Thought Leader - Karl M. Kapp, Ed.D.

A learning professional must be able to separate fads from trends. The ability to distinguish between the two allows the professional to avoid jumping on a bandwagon versus becoming an organizational thought leader. Ignoring fads and participating in a legitimate trend can help you correctly navigate technology to bring the most effective learning to your organization.

There are three ways to distinguish a fad from a trend. It is important to know these methods when evaluating technology and learning budgets.


The first clue to examine is to look at the origin of the popularity of a particular technology. Fads and trends can have similar beginnings so some investigation is in order. Ask the following types of questions: Is the technology popular because it solves a specific problem? Is it easier to use? Is it faster or more efficient? Trends have an identifiable benefit over previous instructional methods or approaches, and are driven by the fact that they are solving instructional needs.

Fads, on the other hand, are driven by a “coolness” factor or even a “me-too” type mentality. A fad starts with technology and then tries to find a need for the technology. It should be the opposite — start with a need and then figure out what technology best addresses that need. A fad typically doesn’t deliver on its promise while trends tend to get stronger over time and actually solve more needs than originally anticipated.


The next clue to examine is the scope of phenomenon that might become a trend or fad. Trends tend to encompass entire areas of technology and not just a single brand or item. For example, mobile learning became a trend because any kind of mobile device could be used. But Google Glass was more of a fad partly because it was only one product by one company and other manufactures really didn’t participate within that market.

While it may seem hard at the beginning to determine the scope of a phenomenon, look at the vendors providing the technology and carefully determine if it is gaining momentum because a group of vendors are all launching a similar technology or because one vendor has developed some buzz and energy around a product and that product is taking off like hot cakes.


The rate of growth of a phenomenon can also provide clues as to fad or trend. Trends evolve slowly over time with course corrections and new approaches to the same concept as the idea grows and matures. The phenomenon that launches a trend, like mobile devices, tend to change over time to meet learning needs and what seems like an overnight hit actually develops over a considerable timeframe.

Alternatively, fads spike quickly and dramatically and then fade away just as quickly. Time is a great device for distinguishing between a fad and a true trend in the field of learning and development. It is not always a bad idea to sit back and wait to see how quickly technology is adopted and how many companies participate in the growing phenomenon.


To distinguish between a fad and a trend in the field of learning and development, use these three criteria to examine the technology you are considering adopting. Looking at the origin of the technology and the problem it purports to solve as well as the scope of industry participation can help you determine if it’s fad or trend. This knowledge will help you make the right choices for your learners as you continue to stay on the leading edge of technology and not waste your energy on fads.