Watch the Video on Key Trends for 2012

You may not have noticed, but a new era is quietly dawning on the training industry. It represents a change that is both profound and permanent. For the very first time, learners have the ability to take control of his or her own learning experience.

So what’s responsible for this shift in the learning landscape?  It’s the advent of new technologies, social platforms, and the search engine. The search engine has become a near ubiquitous tool of the 21st century. Surfing the Internet has become everyone’s favored solution for resolving information challenges large and small.

For legions of individuals, the Internet has become the first option as they take greater responsibility for their own learning experience, alongside equally convenient social media tools. Meanwhile, training suppliers are aggressively responding to their preferences with innovations aimed at harnessing the learning process.

Savvy training organizations are adjusting to this new era by creating personal learning environments and other initiatives aimed at assisting both learners and companies. These versatile, dynamic and highly integrated Web portals embrace personal learning preferences by creating communities for formal and informal learning so key stakeholders – be they employees, customers or channel partners – can stay abreast of developments and available knowledge.

These initiatives are important for trainers because search engines have become the most competitive technology to the training profession – something we should not take for granted. I call this the Era of Personal Learning and it provides a common thread to the 10 individual trends listed below in this,’s fourth annual perspective of important trends and predictions for the coming year.

1.Spend for Training Services Remains Conservative
Following modest increases in training department spending in 2010-11, conservative spending practices will resume in 2012. predicts that companies will increase spend an average of 2% more on training in 2012 than in 2011, a growth rate that mirrors the overall U.S. Gross Domestic Product. estimates the global market for training services to grow to $292 billion in 2012, of which U.S. companies will represent an estimated $132 billion, or 45%.  Both figures are still below 2008 pre-recession levels. We expect higher than average spend in sales and IT training to support strategic business investments, while other training priorities like professional development will remain relatively flat.

Corporate training departments continue to feel the uncertainty of the global economy. Corporate spending behavior is much more transactional than in years before, especially in content design, development and delivery services. Higher strata (Strata 1 and 2) training suppliers have  weathered the economic storm better as their customer relationships tend to be more strategic and long term, while lower strata companies and independent training consultants have ultimately taken the brunt of this market.

Buyers tend to be spending less with smaller, independent training consultants; an important factor impacting the success of lower strata suppliers. In addition, the barrier of entry to the training market remains low, meaning we continue to see many new suppliers competing for market share. With fewer dollars available for this segment, combined with the fact there are many new entrants, smaller training companies are having a difficult time surviving. Competition is also heating up among higher strata suppliers as they are dealing with the fact that many educational institutions have entered the corporate market. Business and engineering schools, community colleges, and for profit colleges are all taking a piece of the market, adding stress to an already strained supply market.

2. Job Market Remains Static
The meager increase in training budgets translates into a bearish outlook for job growth within the training profession. We estimate that jobs for training professionals to increase by about 1% in 2012. The bulk of that modest recovery will continue to be experienced by training suppliers as companies continue to defray many of their variable costs by contracting certain training services such as content development, back office administration and instruction. Indeed, that is a principal reason why large and established training suppliers will again be the winners in 2012 while independent trainers and consultants continue to persevere.

We all hope job growth beats those numbers, of course, and well it might. After all, the training industry is a leading economic indicator in both bad times and good.  But because of prevailing skepticism about the economy at the close of 2011, these estimates are necessarily conservative. It is because of this skepticism, in fact, that businesses are spending more on outsourcing rather than hiring full-time staff. We are not yet witnessing a commitment to long-term growth.

3. Evolution of Learning Portals
As the training landscape shifts from a model in which the training organization defines the learning experience to one of increased learner autonomy, training professionals are responding with new user-friendly portals that feature highly customized content. refers to them as Personal Learning Environments (PLE). They represent the next generation of learning management systems, and the profession’s effort to endorse learner preferences while also fulfilling their duties to continue providing relevant and useful content.

In essence, personal learning environments are defining a new relationship between the training professional and today’s learner. Its new duty is to deliver training in a variety of modalities preferred by any learner including laptops, mobile devices or video. Such user flexibility has gained new importance to trainers in the wake of Google’s ascension as the training profession’s most competitive technology ever.

It should be noted that personal learning environments differ from standard learning portals, which serve organizations as non-customized platforms dominated by learning management systems. Everybody sees the same thing in those platforms. PLEs, by contrast, are highly personalized portals that employ filtering technologies to recognize individual users and their preferences and provide them with highly customized experiences.

While the LMS remains the core technology employed by organizations to manage their training, it is only one component of the personal learning environment with which learners can select from formal and informally delivered content.

4. Formalizing Informal Learning
The need to formalize informal learning is not a new concept. What is driving the trend is the massive increase in social media and the access to informal learning content. Training professionals have an insatiable need to manage and measure performance more systematically to make sure our investments in training are getting returns. Allowing workforces to gain greater access to informal knowledge-based content is clearly the objective of most organizations. But where is the proverbial line drawn, how much is enough, when should it be accessed, and is the quality of the content relevant and to our standards?

The creation of new personal learning environments does not alter the responsibility of organizations to deliver quality training or to measure the effectiveness of their training investment.  Given the mix of formal curricula with informal learning, that challenge can be daunting.

The solution lies in creating an environment where systemic controls are put in place to filter, assess, and manage aggregated content that meets the learner’s needs so they won’t be tempted to migrate elsewhere. That means providing a platform that enables learners to discuss and share relevant content, but which also incorporates tools that allow content to be measured, monitored and controlled for accuracy and timeliness. LMS and learning portal suppliers have been busily incorporating social platforms such as moderated chat rooms that work within their tools.

5. Growth of Gamification
The old saying that “learning can be fun” is truer today than ever before. The spirit of competition not only makes learning more enjoyable, it increases retention and boosts all important time-to-competency measurements. It’s a concept employed by sales organizations and now quickly spreading throughout the enterprise. And why not?  Competitive games serve both employer and employee.

Let’s be clear – gaming is not just a training phenomenon. It is a social and marketing phenomenon. Organizations of all sorts are discovering innovative ways to use “funware” to influence behavior. In a 2011 Gartner Research Report, they predicted that by 2015, more than 50% of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify them.  Gartner also predicts that within two years, more than 70% of Global 2000 organizations will employ at least one gamified learning application.

Our industry is transforming standard training programs into competitive games that can be played real time or asynchronously with participants spread throughout the world. Social media is also driving this trend, as seen by popular games in Facebook, Gowalla, and Foursquare. Most importantly, games incentivize employees to learn and accomplish more skills, which raises competency levels throughout the organization.

6. Social Badging, the New Tool of Recognition
Everyone wants to be recognized for their achievements. Certifications, degrees and job titles have long been badges that signify our position of responsibility or professional accomplishments. But social media has demonstrated that business professionals long for other forms of recognition. The number of followers on Twitter is a status symbol for how important we are. The number of friends we have on Facebook acknowledges how much we are valued by others, and the number of likes to what we publish demonstrates the value of our message.

In the corporate setting, receiving a “Black Belt” not only demonstrates how much training we have completed, but also that we have demonstrated success in managing projects. All are forms of social badges. Personal learning environments provide us a new world to create more of these forms of recognition. Badging is growing at such a rate that our challenge will be determining how to vet out which badges are acceptable and valued in our environment.

While badging is not strictly a training department function – many are earned for work-related accomplishments rather than from traditional learning – trainers are wise to endorse and encourage them within recognition activities. They are, after all, consistent with climate of achievement championed by every learning department and CEO.  Trainers need to recognize that people are incentivized in ways other than learning.

7. Growing Focus on Knowledge Retention
Retaining and protecting corporate knowledge is a critical objective for any company, no matter their size and industry. Protecting intellectual property is an ongoing legal battle. But protecting and retaining the talent who creates intellectual property is our responsibility as training professionals. Whenever a talented individual leaves for another opportunity, more than that person’s skills and career potential are lost. Knowledge and intellectual property leaves also.

In today’s highly mobile and globally competitive corporate culture, and with baby boomers aging out of the workforce, companies are accelerating efforts to identify and retain high potential talent. For training and HR departments, that priority begins with differentiating high potential employees earlier, and channeling them into customized, and oftentimes, fast-track programs that emphasize training and advancement opportunities.

Another key strategy for talent retention is in new hire, or on-boarding programs. These are our first and best opportunity to reach top talent. If that opportunity is wasted, targeted hires will never hold the same esteem for that company. In other words, we must impress designated talent early; if we wait to bring them into a special fast-track program, it will be too late. After all, top talent quickly perceives the difference between good and bad.

Companies are also assertively implementing ways to garner the intellectual property created by these employees and store it so that it is protected for future use. Technologies such as repositories using digital rights management, and authoring platforms that make it easier for subject matter experts to easily produce online content are successful strategies to retain knowledge for future use.

8.  Consolidation is a Key Strategy among Buyers and Suppliers
2012 will continue to see consolidation among suppliers of training products and services, a classic recession activity as larger companies seize opportunities to round out portfolios and build market share. In the last couple of years, some of the largest acquisitions of training suppliers have occurred that will forever change the landscape of training services. Mostly driven by talent management companies, we have seen deals where smaller technology companies were acquired to round out the larger companies portfolios. We fully expect this trend to extend over the next few years. Our industry is an incredibly fragmented and diversified market of training suppliers, which is always an indicator that mergers and acquisitions will be the norm.

Consolidation is also a trend among buyers of training services. But consolidation is viewed differently here. For buyers, the strategy is to consolidate redundant processes, technologies and organizations to minimize duplicate and wasteful spending.  Virtually every large corporation we have seen has multiple LMS’s that can easily be consolidated into one. The trend is to focus consolidation around the back office administration of training, including technologies, and to allow content design and development activities to be managed with respective business units. This model is referred to as the “federated” model, and is being implemented in more organizations than ever before.

We are also seeing buyers consolidate suppliers. Driven primarily by procurement, the number of training suppliers used is being looked at as a means to simplify and streamline training, and to create more strategic and manageable relationships.

9. Outsourcing Grows While Offshoring Retrenches
The use of training outsourcing as a business strategy is continuing to expand. But we are seeing a change in the types of sourcing relationships employed by companies. Part of that dynamic is a reduction in offshoring relationships in countries such as India as the labor cost differential between onshoring and offshoring continues to erode. This is occurring not only in training, but other business processes too.

In addition, with the virtual disappearance of comprehensive training outsourcing partnerships, the bulk of business process outsourcing (BPO) in the training space involves selective outsourcing. The lion’s share of those deals involves content and delivery services. By contrast, training departments are opting to keep back office administration in-house to retain control of that fixed-expense function.  This is ironic, since training administration is considered by many to be the least strategic set of processes for training organizations, but the easiest of processes to control.

10. Social Learning is Still a Facilitated Process

There is a common myth that social learning is an open, free-for-all world where learners go online, communicate with peers, and comment about what they’ve learned. Although it does feature Internet-based tools that facilitate global communication, the highest quality social learning environments are differentiated by the continued involvement of facilitators and instructors.

Social learning is a strategy that incorporates the magic of social interface with the discipline of a structured learning environment. The best examples include mentor networks and fast-growing ad hoc universes that connect learners with subject matter experts when and where they need them. In addition, virtual classroom training provides a rich multimedia experience that includes group and one-on-one communications as the facilitator dictates.

With social learning, instructors are challenged to deliver and facilitate training in many new ways, surely a challenge to trainers who are discovering that the potential of virtual is everywhere, on all platforms and for all segments of training.  Contrary to the myth that the instructor is going away because of e-learning, the reality is the instructor is still with us, and they are not going anywhere any time soon.