L&D 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.

In 2017, I put together my own hype cycle for workplace learning topics. I 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 look 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 business. Furthermore, L&D topics are rarely discussed together as part of a larger evolution in the profession.

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 my current (June 2019) version of the L&D Hype Cycle.

There’s no science behind my placements. I didn’t conduct formal interviews or research (to this point). Rather, this is simply a combination experience, industry chatter, and gut feeling. My goal is not to be 100% accurate. Things will change. New trends will arise. I will miss the mark with my estimations. But, I 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.


Video is now just another tool. Sure, we’re exploring different ways to use it (360, interactive, etc.), but there is limited reason for an organization to not be capable of using video in a cost-effective, impactful way. Basic equipment is cheap. Utility is more important than high-production quality. And bandwidth is no longer a big problem – at least where wifi/cellular technologies are fully developed. Work arounds (such as low-res gifs) are required when signal is a concern.


We almost have it! The conversation has switched from points and leaderboards to motivation and engagement. Application is still a bit limited to in-content game mechanics rather than larger, systemic approaches. But it’s still a lot better than it was 5 years ago. Thanks, Karl Kapp!


Mobile devices are a near-omnipresent reality in the workplace. Yes, every employee is carrying one, but they still may not be able to use it depending on the rules. Solid wifi is an expectation in public spaces. Internationally, BYOD is well-established. In North America, CIOs are actively looking to evolve guidelines to maximize available, familiar tech (and save money). L&D can piggyback on this evolution and leverage contextual technology to provide real-time support.


The conversation is quickly expanding to include more than just traditional “learning data” (completions, scores, surveys). Kirkpatrick and similar established models are being questioned. Impact is a growing concern. xAPI remains a centerpiece of the data discussion, but it is not restricting the larger dialogue. Promising ideas like personalization and AI require improved data practices, and L&D is getting their act together.

Learning Science

This isn’t a new topic. We haven’t made any major discoveries of late. But L&D continues to struggle to consistently recognize and apply learning science. Myths like learning styles, generations and personality profiles continue to distract from proven principles. That said, the interest is there, and L&D pros are looking for ways to apply the concepts. First, they must influence stakeholders to think differently about learning in the workplace and eliminate the “school mentality.” Then, basic principles such as spaced repetition, interleaving and retrieval practice can be applied consistently.


Still slow-moving. 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 social platforms and content ratings. 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 Yammer groups.


The hype is fading FAST! While the term is fading, but the principles are not. Targeted solutions. Learning science. Anytime, anywhere access. Business impact. These conversations continue to expand, but they do not require the “microlearning” label. By the end of 2020, the cycle will be complete.

Self-Directed Learning

This topic is firmly attached to the LXP right now. The conversation should be focused on shifting accountability and focusing on individual needs (closer to personalization), but instead the focus is on content and technology. This will change as LXP capability (aggregation, UI/UX, recommendation) becomes ubiquitous. Self-directed learning is about mindset and balancing personal needs/interests with business priorities.

Learning in the Flow of Work

This also isn’t new, but L&D is starting to pay attention. Learning and support opportunities should be part of work, not a distraction. Everyday business realities (limited time, operational focus, constant change) are forcing L&D teams to look for ways to better fit into the working experience. Josh Bersin is the leading voice.


Full HYPE mode! Donald Taylor’s 2019 Global Sentiment Survey supports this position. Vendors are calling themselves “adaptive” to get into the conversation. Topics that are more fully-formed, especially data and microlearning, are pushing personalization forward. This will blend quickly with the AI discussion as a powerful use case.

Artificial Intelligence

It’s the fastest-growing technology in the history of the workplace. AI is already impacting how work is done, and L&D is already behind the curve. Interest is growing quickly. Technology is already capable of a wide range of applications. The real question is how much L&D is willing to trust and delegate to a machine.


How does it all fit together? L&D has a growing array of tools and tactics at their disposal, but how can they use them to create a consistent, scalable support experience? Research is underway. I continue to evolve my own framework. This will be an important conversation as L&D shifts away from a course mentality.

Virtual Reality

Specific applications. Safety remains the big use case. Many pros are distracted by the technology and trying to make it play where other solutions make more sense (see KFC). Content is still difficult to develop and maintain, but the delivery tech is becoming more accessible. Still plenty of user considerations (safety, accessibility, etc.).

Voice-User Interface

Every conference includes a session on using Alexa to do XYZ. It’s mostly gimmicks, but the potential follows alongside the evolution of AI. Hands-free use cases abound but focus on more performance support. Just as is true in consumer applications, voice is likely to become another option for engaging a system – not the primary value prop.

Augmented Reality

Still a lot more exciting than VR. With companies like Apple and Disney investing in the tech, it is poised to become a common consumer experience. Existing devices can leverage AR. Smart glasses are on the way. Real-time, in-context performance support makes sense in a wide range of use cases.


Light chatter. Questions remain regarding the willingness of employers to share and accept data from outside the organization.

NOTE: I thought the idea of an L&D hype cycle was unique. I was incorrect. Web Courseworks has also published a series of hype cycle posts, and I wanted to be sure to give them credit for the idea after the fact. We don’t apply the concept in exactly the same way, but they did get there first.

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