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 decided to 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. Frankly, most thought leaders typically don’t have to deal with the hectic, stifling, day-to-day realities of modern business. Furthermore, I rarely see L&D topics presented together as part of a larger evolution in the profession.

Using the Gartner model as a base, I have plotted the progress of the most-discussed L&D concepts of the past few years.

Here’s my current (April 2018) version of the L&D Hype Cycle.

L&D topics graphed along a hype cycle curve

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


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 has led to meaningful adoption of video in increasingly creative and contextual ways – with everything from talking heads to screen recordings to animation becoming commonplace and easily achievable at work.


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!


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 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 progressive data conversation is dominated by the xAPI. But it remains 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, I am starting to find bigger leaps in the use of data – with and without xAPI – 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 an almost 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 remains the HYPE MONSTER on the cycle. Microlearning is everywhere. Everyone wants it! No one really knows why! I still expect this concept to fall quickly into the trough as the year continues. 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.


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 personalized/adaptive learning to come to the forefront in the next 6 to 8 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, personalized 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

AI and machine learning are enabling factors for several other cycle entries, including personalization and data. That said, we shouldn’t expect to see meaningful, scalable, user-facing applications of AI within workplace learning in the immediate future.

NOTE: I originally thought I was the first person in L&D to publicly apply the Hype Cycle concept. I was incorrect. I recently came across a series of hype cycle posts from Web Courseworks and wanted to be sure to give them credit after the fact. We don’t apply the idea in exactly the same way, but they did get there first.

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