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5 Learning & Development Predictions for 2015

At its core, a trend is about change. Sometimes a change is dramatic like the disruptive technological changes that are occurring in all industries because of social media and mobile technology.  Most of the time, however, change is gradual. And, it is in this gradual change where most trends tend to live.

Unlike trends in the fashion and entertainment industry that seem to enjoy immediate adoption, even if it’s short-lived, trends in learning and development gain acceptance more gradually. So while trends are real, the degree to which they are being implemented, often feels more like someone putting their toes in the water rather than doing a cannonball off the diving board.

This year TrainSmart reviewed some of the top trends, then we compared what the media is saying about these trends to the conversions we continue to have with our client base.  Based on those conversations, here are TrainSmart’s predictions on how much traction these trends will gain in 2015.


No training trend has received more hype in recent years than the move to mobile. A quick Google search turns up headlines like, “Mobile Learning 2013, Gaining Momentum,” and “Mobile Learning—The Time is Now.”  However, it was this headline that caught our attention: “Mobile Learning: The Trend That’s NOT?”

“Only 1.39% of the 2013 ASTD State of the Industry report respondents indicate they used mobile as a distribution method. ASTD’s reports run a year behind (e.g. their 2013 report relies on 2012 data), but if we are generous and assume a 100% increase in the use of mobile we are still way under 5% of respondents indicating they are using mobile devices as a distribution strategy for delivering learning solutions (okay – ASTD don’t call use the term learning solutions, they use the term training).”

So, if the numbers are really that low, why are the experts saying that Mobile is such a hot trend? In part, it’s because everyone is excited about the potential that mobile can bring, and they want the mobile solution to succeed. Mobile, as a concept, has a lot going for it. It’s cool. It’s ubiquitous, and it brings new energy to our industry. To sweeten its appeal, most courseware development software have responsive design built into them, making it seamless to design learning to be viewed on everything mobile: smartphones, iPads, and tablets.

But good mojo alone does not mean that mobile is going to be as predominant as the media makes you think. TrainSmart’s Director of Instructional Design, e-Solutions and Compliance Anna Filas says there isn’t a client that doesn’t ask about mobile learning. “Everyone wants to go mobile until we discuss what that really means.”

What that means is in order for an organization to have a robust mobile learning program, they have to shift philosophically in how they think deliver training. “Many of the Apps used for eLearning do not integrate with organization’s LMS,” explains Filas. “This means organizations either have to come up with a different solution for having participants record completed courses, or they have to be comfortable in giving up the reporting aspect of their programs.

If they overcome that very significant barrier, there are additional hurdles. Between firewalls, budgets, legacy systems, security and BOYD environments, there are substantial obstacles blocking the move to mobile learning.

Our Prediction for 2015: Companies will continue to look for ways that eLearning is accessible on mobile devices. However, the vast majority of organizations will not be expanding their mobile reach beyond that because of the cost and philosophical barriers. For organizations that are ready to go beyond access, it’s important to figure out a mobile strategy that addresses the barriers to success. 

Snack-Sized Learning Served With a Side of Training Reinforcement

Study after study indicates that adult learners retain more information when the content is “chunked” in snack sized learning events rather than a marathon training event.

Training professionals are enthusiastic about chunking content because the approach yields improved learning. Despite more than 15 years of research supporting the benefits of chunked learning, many organizations remain resistant to adopting this approach. The resistance is due to three key factors: the irrational belief that longer is better, treating learning as an event instead of a process, and the perceived organizational and political cost of change.

As far back as 1999 research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that using a bite-sized approach to learning would increase knowledge transfer by as much as 17%. That same research found that the cost savings could be as high as 30%.

Now, fifteen years in the making, the trend for snack-sized learning is gaining momentum. This new traction is due in part to another learning trend that is also just coming into its own – virtual synchronous learning events

Like “Chunked Learning,” virtual synchronous learning events have been around since the late 90’s, and like chunked learning, these virtual synchronous learning events, aka Webinars were touted as a solution to a myriad of business issues.

Many proponents of webinars as a learning tool thought the trend would gain traction after 9/11 when businesses were looking for ways to reduce travel. Then again, proponents thought webinars would gain more acceptance after the 2008 crash when training budgets were slashed, and organizations were looking for ways to save money.

While Webinars are now widely used for business presentations and meetings, their acceptance as a learning platform has, at best, been lukewarm –still viewed as a poor alternative to face-to-face instructor-led training events.

For trainers and facilitators, Webinars have been especially challenging. Without the benefit of body language, many virtual trainers struggled with learner engagement and while they liked the “idea” of webinars, they preferred the classroom experience.

According to Anna Filas, learning webinars are finally coming into their own.  “While blended learning has been used for the past decade, we are just now beginning to understand the ways to exploit this learning platform to engage learners and with engagement comes acceptance.”

This is where the virtual synchronous learning event trend merges with snack sized learning because one of the key findings for engaging the virtual learner is that learning webinars should not last longer than two hours. In other words, virtual learning events need to chunk the learning in order to engage learners.

Just as research shows that people retain more if they learn in small bites, it also shows that learning is enhanced when it is reinforced on a regular basis after the initial learning occurs.  Typically if a learner is exposed to a new idea without any reinforcement, their retention after 30 days is less than 10%.

If during those same 30 days, the learner is exposed to the idea six times, their retention soars to over 90%.

From a learning perspective, it would seem that this would be a trend where everyone would be jumping on the bandwagon. But like the trend for snack-sized learning, there are logistical barriers which are slowing the traction.  “Most LMS systems” don’t have the functionality built into them to deliver these retention messages,” explained Filas. “We’re still seeing clients struggle with the administration and management of implementing retention learning programs, especially since they are not built into most client’s LMS.”

Filas added; many clients still don’t have an LMS, that makes implementing a retention learning program even more challenging.

Our Prediction for 2015: Snack-sized learning and synchronous learning events will increase significantly in 2015. However, implementation of training reinforcement programs will lag.

Creating a Coaching Culture

While our prediction is that technology-driven reinforced learning via apps and texts will continue to struggle to gain traction in 2015, we believe a non-technology reinforced learning technique will enjoy a significant uptick.

“We are seeing increased interest in coaching,” said Leslie Ciborowski, CEO and Founder of TrainSmart.

“Often,” explains Anne Harlow, Director of Performance Solutions for TrainSmart, “clients will ask us to help provide coaching to employees who continue to struggle with new skills after attending a training. Ideally, this reinforced learning should come from their own managers. However, in order for the managers to provide that reinforcement, they need first to be trained on how to coach their employees.”

Part of the challenge is the term “coaching”. “For so many people, when they hear the term, “coach,” they think of their high school coach. And, when they think of their high school coach, they think about someone who told them what to do.” Said Harlow.

As a result of those high school memories, many people assume that if they are talking to their team members every day and telling them what to do, they are coaching.

Managers soon learn that a coaching approach to management means asking more questions, improving listening skills, investigating issues instead of jumping to conclusions and identifying strengths and opportunities for team members.

While managers are often sent to coaching training to address a specific skill deficiency, the skills they learn are skills that are now considered essential leadership skills.

As organizations continue to move further and further away from Theory X management, the need to have all levels of leadership learn and practice coaching style management will increase.

Our Prediction for 2015: It will be a rare leadership program that does not include coaching as part of the essential skills for strong leadership.

Back To Basics

In five years, Millennials will make up nearly half (46%) of the U.S. workforce. Their impact on corporate culture cannot be overstated. They bring energy, social networking knowledge, and an enthusiasm for collaboration.  Millennials are also ambitious, and they want to lead. In fact, 78% of Millennials consider themselves to be leaders already. They are also eager to learn and welcome ongoing and regular feedback.

However, there is a disconnect over the type of training Millennials think they need to become strong leaders and the type of training those in leadership positions think the Millennials need. According to a recent survey of millennial professionals they believe they will learn and develop leadership skills by career coaching, mentoring, and rotational assignments.

While those who are currently in leadership positions may not disagree with these training methods, they also believe that Millennials need training on some fundamental skills.

This is not about Millennials rebelling or rejecting today’s business culture. It’s more an issue of Millennials not knowing what they don’t know because no one taught them.  At the top of the list, communication skills. Because of texting, emails, social media networks like twitter, millennials, as a group, have a very casual writing and speaking style – a style that grates like chalk on a blackboard for those from previous generations.

Professional Etiquette is a close second. Many baby boomers are horrified when a Millennial sends emails directly to the CEO or spends time during a team meeting returning texts to a friend. Millennials are not sure what the problem is.   All organizations have them. These unwritten rules differ from place to place but knowing how to navigate these rules are essential for career advancement. For some reason, Millennials often seem to be oblivious to these rules.

Our Prediction for 2015: Businesses will seek workshops providing back to the basics training skills on everything from how to hold a meeting to writing an email and presenting to small and large groups. However, don’t expect to see them called “Back to Basics.”

Retooling Global Leadership Training

The American Management Association, the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and Training magazine, have reviewed global leadership development programs for several years.  According to their latest report (based on surveys conducted in 2013), organizations are expressing some doubts about these programs, that up until now, have received enthusiastic reviews.

The findings of the report suggest that organizations believe their global leadership programs are losing their effectiveness and that participants are not mastering the skills required to be a global leader.

The most surprising finding of that report is that most of the programs don’t include curriculum focused on the global marketplace. For years, there’s been a prevailing attitude that leadership skills are universal and what will deliver success in the United States will deliver the same success around the globe.

That attitude is changing with more organizations asking to include modules on cultural intelligence (should link to our blog post on cultural intelligence but I don’t think it’s been posted) in their global leadership training programs.

Some experts are saying that it’s not enough to offer training in cultural intelligence for leaders, but in order to really succeed this should be an enterprise-wide priority.

Think of all the people who have team members, vendors and clients located in different parts of the world. It’s not just leaders who interact with people around the globe and because of this there is a recognition that all employees need more cultural awareness training in order for businesses to succeed in the global marketplace.

Over the past several years, organizations participating in the AMA study were asked to rank the top competencies for global leaders. These have remained consistent over the past several years.

  1. Change Management
  2. Critical Thinking and problem-solving
  3. Ability to influence and build coalitions
  4. Strategy development
  5. Execution of global strategies

While organizations may list Change Management as the most important competency, experts in the field of Global Leadership believe these organizations are missing some key competencies including the ability to manage virtual teams, an increased comfort with virtual and social network technology, creativity, and building a culture of innovation.

Our Prediction for 2015: Organizations will begin asking to include modules on cultural intelligence in leadership development programs while training on virtual and social network technology will continue to be left out of formal training curriculum.