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11 Next Generation Learning Buzzwords—What They Mean and Why They Matter

Written by Grovo

If you find yourself tuning out when you hear terms like “cloud-based,” “seamless,” or “user-centric,” floating around the L&D industry, you’re not alone. When that kind of jargon gets repeated over and over again, it tends to lose its meaning.

“I’m sorry, cloud-based what?”

But buzzwords become buzzwords for a reason: they often point to significant trends in the workplace or in the world at large that can be harnessed to improve the way your people learn.

With that in mind, we decided to collect a handful of the most ubiquitous buzzwords currently making the rounds in the learning and development space—most of them revolving around technology—and shed a little light on what they mean and why they’re important to you.

*Note! This is hardly a comprehensive list. We may add to it in the future. If you come across any buzzwords you’d like us to investigate or explain, leave us a comment at the bottom of this post and we’ll add them as soon as possible.

1. Just-in-time learning

If you’ve ever Googled a recipe in a pinch, texted a friend for some real-time advice, or YouTubed movie trailers before picking one to watch—you’ve used technology for just-in-time learning, or learning that’s available on-demand at the point of need.

Today’s overwhelmed employees are seeking more of these point-of-need learning experiences to keep up with the fast pace of daily work. Research shows 57% of employees expect learning to be even more just-in-time than it was three years ago.

Today’s employees need easy access to effective, relevant learning

The benefits of just-in-time learning extend beyond empowering a more productive, less stressed workforce—it can actually foster a culture of learning.

According to author and consultant Bruce Tulgan, “Just-in-time learning cultivates a different kind of deep knowledge: diversity of exposure, multiple skill sets across disciplines, and the ability to learn quickly,” he says. “People learn well and fast when they need to learn.” In a business world where the only constant is change, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more valuable investment.

Further reading: “How to Use The 5 “Moments of Need” Model In Corporate eLearning”

2. Microlearning

Microlearning is the process of learning in short, bite-sized lessons that gradually build skills over time. It’s a format of training that’s taking the L&D world by storm, and with good reason. The modern learner only has 1% of his or her week to devote to learning.

So with time at a premium and learning becoming a central driver of business, it’s no wonder that according to ATD, 92 percent of organizations that are using microlearning plan to do more of it in 2017, and over 67 percent of organizations not using microlearning plan to start.

Beyond helping employees keep their skills fresh in a fast-paced workplace, microlearning has myriad business benefits. It’s 50% cheaper and 300% faster to produce, and, done right, employs science principles that lead to greater learner engagement and higher information retention and application on the job.

Further reading: “7 Reasons Microlearning Drives Business Value”

3. Gamification

Before you read any further, scan through this post and quickly glimpse at each of the remaining 9 buzzwords. Count how many you could explain to a colleague, and pat yourself on the back for each one… in the next 10 seconds.

Go ahead…

I’ll wait…

Are you back?

See what I did there? I added a bit of gamification to this blog post by issuing you a challenge with a reward attached. Hopefully it got you to engage even further with my post—and crack a smile.

That’s the essence of gamification. According to Karl Kapp, gamification “uses the elements of games to motivate and engage the learner.” It makes learning feel less like learning and more like, well, a game. And we all love games.

By the way, you might think you need a Candy Crush-style to gamify your learning efforts—but you can do it without so much as a WiFi connection. We work with a company that drives learner engagement by rewarding learners with play money for participating in voluntary trainings—money they can later use to buy cool stuff at company events.

More on gamification: TED Talk: “Gamification at Work”  

4. Continuous learning

Let’s start with the obvious—work is changing so fast these days and we all need to learn and adapt constantly to keep up. The half life of a skill is shrinking, while new skills unique to the challenges of 21st century work are emerging rapidly.

To help people keep pace, organizations are looking to next generation learning technologies to making learning less of a one-time event and more of a habit that’s interwoven with daily work itself. Now that we all have digital devices and much of our work is connected to the cloud, the possibilities for daily learning have exploded.

But there’s another reason continuous learning is a buzzword worth wrapping your head around: learning is a skill unto itself—as Barbara Oakley’s great TED Talk above illustrates. The more you practice learning the better you get at it. As your people discover more efficient and more effective ways to learn, they can better fulfill the oft-quoted words of Ray Stata: “The rate at which organizations and individuals learn may well become the only sustainable competitive advantage.”

More on continuous learning: Microlearning: The Modern Strategy for the Modern Workplace

5. Learner experience design

You know that feeling when you learn something new and it just clicks? When you get the right information, in the right way, at the right time, and it actually makes a tangible impact on your life?

More and more companies are striving to proactively architect these kinds of positive interactions between employees and training materials—rather sit back and hope they happen on their own. The emerging term for this work? Learner experience design.

Learner experience design: taking instructional design to the next level (Image credit: EmergengEdTech.com)

If you’re wondering just how pivotal this buzzword is to the future of learning, know that there’s a recently coined job title bearing its name: learning experience (LX) designer.

Practitioners of this growing discipline combine technology, instructional design best practices, real-world challenges, and greater interactivity to produce learning experiences that are more user-centric and have deeper roots in the learning science and design thinking best practices.

Further reading: “Learning Experience Design: A Better Title Than Instructional Design?”

6. User adoption

When the iPhone was first released many people, myself included, said they wouldn’t be caught dead paying that much money for a phone, let alone one full of features we didn’t need. Obviously that mentality has changed. Last year Apple sold its billionth iPhone ever and there’s one in my pocket right now.

The iPhone’s journey from a luxury gadget to the people’s smartphone is a prime example of the user adoption curve, pictured below. As the curve indicates, whenever a new technology gets introduced, the biggest hurdle is figuring out how to get people to embrace it early on in the process. If you do it right, momentum kicks in and the adoption spreads from there.

The famed technology adoption curve, originated by communication theorist and sociologist Everett M. Rogers

Nailing the user adoption challenge is especially important for enterprise software. In a Technology Services Industry Association survey, Achieving Enterprise Software Success, 72% of those surveyed said effective user adoption was by far the most important factor for realizing software value.

And it’s true for learning software in particular. User adoption was named the #1 greatest challenge by far with learning technology, according to the Starr Conspiracy, up 14.2% from last year. So if you’re looking to take your learning program to the next level with new technology, don’t forget that once you’ve bought it, you’ll need to market it too.

More on user adoption: “Crossing the chasm – A high-tech marketing guide for every entrepreneur and marketer”

7. User experience

I’ll never forget the first time I called an Uber from my smartphone. It was so fast, so easy, and so intuitive, my wife and I stared at the screen in awe as we watched the car icon move closer and closer to our address, arriving at our door within minutes. It was like magic.

That’s the power of good user experience. According to author and design expert Donald Norman, who coined the terms some twenty years ago, the term refers to improving the relationship between humans the technologies we use.

What is user experience?
This infographic by Magnus Revang attempts an answer.


As work gets more digital, user experience becomes increasingly vital for effective learning. Historically learning technology has been weighed down with gobs of features that don’t get used. Worse, sometimes the user experience is so poor that it actually inhibits an employee’s ability to learn—which makes the L&D team look really bad.

But beyond helping employees learn and strengthening your L&D team’s reputation, investing in good user experience can go straight to the bottom line: Every dollar spent on UX brings in between $2 and $100 dollars in return.

More on user experience: “The Elements of User Experience”

8. User-generated content

Don’t look now but there’s a supercomputer in your pocket with a hi-def camera, movie editing studio, graphic design tool, publishing platform, music production facility, and so much more creative horsepower—all in a 4” piece of plastic.

Smart companies like Starbucks and Doritos (see video below) are empowering customers use their own creativity and ingenuity to generate content on behalf of their brands with incredible results. The top-down approach to content creation is giving way to a revolution where many of the most influential messages, useful insights, and inspiring creativity are coming from the bottom up.

Learning organizations are catching onto this trend, and seeking more ways to empower learners to create and share user-generated content. It makes sense for a number of reasons. Yes, we often learn best from our peers. And yes, these tools can help employees surface and share valuable knowledge that would otherwise lay trapped in the minds of your best talent. But there’s a practical benefit too: it saves you time and money—two of L&D’s most precious resources.

More on user-generated content: “7 Examples of Awesome User-Generated Content Campaigns”

9. Personalized learning

Ever get the feeling your technology knows you better than you know yourself? Most of us have experienced the delight (or horror) of a eerily spot-on Amazon book recommendation or a Spotify Discover Weekly playlist that seems to stare straight into your soul.

L&D folks are eager to use technology to bring similar just-for-me learning experience to their workforces. For the first time personalization has topped the list of Donald Taylor’s L&D Global Sentiment Survey 2017. But there’s still a long way to go—only 3% of organizations are effective at personalized learning, according to recent research from Deloitte.

Though a lofty goal, most of us can agree that personalization is worth pursuing for L&D:

“If you want to rise above the noise, you have to personalize [learning]. There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting through a two-hour learning that wasn’t relevant.”

– Bill Pelster, principal at Deloitte

There’s a reason Amazon considers personalization to be its biggest metric of success.  The better we can tailor learning to the specific roles, challenges, and needs of our workforces, the more likely they are to engage with our offerings and improve their contributions to the bottom line.

10. Digital content

Is digital content really a buzzword? It’s probably safe to assume that we all share a common understanding of the basic types of digital learning content—videos, webinars, podcasts, simulations, interactive games, GIFs, slide decks, and many more—that can be mixed, matched, and applied to solve learning challenges at your organization.

But like many of the terms on this list, the meaning of this buzzword is actually evolving in real time. Content types you might not have even imagined are appearing every day. For instance, check out a new digital content format innovated by a UK marketing agency below called a String. Or this immersive medical training experience put together using new developments in 360 degree video (Warning: don’t watch if you’re squeamish).

Click to meet the “String”: A SlideShare on steroids

The point is, the possibilities for learning content are always evolving—along with learners’ expectations and preferences. Staying ahead on the latest digital content trends is critical to reaching your audience, engaging them, and perhaps even inventing your own blend of content or applications.

11. Mobile learning

With more mobile devices on Earth than human beings, it’s easy to think that mobile learning is all about technology. And in some sense, it is. Mobile traffic exceeded desktop traffic for the first time in history just last year, so it’s important for learning professionals to figure out how they can make training a part of this movement—especially since according to ATD only 1 in 3 organizations have gotten around to it thus far.

But to think about mobile learning as just a matter of making something accessible on a smartphone is to miss the big picture. The move toward mobile signifies a transformation in the very nature of the workforce. It’s more global, more decentralized, and less connected to physical office or single location. According to Gartner, the mobile workforce is going to double or triple in size by the year 2018. Adding to that, the contingent workforce—now 40% and growing—will only continue to rise.

Mobile is about more than devices. It’s about a way of life.

So when you think about mobile learning, by all means think about formatting your content to look great on screens. But also consider the bigger need to create effective learning experiences for the emerging come-and-go workforce, the lion’s share of which will probably never step foot into the building where you do business.

Next Generation Learning: The buzzword of all buzzwords

In the end, next generation technology is just a buzzword in and of itself. But like most buzzwords, it’s grasping at something real—the fast-changing nature of how we learn at work. Says Brandon Hall’s Michael Rochelle, “I don’t think there is such a thing as next-gen learning. I think it’s really about a continuation of what people need to learn. And we have to have the technology keep pace with how people are needing to learn, and their evolving needs.”

Hopefully this exploration of the buzzwords surrounding the next generation learning technology conversation helps you get a better sense for where the future of workplace learning is headed, and some things to think about to keep you ahead of the curve.