Use the icons below to explore our eLearning Hype Curve for 2020.

Top Trends in eLearning

eLearning Hype Curve

Hype Curve Dataset

Continue reading for a quick explainer of the hype curve. If you’re familiar with these predictions, feel free to navigate to specific trends using the links below.

Trough of Disillusionment Trends

Slope of Enlightenment Trends

Plateau of Productivity Trends

What's the eLearning Hype Curve?

The eLearning Hype Curve is a visualization of what’s “trending” in eLearning, built using the Gartner Hype Cycle theory.

The Gartner theory holds that technologies emerge with little initial recognition and grow in familiarity until they reach their maximum “hype.” It discusses this rise in hype at five points– Innovation Trigger, Peak of Inflated Expectations, Trough of Disillusionment, Slope of Enlightenment, and Plateau of Productivity.

Innovation Trigger

The point at which a new technology– or in our case, eLearning trend– emerges onto the scene. Only a few insiders are aware of the trend, but after emerging it begins growing in popularity and familiarity.

Peak of Inflated Expectations

The concept or new technology reaches its peak “hype” and is incorrectly regarded as the be-all-end-all solution to problems in the field.

People invest in this technology or concept with vigor, outpacing the reality of the innovation’s abilities. This is when you see recurring buzzwords appear across social media, blogs and even conference presentations.

Trough of Disillusionment

Not long after, it becomes evident that the solution isn’t a one-size-fits-all fix for issues in the field. Though the technology continues its growth, people begin to lose faith in its utility and drastically scale back their promotion of it.

Slope of Enlightenment

The technology or trend continues to improve and refine, despite decreased hype. It’s utility in some scenarios becomes evident and hype begins to increase– never reaching the levels it hit initially.

Plateau of Productivity

Actual users of the technology emerge and buzz reaches a moderate, stable level. Abundant revenue is generated and it becomes mainstream in the market, seen as useful for actual users rather than as a savior of the field overall.

How Did We Build Our Hype Curve Dataset?

We’re a little late this year on our annual eLearning hype curve, so this had better be good, right? We think it is. Once again, we’re basing our predictions about learning technology hype for the coming year on #data: millions of words, specifically, used in the Twitter feeds of a set of influencers in our industry. This year, we algorithmically expanded the set of influencers we tracked to get more data (this is part of the reason we’re so late!).

Here are the 61 Twitter handles whose aggregate buzz you’re seeing in condensed format in this blog post:

A new tool we’ve built lets us find the most shared articles among our influencers. We’ve used that to find most of the links you see in this blog post, so please be sure to follow the links if you’re interested in a particular trend.

We’ve noticed a through-line in the hype this year: our influencers are grappling with the consequences of automation for learning. Forces like artificial intelligence and machine learning will change, and are changing, our work, and therefore our learning. All of our knowledge and skills now have to be considered in the light of whether artificial intelligence can automate them, and that fact is driving newer buzzwords like learning culture and future of work. Read on for the evidence.

Innovation Trigger

Learning Culture

Why does a particular buzzword take off at a particular moment? The buzzword must be “right for the times.” The concept of a learning culture fits an era in which companies consider themselves to be challenged by rapid technological and economic change.

The pitch with learning culture is that in an age of increasing volatility and wrenching change, organizations whose people are committed to learning constantly will come out on top. It is incumbent on leaders to create these learning cultures. Examples of this discourse are here, here, and here. Not much more to it; good buzzword? Perhaps. But read on to the next buzzword, future of work.

Like learning culture, the future of work is driven by the sense that skills quickly grow irrelevant. “The half-life of skills is getting shorter,” says another expert quoted in the Atlantic story. Crucially, the short half-life of skills is tied to the sense that artificial intelligence (see below) and automation will quickly take over any new human competency. Here, then, is the connection to learning culture: both learning culture and the future of work hope for employees who pick up new expertise on the job, probably from eLearning, and implement it quickly. The best skill is the ability to pick up new skills quickly – even if imperfectly. For workers, this sounds head-spinning; thus we have ATD advising us to befriend the machines and build personal resilience.

Future of Work

An article in none other than The Atlantic digs into how the United States Navy anticipates a future of work in which traditional expertise is abandoned in favor of “hybrid” employees who can (in the words of one quoted expert) “be all, do all, and pivot on a dime to solve any problem.”

Digital Transformation

In the general economy, digital transformation frequently refers to the move from brick and mortar retail to eCommerce. In learning, it sometimes refers to the move from stand up, face-to-face training to online learning. While that particular type of digital transformation is certainly still ongoing, it’s also noteworthy that the entire discipline of eLearning is the product of that transformation, so for eLearning people this buzzword is nothing new under the sun. Some of the terminological vagueness has led to backlash.  

But digital transformation is buzzing because it often stands in for, again, automation. The rise of the superjob – same as the “hybrid” jobs discussed under “future of work”– is a form of digital transformation driven by AI. The Harvard Business Review advises executives to recognize employees’ fear of being replaced. 

Social Learning

Some buzzwords are oldies that come back into fashion. We had Social Learning on the Plateau of Productivity – i.e., post-hype – at our last iteration of the hype curve. This was because of, first, the data, which had only one instance of a month where the hype exceeded 20%. Second, we’ve been talking about and practicing social learning for decades now, so we figured this was an old buzzword.  

It’s now clear, though, that hype around social learning is actually increasing. It’s also clear that the meaning of the term is evolving. There’s a heavy emphasis on mentoring and coaching in today’s social learning discourse, which is different from the discussion forums and group projects that defined most social learning years ago.

It might be that people are inundated with opportunities for online discussion and information (or disinformation) sharing, and coaching and mentoring – essentially getting highly relevant, personalized information from experts – is viewed as the only way to cut through the clutter and provide something more valuable than you can get from a Google search. Anyone whose office uses Slack or one of its competitors (e.g., Skype chat, Hipchat, Microsoft Teams) knows that these tools can be a faster route to answering work-specific questions or finding that crucial chunk of documentation than a Google search or, God forbid, an eLearning course. It seems that the increasing hype around social learning is in part a response to the growing popularity of these tools, with a Chief Learning Officer survey showing that “secure instant messaging” (i.e., Slack) is one of the most adopted corporate social learning technologies.

Workflow/Flow of Work

Like an updated and shiny-new microlearning (see below), workflow learning is pushing toward Peak of Inflated Expectations territory.

The idea is making learning available at precisely the moment we need it in our work – the hallowed Five Moments of Need. There’s not much more to it than that, and it’s more of a theory than a working technology; see here for a discussion. It’s notable that even this trend is often related by authors to the growth of smarter, more automated enterprises.  

Peak of Inflated Expectations


We held out on including podcasts as a buzzword in the past because some of our influencers have their own podcasts and are tweeting about that. However, the hype, and the growth trend, is now so clear that it’s obvious they have their own buzz as a learning technology.  

Podcasts, of course, have been around almost since the iPod got its start. The term dates to 2004 (OK, that’s according to Wikipedia). Podcasts were generally, at that time, episodic shows for your iPod. You could hook your MP3 player up to your Mac and iTunes would “sync” the latest podcasts onto it for you to listen to while wearing your J. Crew turtleneck at Starbuck’s. 

In 2020, the term podcast is far more used than its namesake (instances of iPod in the hypecurve dataset over the last six months: zero—but note! iPods still exist!). Podcasts have become much more accessible to the masses via, of course, the smartphone. Due to their accessibility, periodic and episodic nature, audibility, and invisibility, podcasts are a perfect example of spaced microlearning that easily fits into our busy lives. Still not convinced? Here are twenty reasons podcasts are hyped right now.

Learning Experience (LX)

The learning experience juggernaut barrels along at high hype levels, with perhaps a bit of softening in the last six months. The coin was termed by the influential analyst Josh Bersin, and the term seems to have grown into a market (or at least a marketing term) since then. Read the links for a definition, but basically we’re talking about a more enticing learning platform with a focus on modern user experience, adaptive learning features, and a microlearning orientation. 

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality—you know, those goggles—has probably peaked, hypewise. The technology has become a bit cheaper and more well known, and we’re entering the phase of application for some classic eLearning use cases. That means we can expect some disillusionment in the near future. 

Design Thinking

People use design thinking to mean the idea that we should approach problems the way designers do. It’s easy to see why this term would attract some buzz in the discipline of eLearning, where many of us are current or former instructional designers. On the other hand, design thinking is a very 2007, first-generation iPhone kind of term, with its emphasis on design (Steve Jobs talked about Apple’s “humanities approach” to design) and thinking (Apple’s slogan was once “think different”). Is that technological optimism still selling or are we all just dreading our impending replacement by the machines now?

On the third hand, digital transformation is buzzing, so words can obviously go in and out of fashion. As the graph shows, there’s a general upward trend in the usage of the term, but it’s also possible that usage might have peaked earlier this year, having once exceeded the 25% monthly threshold to be considered a true buzzword. If you’re interested, there’s a nice curated collection of links on the topic from a learning professional perspective here.

Artificial Intelligence

AI is still peak hype, as one would expect from perhaps the defining technology of the last five years—even if we’re starting to see some hints of downward movement as people start to see it in action. Sit back and let the hype wash over you: 


The use of analytics only makes sense, and my personal experience suggests that every learning organization is trying to get better insights from their data. A recent series by Trish Uhl offers plenty of wisdom for those of us who are fighting this battle. 

Trough of Disillusionment


There’s not much we can snark that hasn’t been snarked before. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the concept of keeping learning small. It was just overhyped. The decline in hype is fascinating here, though.

Roughly a year and a half ago, we had a month where almost 40% of influencers tweeted the word microlearning at least once. Then four months ago we had a month where that got all the way down to 15%. The Slope of Disillusionment is real, and it looks like it takes a little over a year to get from the Peak to the bottom (maybe?) of the Trough. 

As we wrote in the 2018 version of this blog post, gamification is “the application of gaming exostructure, like points, levels, and badges, to learning,” and the use of gamification in corporate eLearning is “the worst thing ever.” Currently, it appears the influencers are in agreement. 


Just look at the last couple of months. Gamification is deep down in the Trough right now.


I’ve recently seen some non-eLearning-specific practitioners at places like ASAE and ACEhp singing the praises of badges and microcredentials. I take that as a sign that the technology is starting to be used to solve real-world problems, and trending toward the Slope of Enlightenment. However, the numbers don’t reflect that yet. The hype is so rock-bottom right now that I’m not even going to share any articles – there really haven’t been any recently, at least among our influencer set.

Slope of Enlightenment

Experience API (xAPI)

The Experience API (xAPI) is not, in most use cases, a replacement for SCORM, but it is a useful standard that brings eLearning into the big data era.

We have finally learned what xAPI is and are beginning to use it appropriately. This matches the profile of a technology that is firmly on the Slope of Enlightenment, and the hype curve graphic above shows the low chatter and gradual growth expected from such a technology. There is one point of commonality with SCORM: if xAPI is working, then you don’t really need to know how it works. We take that as a reason for the low number of shareable recent articles on the topic. 

Plateau of Productivity

Mobile Learning

As expected, mobile learning has started to reach stable levels of hype as we now take good, widely accessible tools for learning on your smartphone entirely for granted. No need to talk about mobile learning – we’re too worried that AI is going to take away our jobs making memes. 

Check Out the eLearning Hype Curve Blog

2021 eLearning Predictions – Hype Curve

2020 eLearning Hype Curve

In 2021, social learning is hitting the scene in the innovation trigger section of the hype curve.

2019 eLearning Predictions – Hype Curve

In 2019, blockchain and learning analytics were just hitting the scene in the innovation trigger portion of the graph.

2018 eLearning Predictions – Hype Curve

In 2018, artificial intelligence and virual reality were just hitting their peaks, while subscription learning was on the downturn.

2017 eLearning Predictions – Hype Curve

Check out our eLearning hype curve predictions for 2017, when subscription learning was at peak hype.

More Hype Curve Content:


At Web Courseworks, we research the eLearning Hype Curve each year. Find all of our previous predictions here.