With the level of change going on inside every organization, popular theory has been that training organizations must be able to adapt with the times. Learners’ needs are changing, technology is evolving, skills are different, automation is altering processes, and globalization is expanding our reach. Our ability to adapt to change often defines our success. But we are learning that speed is now the factor of success.

How fast can we design new learning solutions? How fast can a learner access information they need to do their jobs? How fast can a worker learn a new skill? How fast can we change a learner’s behavior to improve the performance of the business? These are the critical discussions we need to be having with corporate executives.

Training organizations that perform at a very high level are those that are deliberate in their approach to improving the speed of learning and performance change. The key trends for 2018 reflect the challenge and opportunity for training professionals to develop learning experiences that enable learners to reach proficiency in the shortest amount of time.

Mass Customization is Driving Learner Experience

Blanket, one-size-fits-all training is no longer adequate to meet the unique needs of learners. They expect and require training that is customized to fit into the context of their workflow and meets the specific needs of their job role and function. To do this, learning leaders must shift their focus from creating learning programs to designing customized learning paths that encompass the entire learning experience – from the point of job entry to when the learner achieves expert performance. Adaptive technologies are helping us with how to design content differently, learning libraries provide microlearning elements that can be curated for ongoing access, and social media tools give us the ability to reinforce critical learning concepts while on the job. Workforce learning is not about courses, it’s about the entire learning experience and how we build competencies and skills unique to the individual.

Closing the Digital Skills Gap

The shelf life of digital skills is shrinking. As new technology becomes available, old skills quickly become outdated. Skills maintenance in a rapidly changing technological world is challenging to keep up with. Just as employees are mastering a new technology, a new version comes out with added capabilities and features. Learning leaders must ensure that there are resources available to help learners at the point of need. With the rise of the “Internet of Things,” we are entering an era that offers limitless opportunities to connect devices to inanimate objects. This sharing of data creates both risks and rewards. Sharing a vast amount of data creates security concerns, but also offers an immense amount of information about the users. Technology provides insights into learner behaviors and, when leveraged effectively, can create value for the business.

Growing Emphasis on People Skills

Living in a technologically-driven world has led to a breakdown in basic communication skills. There is less and less human interaction occurring in business today. Phone calls and face-to-face meetings are being replaced by text and email communication. While technology is helping lead innovation, developing our soft skills is necessary to stay relevant, communicate value and supplement those important technical skills. Soft skills such as emotional intelligence, collaboration and negotiation are growing more important as organizations become more global and diverse. This is a call to action for L&D to refine the social skills of their workforce and ensure that soft skills training is on the agenda.

Improvisation in Instructional Design

Improvisation is the act of spontaneously creating something from whatever is available. It has been used to teach leadership and sales professionals to deal with real-world scenarios. It is also a useful technique for helping instructional designers in reducing design and development time for new courses. It can help designers to be more creative and flexible in their approach to designing learning scenarios.

Agile Is Now the Standard

We’ve effectively reached the end of an era with ADDIE in corporate instructional design. Instructional designers need to move beyond the event and consider the entire learning system for their programs. Agile design allows high-performing training organizations to provide employees with access to more timely training, whereas ADDIE is too time consuming and expensive for short bursts of content. Learning solution design looks more like agile software development or scrum design theory. These approaches change the way the designer thinks about the program.

Artificial Intelligence

Through the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning, L&D can better understand learner behaviors and predict needs by recommending and positioning content based on past behavior. Adaptive learning that is personalized to the individual is a powerful way to engage today’s workforce. The challenge for L&D is making sense of all the data and leveraging the insights to drive business value.

Leveraging Training as an Employee Benefit

Training is quickly becoming a key differentiator between companies competing for talent. Personal and professional development is an important focus area for modern employees when seeking employment, as well as for deciding to stay with their current employer. They want accessible training to refine and grow their skills. L&D can play an active role in retaining and engaging employees. By providing training and development, employees are more motivated and successful within their roles. Training should be leveraged as an employee incentive and added to existing benefits packages alongside retirement, health and wellness options. Employees who are successful in their current companies tend to stay with their employer for longer periods.

The Instructor as Coach

As the classroom size continues to shrink, the role of the instructor is changing from a facilitator for a large audience to a personal coach or tutor. Instructors must move beyond traditional facilitation skills to encompass a range of storytelling and coaching skills to personalize the learning experience. Learners do not want a regurgitation of facts and information from required pre-work; they want stories that make the content relatable to them. Learners want to be at the center of the story and the training experience.

Deliberate Practice Becoming Strategy for Reinforcement

Transforming the training function from event managers to performance consultants is paramount to next generation training organizations. The focus is on managing the entire learning experience – from the day an employee starts the job to when they reach their targeted level of proficiency. Research shows that the best way for a learner to master a skill comes not from the course or event, but from how deliberate they are in practicing and improving their skills over time. High-performing training organizations focus on competency models as a comprehensive approach to learning design, curating all aspects of learning from onboarding, to structured courses, to on-the-job training, to coaching and mentoring, and to the deliberate practice of skills.

Training Spend Increasing

Overall global budgets appear to be on the rise – we expect a 2 to 5 percent increase globally. We see investments taking on a more project feel, with some situations of reducing current investment levels to allocate to major initiatives on the horizon. We also expect L&D leaders to continue the trend of spending more of their total budget internally (new headcount) versus sourcing more of the programs externally.

As we move into a new year and continue to analyze the training market, it is our hope that these trends will provide some insight and direction when planning your training strategy. We would love to hear how these trends are impacting your organization.