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.
Every year, LearnGeek puts together our own hype cycle for workplace learning practices. We visualize the disparity between "thought leadership" and frontline reality when it comes to 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 as an integrated evolution of the profession as they should be. Using the Gartner model as inspiration, LearnGeek leverages our ongoing research and observations to plot the progress of the most-discussed L&D concepts.
Here’s the 2022 version of the LearnGeek Hype Cycle for Workplace Learning Practices.
Each practice is positioned within one of five states along the hype cycle curve.
- Early Exploration. The conversation is just getting started. There's potential, but we haven't seen much in terms of real application beyond niche use cases, early stage experiments and big ideas.
- Buzz + Hype. The topic is everywhere. There's lots of hype from vendors and influencers. However, the practice and its ultimate value in the workplace are not yet well-defined.
- Hard Reality. The early adopter party is over. L&D pros are figuring out what's real and what's noise. Some practices never make it out of this phase.
- Now We Get It. No more buzz. It's time to apply what works and push towards proven, sustained value.
- Real Impact. It works. It works at scale. The practice is now just another part of the L&D toolkit.
Practices progress along the curve at varying rates. They may sometimes regress year over year depending on real-world challenges.
The LearnGeek Hype Cycle is an informal industry assessment. It's not based on research studies, interviews or surveys. We combine our 20+ years of field experience with ongoing peer conversations, literature reviews and gut instinct. We're not trying to predict the future of workplace learning within 100% accuracy. We want to provide a useful, practical, holistic perspective on how the L&D profession is evolving so organizations can benchmark their own practices against the broader industry and make smarter decisions about where to focus their limited resources.
This one is almost ready to fall off the curve (like video and curation did this year). L&D has moved beyond the basics, like points and leaderboards, to focus on gamified concepts like motivation, progression, achievement and storytelling. Of course, there are still plenty of superficial applications out there, but most L&D pros are applying gamification with insight and care.
The accelerated digital transformation of work is a key theme across this year's hype cycle. The pandemic has changed the relationship between work and technology and impacted a variety of L&D practices - performance support included. Mobile devices and chat tools are making it easier than ever for people to find help when and where they need it. The pace of change we've dealt with over the past two years has catapulted performance support to the top of the L&D strategy list. It's scalable and connects those who know with those who need - removing L&D from our legacy middleperson role.
We finally get it. We know microlearning is about focused resources, not just shorter content. L&D is getting more consistent in our application of this practice as a key way to make knowledge and skill development fit within the hectic daily workflow. There's still some buzz lingering around microlearning, but the story is firmly shifting towards real-world impact.
Now We Get It
This is another practice that took a big step forward as a result of rapid workplace transformation. L&D can't keep up with disruption by relying on traditional tactics. Instead, we must rely on embedded information channels like Microsoft Teams and Slack to scale support. We're moving beyond "social learning" as a structured, planning concepts towards the strategic integration of learning and communication - even if these practices are traditionally owned by different functions.
The pandemic has redefined "mobile learning." It's shifted from focusing on a type of device to a ubiquitous strategy that enables people to access the support they need when and where they need it. This mindset shift has been essential when enabling remote and hybrid workforces. It's also played a critical role on the frontline, where handheld devices and BYOD strategies are helping L&D access workers who were previously out of reach.
Organizations aggressively expanded their tech stacks in 2020 to keep their operations running during the early stages of the pandemic. Zoom. MS Teams. LXPs. Technology became the face of learning in every industry. In 2021, people came to realize that digital work isn't going away - regardless of your office policy. CIOs and CHROs started to assess their tech stacks to maximize their value. Consolidation is a big part of this conversation, but getting down to a single learning platform is no longer the goal. Ongoing uncertainty and talent retention challenges are pushing organizations to prioritize right-fit digital experiences, even when that means deploying multiple platforms to meet employee needs.
Fallacies like learning styles, goldfish attention spans and personality assessments are getting called out more than ever. Proven concepts like spaced learning and reinforcement are popular conversation topics. However, while L&D understands these concepts, there are still hurdles we must overcome to make them commonplace, including employee access, content design and stakeholder requirements. It's still slow going, but advancing concepts like microlearning, mobile and flow of work will definitely prove helpful.
Technology is now the face of learning with digital delivery superseding the classroom. But the "future of work" is still a giant question mark. L&D hasn't had a chance to refine our digital strategies so they align with the new normal - because most organizations haven't found their next version of normal yet. Will work travel restart? How many people will work from central locations vs at home? How will automation impact the workflow? As long as organizations continue to debate how, when and where people will do their jobs, L&D must continue to experiment and figure out what does/not work.
It's still slow going when it comes to measurement. We know this is a big gap. Data and analytics top plenty of lists for critical industry skills. Nevertheless, L&D teams have a hard time prioritizing measurement due to the never-ending need to fight organizational fires. Future-focused practices like skills and AI will remain limited until L&D moves beyond traditional measurement models.
Flow of Work
This practice turned an important corner in 2021. Yes, it's important to make resources more accessible within the day-to-day workflow via right-fit tactics and technology. But closing skill gaps requires more than just one-click access to recommended courses. L&D must close the opportunity gap but shifting the way people think about workplace learning. To move this practice up the curve, L&D must help stakeholders - from the C-suite to the frontline - prioritize the time, effort and investment needed to make learning a regular part of everyone's job.
This concept won't make it all the way through the curve. Many L&D teams continue to explore the "front door" for learning concept, using LXPs to close legacy gaps in their learning tech stacks. At the same time, LMS platforms are quickly absorbing LXP functionality, including modern UI/UX, curation, paths and recommendations. As legacy tech providers improve their solutions, new point solutions emerge to solve specific problems and organizations reassess their ecosystems, the LXP category will quickly fade. Learning experience is a feature, not a platform.
This practice skipped right over the first two phases and landed squarely in Hard Reality for its inaugural appearance on the hype cycle. Hybrid is now reality. Most workforces will split their time between centralized locations (stores, plants, warehouses, offices) and remote settings (home, traveling, split time). L&D must figure out how to provide equitable development opportunities for everyone - regardless of location. We don't know the answer yet, but we definitely know we don't have the resources to build completely different strategies for each location.
This is still the biggest trend on the curve. HR challenges like recruitment, retention and absenteeism are dominating the headlines and causing operational havoc right now, but they're also reminding stakeholders about the importance of rapid skill development in today's workplace. Cross-training and upskilling have quickly become essential tactics for maintaining a capable workforce in the face of disruption. Tech providers across the LMS and HCM space are adopting skills as their foundational units, even as organizations struggle to measure skills across their workforces. This data gap is the main reason this concept is quickly approaching the bottom of the Hard Reality phase.
Buzz + Hype
The lack of a clear definition for this concept is keeping it from progressing to the next phase of the cycle. Providers use "personalization" to refer to everything from algorithmically-driven content recommendations to customizable user interfaces. Ultimately, it's an umbrella term that refers to a range of tactics used to provide the right support to the right person and the right time. To escape the hype, L&D must shift the conversation away from specific features to persona-informed employee experiences.
It may seem odd that such a familiar concept is just now appearing on the cycle for the first time. After all, who doesn't have somewhere between 500 and 50,000 online courses sitting unused in their LMS? OTS content may not be a new idea, but the content market is rapidly changing. More and more new providers are entering the space with niche content designed for specific industries, use cases and workplace challenges. Technology companies are spinning up content businesses to differentiate their solutions in a crowded digital marketplace. L&D must seize this opportunity to become more strategic with our content strategies and balance our build/buy/borrow approach to maximize development resources.
VR is still moving along the curve - slow and steady. Hardware is becoming more accessible. Content is still expensive. There will always be logistics and accessibility concerns. Yet, there are plenty of niche use cases for immersive learning experiences within safe, scalable environments. Oh ... and there's that metaverse thing people keep talking about.
AI is quickly moving from IF to HOW. The majority of learning and workplace technologies now apply at least basic AI capabilities, such as natural language processing and content recommendations. L&D's data shortcomings continue to hinder potential AI applications, such as personalization, skill analysis and impact measurement. Still, implementing AI-enabled technology is not a choice. It's just how technology will work moving forward.
This has been a long-time gap in workplace learning strategy. Managers are often so focused on operational demands that they fail to provide consistent, actionable feedback on job performance or any semblance of career guidance. In many cases, managers are promoted into their roles based on their performance results, not their people skills. This is why L&D gets nonstop requests for coaching programs. If organizations want to retain great employees, they must provide great coaching experiences. And there are plenty of new solutions - from external video coaches to AI-enabled chat bots - hitting the market to help L&D close this gap.
AR can only progress along the curve as quickly as the technology allows. While VR is moving along thanks to an increase in affordable consumer-grade hardware, most AR applications are limited to holding up a mobile device in front of your face. Iron Man-like heads-up displays are still years away. AR has great potential due to its blending of the physical and digital worlds. It'll just remain a niche performance support tool until display technology catches up.
No, this isn't about NFTs! A decentralized record of a person's skills and experience sounds like a great idea - assuming employers jump onboard. Will organizations trust credentials that aren't validated by a known intermediary? They've gotta be better than PDF resumes, right? Will companies grant employees ownership of their workplace data, allowing details of their job experience to be transferred to other organizations? Just like the long-term stability of crypto, these questions are yet to be answered. Plus, there are still plenty of energy/climate concerns related to blockchain applications.
This is another example of L&D application lagging behind technology availability. 5G implementations are accelerating around the world, but access is still not commonplace. Some large enterprises are rolling out enterprise 5G networks, but they're also quite new. L&D simply hasn't had sufficient access to this band of wireless network capability to identify potential solutions. We know downloading and streaming is about to get much faster, but reduced buffering should be just one of the many benefits 5G will bring to the digital workplace.
Who knows if this is even a real thing? We're watching the metaverse conversation, but we're not convinced it's a real opportunity yet.
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 proper credit.