Exploring the Trends that Shape the Future of Learning

The world of the learning and performance professional is rapidly evolving. Many of the “tried and true” methods of supporting worker performance are being challenged (or in some cases completely re-written) by new technology-based learning and performance solutions. It’s an exciting time to be in our field and participate in this period of change. There’s so much potential to do our jobs more effectively, and in turn better support workers to be more effective in their work. When I think about some of the changes that affect our work, there are two that excite me most.


The first change that I’m enjoying see evolve is the growing influence games are having on the way we build learning experiences. Lots of people are using games and gaming elements to better engage workers in learning. The term “Gamification” is usually used in discussions about using games for learning, to the point that it’s become one of the field’s hottest buzzwords.

Buzzwords have always been a source of concern to me. Most people see the term “buzzword” as reflective of increased popularity in a subject. I see that as only half of the definition. The problem I have with buzzwords is that the popularity of the term spreads faster than the understanding of it, and this often results in misinformation spreading about the topic.

This is the stage that I see Games in for learning and development. There’s a lot of great potential in using games for learning, muddled by a lot of “make a game out of it” implementations often tucked under the heading of gamification. It’s understanding of the core elements of gaming that can be enhance learning and performance programs, not turning a multiple choice quiz into a Jeopardy board.

keynote2_212This is one of the reasons I’m excited to welcome Ian Bogost as one of the keynotes of this year’s DevLearn Conference and Expo. Ian is one of the leading experts on video games, having designed games for use in varied areas such as airport security, disaffected workers, the petroleum industry, and even suburban errands. I look forward to hearing him share his knowledge and examples of games being used to enhance learning and performance.


Another buzzword in our industry is “Curation”. As those who follow this blog may already know, curation is a subject that I have been interested in for quite some time. It’s also a term that, like gamification, is getting misinterpreted quite often.

Curation is about replacing the noise of ever-increasing information with the clarity of context. It’s about blocking out what isn’t relevant so that you can focus on what you need. There are many different layers to curation, which makes it hard to settle on a single definition of what is, and is not, curation.

There are a number of people who point to “curation software” or “curation algorithms” that can automate the curation process. I’ve always disagreed with this definition of curation. For me, curation requires the intervention of a person. A computer can effectively filter data so that it is easier to find what you’re looking for, but it can only take you so far. A curator doesn’t just filter; a curator builds context around shared information to increase its relevance, often forming connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of information. When I think about curation as a skill for learning and development professionals, I don’t see it simply as delivering what you need to help you do what you do today; I see it as a way of exposing workers to new ideas that expand their interests and skill sets. That’s a piece of the equation that is too often left out of the curation discussion.

keynote3_212Eli Pariser’s keynote at DevLearn emphasizes this point by exploring what he calls the “filter bubble”. With companies like Google and Yahoo racing to deliver the most personalized web experience possible, we’re losing out on the natural growth that comes from discovering something new. I look forward to hearing from Eli’s research as it will help us better understand the digital world in which workers are learning.


When I look at the changes technology has enabled in learning and performance, it truly excites me. Unfortunately, having the technology is only one part of the puzzle. As we’ve seen many times, quite often new technologies often mean nothing more than making the same mistakes in new ways. If you want to get people to act differently, you need to get them to think differently. This is true for not only the people whose work we support, but for us as learning and performance professionals as well.

Of course, saying we need to be innovative in our work is easy; making innovation happen is something else entirely.

keynote1_212This year’s DevLearn Conference and Expo experience is book-ended by two exceptional keynotes that explore innovation from unique viewpoints. Jeremy Gutsche has been researching the innovation process for years, and will set the stage for an thought-provoking three days at the conference by inspiring us to embrace DevLearn’s culture if innovation. He’ll share his tips that can help you achieve breakthrough ideas, and how we can help build a culture of innovation in our organizations.

keynote4_212I know I take in a lot of information at a conference like DevLearn, and I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all I’ve taken in, wondering what to do first. The closing keynote features Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt of Talent Anarchy, who will take cues from the computer hacking culture by reminding us to think differently. By deviating from what we know as the norm and making small but smart changes, we can make big things happen and innovate our practices. This closing session will provide attendees with tangible takeaways that can be used to start applying many of the innovative techniques they learned at the conference.


Games and Curation aren’t the only trends affecting our industry; there are many more, all of which will be explored at DevLearn. One of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed attending the DevLearn Conference and Expo is that it’s the place where conversations take place about the trends that are shaping the future of our field. Being at DevLearn not only allows me to stay informed about our field, but by participating in the discussions, we can help shape the future of the industry ourselves.

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10 Responses to Exploring the Trends that Shape the Future of Learning

  1. Trellis Usher August 28, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    You’re spot on David. I wasn’t planning to attend DevLearn but these speakers have me seriously rethinking that decision. I’ve had a phrase ringing in my ears for about two months now and I’m writing an ebook for talent and learning professionals on it….”you can maintain the status quo or you can do something great!” We have to think differently. I love your point about not continuing to iterate on the same ideas, methods and solutions. We can’t simply iterate. We have to innovate! I don’t have all the answers yet but I’m trying to keep my mind open to truly innovative ideas in our space. Great line up!

    • LnDDave August 28, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

      Thanks for the feedback Trellis. I’m really excited about this year’s keynotes as well. I hope you do consider attending. I love your quote about doing something great. Be sure to ping me when the ebook is released; I’d love to read it.

  2. Ara ohanian August 29, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    David, I wouldn’t expect you to be delighted by the idea of curation algorithms! And for that matter I’d agree that it’s something that can’t be effectively automated. In fact, the idea of automatic curation is symptomatic of a larger problem in our industry: too often we attempt to remove human input where it will be valuable (eg in filtering, choosing and sharing the right content for the right people) . We are not machines and mistaking the learning process for a mechanical process can only lead to outcomes that are bad both for learners and for business.

    • LnDDave August 29, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

      Yep – I think machines can help us automate processes that don’t require thought, leaving more time for the tasks that do require human reasoning.

      • Ara ohanian October 8, 2013 at 9:11 am #

        David, I’m thinking about this along with the work you’ve been doing on Google Glass. Is there a risk that by making data too easy to reach that we attempt to apply our minds to too much? Is there a case for reducing the amount of data we expose ourselves to so we can just focus on the high quality work that we humans excel at?

        • LnDDave October 17, 2013 at 9:00 am #

          Absolutely Ara. I think that’s exactly why we hear about curation as a rising need in both personal and professional contexts.

          • Ara ohanian October 24, 2013 at 11:02 am #

            Thanks David, I’m coming to understand now the complexity of curation and the level of skill it demands. This is no trivial task. Expert curation is surely a key skillset for the L&D professional of the future.

  3. kaliena September 13, 2013 at 8:48 am #

    Odd No Female trailblazers in this field?

    • LnDDave September 13, 2013 at 8:59 am #

      There are female trailblazers; this is just a small subset.. Are there any specific female trailblazers that you’d like to see featured?

  4. Dan Steer November 11, 2013 at 9:51 am #

    Hi David,

    I wrote a short post for ASTD lately with “Alternative Learning Hashtags”

    Your readers might like it…

    ..and I mentioned you 🙂


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