For several years now, innovations in educational technologies (edtech) have impacted how business professionals want to learn. Edtechs such as virtual classrooms, mobile devices, digital readers, on-demand video, online gaming, and cloud-based LMSs have fed a market that has been, and continues to be hungry for innovation. Traditionally, most investment for product innovation in edtech was focused on the higher education market. But recently, investors have looked across the traditional market boundaries beyond higher education and toward corporate training.

A key driver for innovation is the adoption rate of new technologies by the millennial community. Millennials entering the job market bring a new set of expectations on how to learn and collaborate. They are teaching leaders of training organizations that learning is best achieved in small ongoing increments, over time, accessed on-demand, using multiple devices, over multiple forms of media. The greatest lesson millennials have taught us is we need to focus on speed and how to make learning efficient and effective.

Because of these changes, investment is flowing into the edtech market at an unprecedented level. Entrepreneurs and established edtech companies are recognizing the opportunity to leverage innovative products across market boundaries and are designing tools for the “adult” market, instead of education versus corporate.

The key trends for 2017 reflect how the training industry continues to evolve. And the trends we see are not those which are flash in the pan, short term, hot applications – but rather, changes to the market that will have a lasting impact for years to come.

Investment in Educational Technologies Continues to Increase

Fueled by the learner’s ability and need to consume content fast, when and how they want it, investment in educational technologies is translating into a level of innovation we’ve never seen in corporate training. Tools for content development and delivery, digital readers, virtual delivery, reinforcement, content libraries, gaming and cloud-based administration systems, all are bringing a level of innovation that is at an all-time high for corporate training. Much of the investment is coming from companies that have traditionally invested in public and post-secondary education but are now shifting their focus to the corporate market. The main reason for this shift is best practices for developing and consuming knowledge-based content transcends age levels, as well as market boundaries for adult education and corporate training.

The Ubiquity of Learning Libraries

With the influx of mobile devices and the demand for short, object-based content increasing, learning libraries have grown rapidly. This rapid growth means that learners have access to virtually any type of learning content they want any time they want it; on virtually any device they choose. Having this abundance of information available can be a positive thing for learners, but training professionals must have a strategy in place to ensure learners are consuming the content designed specifically for their job requirements. The good news is training professionals can more easily meet the needs of learners through learning libraries for roles with competencies that are more market generic. The training leaders challenge is to better manage the content that is proprietary to the corporation to fill the gaps from ubiquitous learning libraries.

Adopting Campaign Marketing to Enhance Learner Engagement

Training professionals have the unique responsibility of supporting the needs of the business while understanding the needs of the learner, and bringing both together to improve performance. This responsibility is similar to that of marketing. Marketing must understand customer and client needs, while marketing products and services that meet those needs. Adopting a marketing-based approach to understand the needs of learners by using analytics and demand-generation strategies allows the training organization to target competency-based content directly to those who need it. Training organizations can then develop, promote and implement learning initiatives based on a profound understanding of learners’ needs and can help training organizations brand themselves and engage their learners more effectively. This is not about marketing the availability of courseware for the purpose of increasing the consumption of content. It is about using analytical data and intelligence about the learner’s needs to better target content directly to the learner who needs it.

Adaptive Learning

Identifying ways to improve the learning experience while minimizing the impact on employee downtime have been challenges across the industry. Adaptive learning is about personalizing the learning experience. By using adaptive learning techniques, we can reduce the time it takes learners to become proficient, eliminating the need to cover content they already understand. This improves the effectiveness of our programs because the learner only focuses on what is absolutely needed. Traditional approaches to content design involved developing courseware in a one-size-fits-all approach and then expecting the learner to consume the content. Adaptive learning is about adapting the content to the learner’s needs. For many years, the training function has been interested in personalizing the experience, but now they can accomplish this objective by letting the platform adjust information based on a learner’s previous responses. The future success of adaptive learning is not only in the design of the technology, but in the design of content. Content must be shortened and modified into learning objects, so it can be consumed based only on what the learner needs.

Multimodal Learning

Research related to the science of learning has taught us that one of the most effective techniques for increasing retention and application is to reinforce content over an extended period. Extending the learning experience pre- and post-training requires multiple touches throughout the learning experience. Technology is changing the way content is accessed and consumed, and changing how training leaders look to design learning experiences. In a 2016 study, 79 percent of training leaders told us that offering alternatives for training modalities is vital to their success. From mobile apps and e-learning, to job aids and simulations, employees need multiple touches and ways to consume information and drive behavior change. Essentially, these multiple touches transform training from an event into an extended learning experience.

Burst Training Campaigns Growing for Sourcing Engagements

As the outsourcing market for large scale, comprehensive BPO deals are declining, we are seeing more growth in project, mission or initiative-based training engagements. We refer to these as “burst” engagements. A training “burst” is where the supplier is contracted to manage any or all processes associated with a defined training initiative – such as a product launch, technology implementation or change management initiative. When the initiative is completed, the supplier engagement ends. The primary difference of this from traditional BPO engagements is those are “process” oriented. Burst engagements are project based, and the terms of the contract are more directed at the deliverables related to completing the initiative. Burst engagements provide an innovative option to the training leader and substantially reduces the risks of traditional process outsourcing engagements.

Shifting to a Culture of Coaching

As the workplace continues to evolve with the emergence of new generations and technologies, there has been a gradual shift toward developing a more inclusive learning culture. One where companies value the internal development of future leaders, and where institutional knowledge is passed on to up and coming talent. One of the most effective ways to transfer proprietary knowledge is through mentoring and coaching. And the old saying holds true, that the best way to learn something new is to teach it. Mentoring not only develops the ones who follow in the footsteps, but it is also a wonderful way to develop current talent for leadership roles. The challenge is we haven’t done as much as we should to develop structured ways to develop the mentors. Cultures that value coaching are ones that emphasize the value of the talent, and provides a systematic approach to developing mentors and a culture for coaching. 

Evolution of Gaming Theory and Mechanics  

Game-based learning enhances motivation, engagement and knowledge retention. Early implementation of gaming focused on replacing the classroom experience with a game. The next evolutionary step in gaming saw us learning how to embed gaming programs within the learning program. We are now learning that at the heart of every engaging game (e.g., video games) lies an enticing story that pulls players in, appealing to their motivations and emotions. The evolution of gaming theory has found that using the principle of storytelling and engagement is key to appealing to learner emotions while enhancing learner engagement and recall.

Smaller Class Sizes

As virtual delivery platforms and online training programs have increased in popularity and adoption, average class enrollments continue to reduce in size. In the days of traditional classrooms, the objective was often to increase class sizes to amortize the fixed costs associated with an instructor and classroom across multiple students. There was always a conflict with the notion that smaller class sizes were better for students; while larger class sizes were more efficient for the business. Now the business’ needs and learners’ needs are aligned with the idea that training is becoming more affordable to deliver in smaller groups.

Insourced Spend Increasing

Driven by a performing economy, buy-side companies are hiring more internal staff for training than in previous years. This is driving up their mix of internal to external spend. Just a few years ago, the average spend for buy-side companies was around 58 percent for internal resources and 42 percent for external. Our most recent study showed that over the last two years companies have moved the balance to more of a 60/40 or an expected 61/39 split in 2016. So while the overall corporate training market is still growing, we are seeing a relatively flat spend occurring with suppliers, especially with large scale BPO engagements. This trend may be short lived depending on the future global economy. Our experience has shown that as the economy improves, companies tend to hire more staff for training. As the economy declines, companies tend to move full-time resources to variable resources.