The expectations on leaders of training organizations to improve business performance requires them to understand how to create and deliver content that positively influences the learner’s behavior. Understanding how to better engage the learner is at the heart of how our industry is evolving.

In our 2014 Key Trends Report we discussed the industry’s shift from a learner-centric approach to one focused more on how to meet the needs of the business. As this trend continued into 2015, corporate executives began looking for ways to transform their organizations into one that creates value and has meaningful impact on the performance of the business.

As we now look into 2016, we are seeing corporate executives and learning leaders collectively looking at how to get back to the basics of understanding what makes training work, and what activities are not so effective. We like to think of this as the science of application. It’s the focus on how learning leaders can better engage the adult learner to ensure we move from knowledge to skill to application. With this in mind, here are some key trends to consider in the coming year.


Medical researchers and neuroscientists consider the human brain to be the most complex object in our universe and the final frontier of science. Understanding how the brain works and how people learn has been the Holy Grail of our profession since the beginning. We have an insatiable fascination with new technologies and techniques for designing, delivering and reinforcing training; although, we really don’t understand why one works better than the other. As our industry has continued to grow, so has our interest in neuroscience. As learning leaders, our focus is on applying scientific approaches to understand which technologies and techniques deliver higher retention and application, and helping us break the old paradigms of classroom and online training.


The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve shows us that learners forget most of the information they learn shortly after leaving the classroom. Organizations need learners to consistently perform on the job over an extended period of time. Learning leaders are increasingly recognizing their responsibility to provide a training experience that extends the classroom, and leverages the 70:20:10 approach, by providing ongoing training through informal and social means. This concept has traditionally been referred to as performance support systems, but more recently has been coined reinforcement content, or “boost” forms of learning support. We are seeing a growing number of technologies and mobile apps being introduced that support the need to ensure a worker performs their job at a consistent level over time.


Imagine the possibilities if we were able to graph every economic opportunity by the skills needed to achieve those opportunities, the company’s profiles that can offer those opportunities, and the professional profiles of every individual in the global workforce who can meet those needs. This is the goal of the LinkedIn Economic Graph Challenge. As more and more great training organizations have access to larger amounts of data that link competencies with job performance, organizations are spending more time putting together curated sets of courses and learning aids that allow the learner to develop the skills they need to improve their impact. Leveraging crowdsourcing of competency data and matching that data with shorter, more focused learning, encompasses a few of the trends we see emerging in the training market. We need to look for ways to develop training roadmaps that organize and curate content into competency-based programs for specific jobs, roles and skill levels.


As enterprise and workplace systems evolve, so too are the technologies and tools that deliver training content and track learning activities. The traditional LMS has quickly evolved to cloud-based, SaaS (software-as-a-service) platforms that can be turned on and off with relative ease. Tools such as Workday, Namely, HR Cloud, and Cvent are providing a fast and flexible approach to managing small and large enterprise training organizations, single training events, as well as monitoring online, on-demand training programs. The introduction of workplace apps that allow us to deliver training content pre- and post-learning experience, or to better manage and track the effectiveness and efficiency of online training, will change how we use devices for training. Mobile apps are not just about how we access content, but in the future will be more about how we monitor learning and skill progression. In addition to speed and flexibility, these new environments are making measurement and data collection much easier. With the ability to target development at the skill level, testing becomes easier and the data the learning team collects becomes a better proxy of learning impact.


Mobile learning is not a new idea. Since the introduction of the mobile device, learning leaders have viewed mobile devices as another way to get training content in the hands of the learner at the point of application. Video has emerged as the dominant approach to deliver training content over a mobile device. We have not seen a widespread acceptance and adoption of structured courseware on a mobile device, especially the smartphone. A learner’s ability to access a video that demonstrates how a job or task should be done is proving to be one of the most effective methods for ensuring consistency in job tasks, as well as an efficient way to get information to the learner when they need it.


Regardless the type of training, great training organizations are increasingly demanding that instructors have real-world experiences and share the stories necessary to give the training relevancy and reflect the values the company intends to portray. Virtual delivery has made it easier to attract subject matter experts (SMEs) to the delivery platform, but it’s adding complexity to how we develop their delivery skills. Facilitators have become generalists in many content segments as they are priced and sourced as a commodity skillset. The challenge is in upskilling instructors – or properly preparing instructors to be quality communicators and SMEs – and developing the skillsets where they enhance the training experience. Expect to see more focus on instructor development and credentialing for virtual and classroom delivery.


Large companies can spend as much as 60 percent of their training budget with external training suppliers to design, develop and deliver training. Corporate training organizations have an increased willingness to use independent training professionals instead of carrying fixed staff for variable activities. With any growing market, there are more people chasing their entrepreneurial dreams by creating a training company. In the technology sector, there is an increase in investment funding for companies to provide innovative tools and apps to deliver and reinforce training content. There are more companies today that act as brokers for these independent contractors to provide a channel for selling into the large enterprise. The barrier of entry to being a training supplier is as low as ever, allowing training professionals to move from working within the corporate training function to being a contractor for the same organization. Expect this trend to continue as corporate training organizations continue to use variable resources for training activities.


Universities and technical colleges have traditionally been the provider of vocational programs to prepare entry-level workers for the job market. The U.S. Department of Education recently announced the Educational Quality through Innovation Partnerships (EQUIP) program that provides financial aid to eligible students for “alternative education providers” programs, including coding bootcamps and MOOCs. These programs have seen a 140 percent growth in graduates over the past two years, and expected to continue for the foreseeable future. The drivers behind this phenomenon is the ongoing increase in the cost of education, the time it takes to get a college degree, and the willingness of companies to recognize these credentials for new hires. Accelerated curriculums can prepare a worker for the job market in weeks instead of years, saving money and providing employees with exactly the skills they need. These programs are also instrumental in reducing the cost of recruitment and onboarding for the hiring firm. Expect the concept of accelerated curriculums as seen in the coder bootcamps to expand across other technical professions in the near future.


The market for training outsourcing services continues to rise in proportion to the growth in corporate spend for training. The growth in corporate spend for training services grew in 2015 at approximately 6.25 percent, as compared to the estimated growth in GDP. This means companies are more willing to spend for training as a percent of revenue. The growth is stronger in spend for customer training as opposed to employee training. We are seeing ongoing efficiencies in the cost of providing employee training as we move from formal classroom training to virtual and online access of content. The market for training business process outsourcing (BPO) is relatively stable as it relates to large scale, multinational engagements. The majority of training BPO deals involve companies leveraging selective outsourcing models for functional training needs, such as sales training organizations selecting companies that specialize in sales training. Large scale, or comprehensive BPO companies, are not gaining strength in converting multinationals to transition all activities to one global provider.


The job market for training professionals is not as robust as it was a year ago, although there are still opportunities to be found. Leadership positions on the buy-side of the profession tend to be relatively stable, whereas practitioner roles such as instructional designers, instructors and administrators are at best stable. Most of the practitioner job opportunities are on the supply-side of the profession, and are often more contractor-oriented. The growing trend of buy-side training organizations to use contract resources for practitioner roles has been instrumental in the growth of the independent training companies mentioned earlier. We expect this trend to continue as supply-side companies expand their use of contract resources to deal with the fluctuating demands of resources by their client base.