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. Many 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 (February 2019) version of the L&D Hype Cycle.

LearnGeek L&D Hype Cycle

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 reaction.


Video is just another tool now. Sure, we’re exploring different ways to use it (360, interactive, etc.), but there is very little reason for an organization to not be capable of leveraging video in a cost-effective, impactful way to support their employees. And I don’t care how limited your store bandwidth may be (adaptive streaming). 


Almost there! We’re now having informed conversations about game mechanics and game-based learning. It’s now about motivation, recognition and credentialing – not just points and badges. 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 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.


L&D is still heavily focused on making the xAPI a real game-changer, but other conversations are starting to emerge that are focused on the types of data we need to do our jobs better. Can we prove the impact of training? Yes. Can we personalize support to the individual at scale? Yes. L&D needs to become best friends with their Business Intelligence partners right now!


This one is 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 discussion boards 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 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.


Still the HYPE MONSTER on the cycle – but not for long! The underlying principles (targeted content focused on meaningful business problems) are starting to take over he conversation. By next year, microlearning won’t be THE BIG THING anymore (cough AI cough).

Self-Directed Learning

The rise of the LXP is keeping self-directed learning in the conversation as its own topic (which it really shouldn’t be). We should be talking about the necessary balance between push and pull for workplace support, but that gets lost in the noise. Give it time, and people will realize the LXP is an LMS with a prettier UI.


About to hit the peak of expectations! Other topics, especially data and microlearning, are pushing this one forward. I expect personalization to blend with the AI discussion as we look for ways to get more agile in L&D.

Virtual Reality

Some great stuff is coming out of safety use cases for VR, but there are also still a lot of people just trying to make VR play where it shouldn’t (coaching). This will quickly become just another part of the toolkit for orgs who can afford the gear and considerable production costs.

Augmented Reality

AR is still more exciting than VR, just not as far along. 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 is coming to L&D (already here for some), and it’s a lot more than chat bots and content recommendations. I’m focusing most of my research in this area nowadays.

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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