Trends in Learning & Development 2015

Learning & Development

As a kick off to 2016 I’d like to share with you some of the trends that we have seen happening in the Learning and Development space during 2015. Our company had a very busy 2015 and we were lucky enough to be involved in Organization and Talent development projects in China, Japan, Indonesia, Hong Kong, The UK, Singapore, India, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Some of our more innovative clients in these regions have been experimenting with new learning modes and different ways to invest their L&D budgets.

The most noticeable trend was a gradual movement away from both traditional classroom based training and also away from old style e-learning (AKA MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses). The main reason for this is that L&D professionals have begun to recognize that that every worker is a unique human being who learns in different ways and at different speeds and with different learning needs and abilities. As a result, a “one size fits all” approach can make learning a very slow process, the curriculum mostly irrelevant, the engagement level extremely low, the transfer back to the workplace minimal, and the ultimate ROI close to zero.

This is especially true of training designed to change behavior – such as building confidence, assertiveness, emotional intelligence, accountability or resilience or developing communication, management and leadership skills. The only way to really change people’s behavior is to identify individual needs, find their unique motivators, and gradually ease people towards a new way of behaving. This takes repeated practice over time and requires that learning interventions provide people the opportunity to practice the change both in the classroom and the real environment and get ongoing feedback and reinforcement on their performance. We think it is funny and more than a bit misguided that a lot of training vendors still give out completion certificates at the end of a workshop, when the real test of the person’s ability does not happen until they go back to work and test themselves on the job, in front of their staff or their customer.

So here are some of the key trends we have observed in the past year:


Blended Learning Experiences


The concept of blended learning has been around for a long time, but the specific definition has not yet been agreed upon. Basically it means combining rich media (Internet and other digital sources) with classroom-based, instructor led training. The advantage is that students can watch video lectures or engage in online learning activities first, and at their own pace. Then the instructor uses his or her class time to answer questions, lead discussions and practical activities and provide feedback and guidance to participants.


  • Rich Media: The success of media sites like YouTube, Khan Academy and com has made the use of video and guided instruction an acceptable and viable medium. We have been able to significantly shorten classroom time by using rich storytelling techniques to provide context, while using face to face exploratory activities for content that needs to be practiced and retained.
  • Micro-learning and Mobile Learning: Micro-learning delivers learning in small chunks, rather than lengthy lectures or even videos. It uses small learning bits and short activities that can be delivered by email, on a smartphone, or through other online tools. Micro-learning is one more way to provide continuous learning, an approach that better fits natural human learning patterns.
  • Flipped Classroom: Is a course in which students participate in online learning off-site instead of traditional homework and then attend the classroom session for face-to-face, teacher-guided practice or projects.

Continuous Learning


z3Our industry is becoming aware that a single training event is not sufficient for closing a knowledge, skill or performance gap. There is a greater understanding of the value of continuous learning and performance support. The rigid boundary lines of the discrete “course” are slowly dissolving. Many course we delivered last year consisted of 6 or more half day sessions spread out over 6 or more months – the benefits being greater retention and less impact on ongoing work.


  • Action Learning and Mentoring Programs: Many of the programs we delivered in 2015 included an action learning or mentoring component. What this means is that after completing a training program, the participants will continue to meet at regular intervals in small groups with a facilitator (or individually with a mentor) to discuss how the work that they are doing could possibly benefit from the lessons they learned in the classroom. They then apply those lessons directly to work activities and follow up at succeeding sessions.
  • Performance Support Tools: Many organizations are requesting learning providers to develop tools that students can take back to the workplace to support the transfer of learning. These can be as simple as posters, wallet cards, Excel or PowerPoint templates, or more complex, IT based workflow tools. The key requirement is that these tools must not add complexity or unnecessary steps to the normal workflow while improving performance.
  • Follow up Support:  Ongoing coaching and mentoring has continued to grow in importance because, quite simply, it’s really hard to remember something after only one lesson. More complex topics, especially so-called “soft skills” like negotiation, presentation and other management skills require a campaign approach using ongoing interventions to revisit complex topics and refine or refresh key learnings in order to drive them home. And finally, most organizations are now looking more closely at the qualifications of the facilitators and coaches they are employing, preferring to use experienced Practitioners rather than inexperienced Trainers.


z4Historically many organizations purchased rather generic, off-the-shelf training programs that attempted to cover every aspect of a particular skill in a two or three day course. This is gradually changing as L&D professionals and their clients realize that they don’t have the time or need for such courses.


  • Unbundled Skills: These days many organizations are demanding much more specialized focus on one or two key areas delivered in shorter sessions. For example, it used to be popular to take a two-day workshop on business presentation skills, which covered every conceivable presentation situation rather shallowly. Now clients are requesting such specific scenarios as: storytelling skills for executives, presenting to hostile audiences, sales presentations, persuasive presentations, delivering keynote speeches, presenting without PowerPoint, and speaking extemporaneously, to name just a few.
  • Shorter Bursts Delivered Just in Time: Although it is sometimes difficult to coordinate, short bursts of learning (half a day or less), delivered more frequently is a much better way to deliver learning than a single, long seminar. Participants engagement levels are higher and the business impact is less negative than taking people away from their jobs for two or three days.

Activity Based Learning

z5One of the biggest challenges with traditional classroom learning is the difficulty taking the learning out of the classroom and implementing it back on the job.


  • Real Cases: One of the most exciting trends is that we are now bringing the workplace and the classroom together – participants in some of these programs bring their real workplace challenges to the “classroom” and work out the solutions with the guidance of a skilled facilitator and the other participants and then take their solutions back to the office. No academic lectures, no canned role-plays, no BS, just solving real problems and getting real results.
  • Scenario-Based Questions: A great way to develop higher-level thinking and problem-solving skills is through scenario-based questions. In this type of learning realistic cases are created in advance of the series of workshops, based on real, but historical problems that the organization has faced. The participants are put into workgroups and asked to solve the problems, present their solutions, and discuss and compare the feasibility and efficacy of each solution.
  • Gamification: Many organizations are now asking for business games to be included as part of traditional learning programs. The thinking is that self-discovery produces far better learning experiences than passively listening to a lecturer. This is especially popular with the Millennial generation, and frankly, one of the only ways we have found to keep their attention focused for any length of time.


All of these trends share some common attributes. Each contributes to the revitalization of ways to communicate and educate our internal and external populations. They blend and utilize the changing ways we seek and use information. Lastly, and most importantly, they each can contribute to a shorter, more engaging, accessible, and effective learning experience.


Now, obviously these innovations in training can be somewhat expensive, complex, and time consuming to develop, and so some of the more conservative organizations will probably continue to use the “one-size-fits-all” approach. However, we believe that you can expect to see more of these ideas being incorporated into L&D interventions in the next few years.


This post is also available in: Japanese