eLearning platforms have come a long way. Traditionally used by learning and development (L&D) specialists to deliver online learning materials and track employee progress, they’re now shifting toward more learner-centric functionality. Emerging buzzwords just a few years ago — such as responsive design, graphical user interfaces, accessibility features, gamification and integration with third-party productivity tools — are now often considered basic solution requirements.

While this move toward meeting learners’ (not just trainers’ and designers’) needs didn’t materialize recently, the global pandemic has put it on a fast track. With remote work now the norm in many industries, companies have needed to adapt their workflows, processes and programs, including training initiatives, to the times. Plus, with workers increasingly untethered, offering professional development that’s easily accessible and relevant can help retain employees.

eLearning platforms have gotten the memo. Learning management systems (LMSs) have expanded their feature sets to offer more comprehensive solutions, and the more burgeoning learning experience platforms (LXPs) take learning technology a step further, orienting it more toward learner needs.

At the same time, content providers are striving to create more relevant, topical courses for businesses. Given the need, evolution and activity, the global eLearning market is expected to be worth $25.7 billion by 2025.

What’s in Store for eLearning Platforms in the Future?

One silver lining of the pandemic has been businesses’ abilities to drive and accelerate transformations. Change is hard, but it’s also necessary for progress.

As eLearning platforms evolve to support these transformations, learner-centered training and easy remote access will continue to gain traction. Technology advancements such as artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) will also become more embedded in learning experiences.

There are other elements that are starting to enter the eLearning lexicon but will likely become requirements in the (near) future, supporting the needs of course designers, learners and organizations as a whole.

1. Automation

Automation for eLearning platforms will be what the alphabet is for a book: the foundation of a logical and engaging experience.

The simplest form of automation is rules based on if-then statements. For example, a course designer can specify: If a user completes a course, then the system will automatically notify the instructor.

Automated rules can get more granular, nested and complex, based on the actions a learner takes, the group(s) that learner belongs to and more. In addition to triggering notifications to instructors, eLearning systems can also generate personalized certificates of completion that learners can save and share online, and even enroll learners in more advanced courses in a learning path. Various eLearning platforms already offer this type of automation today.

As technology evolves, automated rules will become even more complex. Tapping into AI, the system will learn about a user as that user learns, and make automated recommendations based on that person’s interests or struggles during a course. Imagine the Netflix experience, but with training modules.

Course designers will still be the masterminds behind automated rules and recommendations. However, they’ll be able to personalize learning experiences on a more individual level, far superior to what’s available today.

2. Next-level Engagement

Learner engagement is, and will continue to be, the most important part of successful training initiatives.

Engagement positively impacts knowledge retention — which, in turn, influences employee performance, and, eventually, the bottom line. However, there is no perfect recipe for creating the most engaging learning environment, let alone measuring it. That’s because learning is a unique and personal process: Learners have specific needs that change frequently. Some of these needs can’t possibly be met by L&D specialists. Even if they were, they wouldn’t fit into a spreadsheet cell.

With this knowledge, there are still ways to improve and optimize individual engagement. Applying neuroscience and psychology principles to course design, offering training materials in multiple formats, empowering learners with more control over their learning process (through microlearning modules, self-paced courses or asynchronous training), including gamification elements and designing more interactive learning experiences are just a few strategies that tend to work.

In the future, eLearning platforms will also be able to take learners’ pulse by collecting information that couldn’t be measured before: learners’ emotions. Each learner will be able to tell the system how they feel about a specific module or course (excited, frustrated, confused, etc.) — which will allow trainers to identify trends and intervene where necessary.

For learners, having their needs better met will encourage them to keep learning and further their personal and professional development.

3. Enriched Analytics

Learning data will continue to power improvements in the L&D world.

Collecting training data — for example, about programs, learning activity and learning interventions — is the first step in calculating return on investment. Understanding that data is key to driving learning improvements and business decisions. However, moving from data collection to rapid and actionable interpretation can be tricky.

eLearning platforms are already quite good at collecting learning data — much better than people. Systems can generate general reports on attendance, course completion rates and individual learning progress. Administrators can also set requirements for ad-hoc reports. Most of the time, it’s straightforward to identify an issue and make the necessary adjustments.

But the future comes with even more data (such as on learners’ emotions), more reports and more decisions. eLearning platforms of the future will still provide comprehensive learning data and generate reports, but, applying AI and predictive models, they’ll make data more actionable, with recommendations on future actions for system administrators and department managers.

This additional layer of intelligence will enable L&D professionals and business leaders to better tailor learning programs and make more informed decisions.

A Look Toward the Future

In the face of rapid change, employee learning and development have remained strategic priorities for organizations. Learners’ needs (and the needs of L&D professionals and business managers) have not remained static, though. The signs are promising that eLearning platforms will keep pace, driving more inclusive, individualized and data-fueled learning, as well as opportunities to improve learning outcomes.

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