Foolish Predictions in Learning Technology for 2021

January 6th, 2021

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that predictions for the year are fruitless.

Furthermore, education and professional development is a slow sector at the best of times, and often predictions for the year are in the correct ball park, but are mostly never a home run.

Nonetheless, here we are.


Investment driven success & Degreed IPO

The professional development and edtech landscape will continue to expand - fuelled by the enthusiastic investment of venture capitalists - provided the distance learning trend continues to be accelerated by the pandemic.

We can expect a slow down of investment in the sector if/when life returns to a large degree of normality, but the long term trend will still see the sector remain strong and growth high.

As early as four days into the new year, the acquisitions re-commenced, with Kallidus acquiring Sapling in a push to become a full Human Capital Management software provider.

As Benjamin Franklin once said "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.", and thus an investment in a platform that facilitates knowledge should be a sure thing.

Degreed are one of the more investment heavy companies in the field, appearing to have taken around $182m since their start in 2012. One would imagine that many investors will want to see a return on their money within the next 12-24 months, and in a distance-led learning world, this could be the ideal time for a Degreed IPO.


The progression of modern learning styles and mobile delivery

As the switch to a learner driven approach for professional development platforms continue, the learning content styles - in both content and delivery - will continue to adapt.

The preferred formats of the end-user will continue to bubble up, with a continued propulsion to video as the preferred content type, with subjects broken up into shorter and snappier chunks wrapped in learning pathways.

The interpolation of learning content types between delivery types is becoming highly sought. i.e. Allowing the user to engage with short form blog or audio content on a mobile device on the move, and long form learning courses at the desk on the computer.

In line with the improved content formats and approaches, I predict an increased uptake for organisations to offer mobile delivery of their learning content and platforms throughout 2021. Even though the pandemic has largely put a halt to travel - which has a knock on effect to some form of mobile learning - the uptake on mobile consumption as the preferred device across industries cannot be ignored.

Mobile purchases as part of the whole e-commerce market were up to 70% for 2020 (an increase of 3% on 2019), and with Towards Maturity reporting 47% of organizations in 2020 used mobile devices in their training programs, I would expect to see this increase to 55% by the close of 2021.


Artificially intelligent, but no Virtual Reality

With the slow reduction of the buzz-word feel to Artificial Intelligence (AI), 2021 will see learning platforms increasing their utilisation of the AI toolbox to both improve the learners experience, alongside the analytical data and insights provided to the business.

Its importance and its accuracy in the field will help AI surface accurate and substantial tailored learning content to the correct individuals just-in-time.

It will help provide a weighted mix of curated and created content to strike the right balance between mandatory formal learning and recommended and personalised AI-surfaced content. The balance is likely to start to skew away from created content however as the year progresses, especially as AI patterns improve.

Virtual Reality however is off the table.

At this point (and whilst it is improving) it's simply too niche, too expensive, too clunky and too expensive to build engaging and valuable content within a Virtual Reality environment. The pandemic has made this obstacle even harder to overcome, and the hill of the battle has certain become more "up".

I do not want to lose this format - there are certain industries today that this really fits with (think military or fire service) - but I do not see progress for VR in 2021.


Tacit knowledge sharing to reduce the skills gap

A recent report by Gartner showed that the number of skills required for a job is increasing by 10% year over year, and over 30% of the skills needed three years ago will soon be irrelevant.

The alarming reality is the skills an employee once had are becoming obsolete more quickly than ever before.

I see learning platforms building tools to facilitate the tacit knowledge sharing within an organisation, and promoting engagement with self-serve and self-sourced learning content to keep each member's skill base high.

Organisations should look to "Create channels for employees and the organization to exchange skills information, which facilitates a better match between employees and their organization." - Gartner


Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

A recent report from RedThread research focused on the increased importance and higher expectation of actions within organisations worldwide.

Its a relatively safe prediction to forecast an increased push into DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging) as organisations focus on the power of their brand. The largest concern however is whether the increase in hashtags and additional initiatives can actually be converted into meaningful action.

Big business will continue to increase the volume of its talk about diversity, equity, inclusion, and even the new kid on the block, anti-racism. But many of those same businesses will continue to put profits over people because they’ll feel stuck in the cycle of short-term shareholder-value creation. - Baratunde Thurston

If organisations do have the appetite to tackle the challenge effectively, they need to have the key information at hand to make large fundamental changes to their business. This is where advanced analytics of learning platforms can come in to assist.

Advanced data analytics are to become a primary driver for learning platform implementations and to move from an afterthought to a key requirement of organisations looking to gain an advantage.

Data analytics should provide organisation wide insights formed from granular interactions to underpin operational and strategical changes, and even to the moral and social impact of their business.

Summary

Whether it be a one-line "Degreed to IPO" or a rather safe DEIB trend, predictions are still incredibly uncertain and difficult to get right. In general though I feel the trends identified here are correct, and I will look to delve a little deeper in the coming weeks into many of the topics mentioned above.

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