The arrival of a new year means we have new eLearning predictions to reveal! In 2015,  we believe experimentation with analytics-driven performance improvement will lead to more “intelligent recommendations” and personalized professional development in Continuing Medical Education and beyond.  We also think that extended enterprise LMS solutions will allow corporations to expand training opportunities and license to external, third-party audiences. Additionally, we foresee that investment in micro-learning and MOOCs will increase the demand for meaningful micro-credentials and continue to reshape the economics of professional development .

Before we unpack all five of our latest industry predictions, I want to take a moment to recap our past eLearning predictions from 2013 and 2014.  Two years ago, we projected growth for HTML5 in mobile learning and responsive template design and more MOOC development from universities and traditional institutions of higher learning. This past year, we focused on the rise of mobile learning through investment in HTML5, creation of MOOC-like offerings by associations, invention of micro-learning opportunities for various platforms, and growth of social media-style credentials. You may see some hits and some misses in those posts, but the general trends toward HTML5, multi-platform learning, micro-credentialing, and MOOC-style formats are tough to ignore. To confine predictions to a single calendar year partially betrays the point of the exercise (long-term forecasting), so in my mind our predictions for 2015 build upon previous efforts and sort of stitch those thoughts together. What all that said, here are our eLearning predictions for 2015.

Performance Improvement (with Advanced Analytics) will Become More Important for Professional Development Decision Makers

The Continuing Medical Education industry is at the forefront of a movement to integrate and align performance data generated on-the-job with professional development. It’s an area with fascinating growth potential. The current model operates something like this:Improvement

  • Medical professionals and practitioners sign up for a professional development module on, say, treating diabetes.
  • As part of the PD module, learners are asked to pull relevant case files and (manually) input anonymized data related to actual cases (e.g., key demographic information, treatment plans, incidence of re-hospitalization, follow-up appointments, etc.).
  • Data can be used to recommend related PD content (e.g., a course on a treatment option) to practitioners. This is a private, personalized recommendation for PD, rather than a punitive measure based on performance levels.
  • This data also becomes the baseline for measuring performance improvement after the PD module (i.e., does the practitioner change treatment patterns after finishing the PD course).

This model creates value by aligning the objectives of health record analysis (gather information about treatments and outcomes to identify issues/concerns) and the objectives of professional development (train practitioners on how to improve performance).

Manual data entry stifles the true potential of this model, however, When it comes to identifying knowledge gaps or potential performance improvement recommendations, automation is the stepping stone to broader application.

In 2015, expect to see more experimentation with third-party systems that automate data collection and PD recommendations using advanced analytics. Learnings systems that correlate practice with improvement have a huge upside to attract PD decision makers. Moreover, these tools create an avenue for better patient (or end-user) education as well. Imaging a responsive troubleshooting process with targeted feedback that provides relevant information to patients and practitioners (or end-users and producers).

A broad set of professional disciplines could benefit from a platform that connects record keeping databases with PD catalogs to offer personalized recommendations and long-term performance tracking. More of these “intelligent recommendations” will emerge the upcoming year; the potential is too high to ignore.

The “Extended” LMS will gain more Respect

PuzzleThe extended enterprise LMS—a platform designed to extend training beyond internal corporate employees to external third parties such as customers, suppliers and resellers—is an emerging category, according to the Brandon Hall Group. The LMS experience for an internal corporate employee is distinct from that of an external user beyond the reach of the corporate structure.

Incentives to use the LMS change. Points of access change. Seat license models even change without a captive audience. At the same time, the competitive market expands so usability and functionality become more important, especially if organizations want to integrate the enterprise system with the current LMS through an eCommerce portal. A corporate LMS designed for internal employee use may not be designed for use as an extended enterprise LMS.

As organizations develop new objectives to sell training to external suppliers, partners, and customers, the extended LMS will continue to gain respect. For example, FedEx uses our CourseStage LMS to sell training to external sub-contractors through a specialized eCommerce-driven portal. Content can be delivered through sub-sites, where training managers manage a set of learners. Watch for the rise of the extended LMS in 2015.

DIY eLearning will Reveal the Value of Professional Course Design

The market for eLearning course creation is shifting. The lure of a do-it-yourself solution is strong for many associations and organizations working on tight budgets. Rapid development software like Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, Lectora, Camtasia, etc. sell the idea of a quick fix for a fixed cost – and the appeal is obvious for any decision maker conscious of the bottom line – but the proliferation of DIY software has allowed ineffective and poorly designed content to hit the market.

Rapid development tools may provide a great solution for certain projects, but there can be a temptation to cut corners and use these tools as a solution for every project. That’s how we wind up with people conflating eLearning with the PowerPoint-style presentations instructional designers loathe.

Will Edwards, our Senior Media Artist at Web Courseworks (WCW), believes the gap in quality between DIY development and professional course design will ultimately drive organizations and association to seek out experts more often in the upcoming year. “Think about the rise of camcorders and camera phones,” Will notes. “Anyone can make a home video these days, but he flood of amateur video makes it even easier to separate the wheat from the chaff. People still flock to see professionally produced movies at the theater, and every major brand still seeks out experts to create top-end video content. It’s cheaper and easier than ever to make something, but it still takes time, money, and expertise to craft a quality product.”

Bring on the Digital Badges

Colin Skinner, one of our instructional designers, believes digital badges and micro-credentials will emerge as important elements of multi-platform professional development experiences. The best opportunities to leverage the value of badges will come to associations willing to create a credentialing system that captures the value of professional development experiences for members and their employers. Bite-sized educational content meets the best practices recommendations for instructional design, but incremental accomplishments can become harder to track. It’s essential to think beyond the traditional certificate-track model when it comes to marketable credentials. For a more detailed discussion of digital badges, check out Colin’s blog post on the subject:Award

Digital badges are a type of micro-credential, meaning that they are smaller in scope than traditional credentialing systems such as degrees and certifications. As such, they have certain advantages over those systems: they are more flexible, less costly to implement, and therefore more accessible to learners. However, because they aren’t regulated, they can be awarded by almost anyone, making it more difficult for employers to assign meaning or value to them. For example, a summer camp may award a “Master Welder” badge for successfully attaching two pieces of metal together, while a professional association may award an identically-named and similar-looking badge for completing 40 hours of hands-on training.

As this example illustrates, badges derive their value from the credibility of the issuing organization as well as the requirements for earning them (just like traditional credentialing systems). During our CourseStage Users Group Meeting earlier this year, consultant Mickie Rops cautioned associations against jumping on the badges bandwagon prematurely. In order to be successful, your badge program must be built on a well-crafted credentialing system that is attractive to your members and their employers. To effectively convey your badges’ value, position issuer and requirements information up front. For example, work your logo into the badge image and make the name of the badge clearly reflect what members had to do to earn it.

Forward-Thinking Corporations and Associations Will Experiment with the MOOC Model

It’s no secret that MOOCs are still a hot topic. Universities and institutions of higher learning have capitalized on the power of the MOOC model, but the industry is still experiencing a bit of lag in terms of associations and organizations leveraging the MOOC model for professional development and continuing education content. The questionable completion rates for traditional (?) MOOCs suggest a need for some evolution of the format to fit the needs of professional development providers. It’s time to think harder about how to increase interactivity in the form of access to experts and collaboration with peers, and that’s a good thing.

Steve von Horn, another of our instructional designers, believes corporations and associations will experiment with monetizing the MOOC model in 2015: “The tools needed to build MOOC-like experiences are basically the same ones already used to build most eLearning content – short videos, collaborative tools and forums, content management platforms, etc. – so we have a laboratory to experiment with the format. The economics of higher education and professional development are changing; it’s only a matter of time before corporations and associations make a breakthrough in this area.”

For more on the topic, here’s an excerpt on how to leverage LMS tools for a quasi-MOOC design from our white paper titled 10 Things MOOCs Do that You Can Use: Tips for Instructional Designers and LMS Administrators:

A required, automated, and anonymous peer review system—a feature offered out of the box by some learning management systems—is a great way to ensure that students get thoughtful feedback on their work from real human beings. Activities designed to create opportunities for structured peer review and peer collaboration don’t require a massive community of learners, either. Even if you draw an enrollment figure in the single digits, course credit could be linked to grading and commenting on five other anonymous students’ assignments.
Here’s an outline of how the system could function using the workshop and assignment activities offered through an LMS:
– Learners upload a document or fill in a form
– Rubrics and structured assessment forms guide learners to rate each other’s work
– Learners are required to complete peer assessments in order to complete the course
– The LMS automates grading based on learner ratings, allows you to assess example submissions, randomly assigns peers, etc.

Develop these types of activities to reinforce content and encourage learners to teach each other. Personalized feedback helps learners feel connected and engaged: learners may care more about their work if they know a person, rather than a computer, will be reviewing it. This quasi-MOOC design fashions smaller communities of social learning within a course of any size. Requiring activities like posting journal entries on discussion forums, blogging, contributing to wikis, or submitting collaborative assignments can be used to create incentives to get people talking to, and learning from, each other.

Let’s Have a Great 2015!

There you have it. Those are our eLearning predictions for 2015. We believe it’s going to be a great year.