June 8, 2017

The current and emerging trends in learning

Every year the Open University’s Institute of Educational Technology identifies new ways to enhance learning through technology. It does this by analysing the latest innovations in teaching, learning and assessment and it looks at the impact these innovations are having on workplace learning. Its findings are written up in an annual report.

This year’s Trends in Learning 2017 highlighted six key trends in learning:

– learning for the future
– learning through social media
– productive failure
– formative analytics
– learning from the crowd
– design thinking

Let’s look at these six trends in a little more detail:

Learning for the future
Modern day learners need to be continuous learners – they need to keep looking forward. No-one can afford to stand still. They need to be agile, curious and adaptive. Because of technology, change is happening all the time. Change is in fact the new normal, so learners will need to keep developing and updating their skills and knowledge. L&D needs to help facilitate that.

Learning also needs to be delivered in more informal, bite-sized chunks that can be consumed whenever, wherever and on whatever medium suits the learner. Ideally, it will be social and multi-media: the latest science findings tell us that this is what our brains like best.

Learning through social media
Social media as a learning tool is gaining in popularity all the time. It is great for on demand learning, enabling learners to access learning as and when they need it. It is also great for peer-to-peer learning and for forging networks. Social media can be used to bring learning to life and to engage learners in a very interactive and immediate fashion. Learners are using social media a lot at home, but at work? Many employers struggle with the concept of learning through social media and so have not yet embraced it in the workplace. There needs to be a widespread cultural shift in order to allow social media learning at work to take off properly.

Learning from the crowd
This follows on from learning through social media. It is all about peer-to-peer learning, sharing and collaboration. The modern workplace has to be a collaborative environment, one that encourages and assists employees to learn and share from and with each other. Doing this enables individuals and organisations to stay current and to thrive.

Productive failure
This is about people being able to work through problems and learning from making mistakes. It’s old fashioned trial and error. The OU’s report says that the productive failure approach encourages deep learning because people learn best when they try to solve problems themselves. It is about the process of learning, not just the end result. Employers that allow employees to try things out and explore problems, knowing full well that they might fail, are creating a culture that says it’s okay to make mistakes. Not only does this encourage deep learning, it also allows innovation and creativity to flourish.

Design thinking
Here, the OU is referencing a term that became popular in the 1980s after the publication of two books: ‘How Designers Think’ and ‘Design Thinking’. Design thinking is about creativity, naturally, but it is also about harnessing the way that designers think, about analysis and construction, about the process of reviewing and improving. It is also about working with possibilities and constraints. Design thinkers embrace diverse perspectives and explore and develop competing alternatives.

Formative analytics
This is analytics for learning, with the focus being on reflection and improvement. It is so important that employees reflect on what they have learned, what could be done better, what new goals to set and how to advance their learning. Formative analytics empowers learners to take control of their learning.

It is important that L&D professionals keep up to date with current and emerging trends. We all need to be continuous learners, open to new ideas and ways of doing things. However, that does mean that L&D has to be wary of just jumping on the bandwagon because everyone else is. Fads come and go and L&D has been often criticized for being swayed by fads. It’s not always easy to determine what new trends are worthwhile and which are to be avoided, but that is a perennial challenge that won’t go away.

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