rather, this is a combination of field experience, professional conversation, continued literature review and pure gut feeling. Our goal is not to be 100% accurate. Things will change. New trends will rise. We will miss the mark. We hope to provide a useful perspective on the evolution of the L&D profession and start a meaningful conversation about the best ways we can improve our work.
It's almost time to take this one off the hype cycle entirely. However, L&D continues to struggle a bit with the range of potential ways video can be applied (static, interactive, user-generated, etc.). That said, video is now an expected part of the modern L&D toolkit, challenging traditional eLearning as the default tactic for digital content development.
The gamification conversation has officially transformed. We rarely hear misguided requests for points and leaderboards without a more in-depth discussion around user motivation and recognition. Gamification is still most-often applied in limited, programmatic, content-specific ways, but organizations are seeing real results from effective implementation. Plus, the potential for bigger, foundational applications of right-fit motivational mechanics is within reach.
No one argues over the value of performance support anymore. Every organization may not be prioritizing it high enough or implementing related tactics as effectively as possible. But the profession clearly sees performance support as a concept that can help L&D keep pace with changing business needs while providing support within the employee workflow.
Now We Get It
Almost there! The buzz has died down. Curation is no longer an over-promised solution to every training problem. Instead, L&D is now having practical discussions on how to leverage a blend of human and machine-enabled curation to help people find the right information when and where they need it.
Very few organizations are trying to put traditional online courses on mobile devices nowadays. So that's good! There are still plenty of obstacles, including BYOD policies, legacy systems and IT support. However, outside of North America, mobile devices are now a crucial part of the working/learning experience.
eLearning (aka online courses) is not the solution to every problem. In fact, they are rarely the solution to any performance-related problem. The digital learning narrative has expanded to include a larger range of tools and content modalities. eLearning persists, but it's no longer the default approach.
L&D is starting to recognize what's real and what's myth when it comes to learning science. Important topics such as reinforcement, practice and reflection are more widely-discussed than any time in recent memory. The gap is now the HOWs. How can L&D adjust their strategies and processes to better integrate the unavoidable realities of learning science?
This one is ALMOST over. Books have been published. Hundreds of articles, conference sessions and webinars have been shared. L&D has spent 3+ years trying to navigate the hype around this poorly-defined concept. We're almost to the point where we can focus on meaningful principles and escape the term itself.
The social conversation has shifted noticeably away from technology and towards ideas like collaboration, knowledge sharing and cohort development. The success of workplace social tools like Slack and Teams has helped L&D think more holistically about how to support sharing through a range of tactics, not just learning platforms. But there's still a gap between L&D strategy and how people share/communicate/collaborate in the modern workplace.
L&D is bottoming out when it comes to measurement. This is based on two factors: continued over-reliance on historically ineffective models and the realization that improved measurement is needed to justify our value and move the profession forward. There's some good conversation about data happening related to AI. Unfortunately, most of L&D still perceives measurement as a resource-heavy, program-specific effort, not something that needs to be done all the time just like other business analysis processes.
This topic is directly influenced by several other concepts on the curve, specifically workflow and LXP. L&D is starting to recognize that more content does not equal more learning. Therefore, the self-directed pendulum is beginning it's slow swing back towards an improved balance of push and pull offerings, especially for audiences that have clear goals but no time/motivation to search through catalogs for development activities.
Learning in the flow of work. Workflow learning. Whatever you want to call it. This was poised to become the biggest buzzword in the industry, but it is now a consistent footnote alongside other more heavily-hyped topics. Once again, L&D has not consistently defined a concept, so vendors and "thought leaders" are co-opting it to mean whatever they need it to mean. It's an important concept, but L&D has to align its strategy with the everyday realities of their audience to really make it work.
Buzz + Hype
Speaking of terms that are inconsistently defined, personalization has come to mean anything from algorithmic adaptation to user choice. We use it as an umbrella term to refer to a range of tactics that can be used to provide right-fit support. L&D is quickly realizing that personalization requires fundamental changes in mindset, strategy and measurement capability before new tools and content can be successfully implemented.
This is less a trendy topic and more of an actively-acknowledged reality. L&D is recognizing that one platform - LMS, LXP, etc. - cannot provide everything people need to develop their knowledge and skills in a way that aligns with their working reality. We're seeing the term used more and more to refer to a holistic vision for workplace learning and support in addition to a comprehensive technology stack, especially within large enterprises.
This one is moving quickly as new platforms are introduced and legacy systems evolve to support a modern vision for technology-enabled learning. The problem: that vision is being reduced to loose content aggregation, streaming service-inspired UI and poor user engagement (10% - 20%). LXPs are commonly used to replace poorly-designed LMSs as a "front door for learning." The big question: do people actually need that door?
This is already the biggest buzzword in HR, and it's quickly spreading into L&D as teams try to grasp the practical side of rapid skill development at scale. But this isn't just another trend. It's a reality L&D must face so they can finally stop chasing business changes and establish the principles, channels and connections needed to help people develop the knowledge and skills needed both today and into the future.
Truth: most AI stories in L&D are smoke and mirrors. They are complex if-this-then-that programming that is explained with not-exactly-true AI or messaging. Sure, there are several real, high-impact AI applications out there that are more than just content recommendations and chatbots. However, L&D has yet to establish a real connection between what AI can actually do and the need to reimagine their strategies with these technological and data capabilities as a foundation.
There are plenty of good VR applications out there. They don't just focus on the tech and instead provide employees with immersive practice experiences that cannot be easily replicated in real life due to safety concerns, logistics, etc. But there are also plenty of organizations trying to force VR onto subjects that just don't make sense. Example: do we need VR to teach people how to select fruit from the grocery store ... when they work in a grocery store? Plus, the tech is still complicated, and the content is expensive to develop.
Still early days as people get more familiar with consumer AR applications. AR displays, such as glasses and visors, are still pretty basic. As long as you have to launch an app and hold up a mobile device to overlay information onto a real-world setting, performance support applications will be somewhat limited.
We still just don't see much call for a distributed ledger within L&D, especially given organizations' data privacy concerns and proprietary mindsets. L&D should continue to observe how partner teams apply blockchain within their operations.
NOTE: We thought the idea of an L&D hype cycle was unique. We were incorrect. Web Courseworks has also published a series of hype cycle posts, and we wanted to be sure to give them