The Year Ahead in Learning Technology

By Riia O'Donnell February 11, 2020
woman learning from laptop

​The same tech that's pushing the need to upskill is being leveraged to make upskilling possible. The rise of mobile has made learning accessible to everyone, democratizing learning and development (L&D) for all employees.

Here's where learning tech is trending for 2020.

Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR)

Virtual and augmented reality training is shifting how we deliver information and acquire skills. VR headsets, once considered only for gaming, have made their way into L&D in unexpected ways. VR provides more than instructional data, as employees hear, sense and feel the environment around them in a virtual scenario, readying them for rare and mission-critical situations. Augmented reality has found a variety of applications in safety and beyond. Carpenters overlay architectural plans to accurately place mechanical systems. Workers are walked through safety protocols to assure proper use. The possibilities for this once-presumed niche tech may be endless.

Training employees to use equipment in the virtual world, before their safety is at risk, was a natural fit. But trainers have taken the technology beyond instruction on completing physical tasks.

VR is boosting soft skills like communication and leadership with situational learning, as well as training to recognize and prevent sexual harassment.

 "VR/AR can provide learning opportunities that help solve real-world business problems," said Heidi Soltis-Berner, managing director of Deloitte University, the learning and development center for the consulting and audit firm, based in the Dallas area. "The technology offers an immersive experience that can boost engagement, while allowing repeated simulations in a safe environment, which can lead to better retention of knowledge and information."

At Deloitte University, she added, "our Digital Hub is a hands-on learning installation where our people can discover, experience and spark new curiosity around emerging technologies like augmented reality, as well as envision what they can do for clients to drive innovation and business transformation."

Game-Based Learning is a Gamechanger

Game-based learning is shifting delivery as well as engagement. Training employees in a familiar venue, a game-like environment, is an expected fit. In addition to providing learning experiences that are fun and engaging, training boosts acquisition and retention rates.

James Micklethwait, vice president of products at Oslo, Norway-based learning platform and game maker Kahoot! said that gamification and game-based learning are not the same. Gamification uses game-design elements in nongame contexts, like badges. Game-based learning is the use of games to teach through repetition, failure and the accomplishment of goals. The Kahoot! platform uses the classic toolkit of game-based learning: competition, engagement, immediate rewards and immediate feedback.

Micklethwait said that engagement is enhanced with game-based learning. One organization that Kahoot! worked with reported that trainees have an 89 percent participation rate and an average response accuracy rate of 79 percent.

Leaderboards create competition that can help employees strive to achieve. Most important may be the immediate feedback employees find—when they've mastered a skill, the system moves them immediately forward to the next challenge, just like the games they've grown up with.

Artificial Intelligence

The days of L&D professionals trying to analyze what training was being used and was effective have shifted dramatically. Artificial intelligence (AI) now collects and analyzes data faster and acquires more information than previously possible. This gives L&D the data they need to move on to more important functions, like acquiring new learning for employees to leverage.

"These platforms bridge the disconnect that has existed between skills being taught in school versus what the industry demands and are changing the way people will get educated," said Madhu Narasa, CEO and co-founder of, a recruiting software company in Fremont, Calif.

His company creates algorithms that instantaneously analyze the data being generated about the most sought-after skills and map the insights for student learning. "The insights are then transformed into micro-suggestions that are tailored to fit the individual student's learning, engagement and performance outcomes. Imagine having a coach who understands how the skill universe is evolving and at the same time understands you, your abilities and weaknesses so that it can suggest the best possible pathways to maximize your potential."

Social Learning

While learning has become more accessible, learning in a vacuum isn't always the best choice. Social learning and communities of practice help workers engage in training with others. These sites provide learners with peers to help with difficulties, encourage growth and applaud successes. They typically mix new learners and seasoned professionals together to offer advice and suggestions. The ability to access peers through cyberspace, either through structured meetings or any-time messaging, is boosting acquisition, engagement and retention.

Paula Ketter, a content strategist with the Association for Talent Development in Alexandria, Va., said their research shows employees are using social media for self-directed learning, collaboration on projects, knowledge- and file-sharing, and communication on organizational initiatives. "We all use social media to find information when we need to complete a task, so why shouldn't employees expect the same social capabilities at work?"

She added there's a strong need in today's world to connect and collaborate with like-minded individuals who share a similar passion for certain things, and that's why communities of practice or social groups are valuable tools for learning. "Engagement can be very high with these groups because people can find answers to specific job-related problems, make professional connections outside of work, and share knowledge and skills to enhance their learning."

What's on the Horizon?

Chatbots and holographic learning centers may be the high-tech trends to watch for in the future.

With advances in natural-language tools, chatbots may one day replace teachers in classroom-type scenarios.

And as the workforce becomes more distributed, a central hub for learning may be the holographic classroom. Organizations are leveraging state-of-the-art holographic theaters to bring trainers from around the globe to learners, or even take learners into the field where they demonstrate complex procedures or guide engineers through multifaceted systems.

Riia O'Donnell is a freelance writer in Chicago.


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