Hot Learning Trends–or Just Reinventing the Wheel?

There’s a vigorous discussion titled “What Are Today’s Hottest Learning Trends?” going on in the Chief Learning Officer group on LinkedIn  (63 comments and counting). Many of the comments point to learning technologies and methods that are undeniable trends today, such as MOOCs, mobile learning, and the application of neuroscience to training.

A few people in the discussion, though, are wondering about the value of the question itself: is it really helpful to ponder “hot trends” in anything, and especially in learning? These comments remind us that trends and technologies come and go, but that what makes learning effective really hasn’t changed for centuries, if not millennia:

  • Todd Ross of Ross Group Consulting says, “What has worked for decades is good old fashioned facilitator led training. Having a knowledgeable, professional trainer in front of the class to gauge learning, retention and, most importantly…transference, will never be effectively replaced by eLearning, mobile learning and others.”
  • Marjan Bradesko of NIL Data Communications adds,”We have to stay focused on the content and its impact … So — we have to ensure clean, focused, aligned content — as the core of the learning solution.”
  • And Clark Quinn, a learning technology strategist, says, “I’d argue that the real trend is to Serious Learning (with the caveat that I’m one of the instigators). We need to quit following trends, or following the mistaken approach of knowledge dump/test, and start applying what is known about how learning works.”

These comments inspired me to add my own, as follows:

“When I first got into this industry, a very smart colleague told me always to remember that learning wasn’t invented by instructional designers. Nothing against IDs (I am one!), but I think we sometimes forget that good teaching and real learning have been happening since civilization began — not just since IDs came on the scene. The core has not changed: robust, clear ideas (‘content’) + good teachers, teaching well (‘delivery’) + enthusiastic students who can talk with one another (‘learner community’). It can happen anywhere from stone benches to a MOOC and via anything from wax tablets to mobile phones. But it’s never the venue or technology that really matters. The method can be as trendy as we like; if the core is weak, so will the learning be.”

Of course, as some other discussion participants point out, the move back to a more serious or substantive approach to learning could also be regarded as a “trend.” If so, it’s one that I welcome, especially in the area of leadership development.

Todd Ross sums up the point of view well:  “The wheel has been invented and has worked since the stone age — stop trying to make it rounder!”

What’s your opinion? Does learning need to be reinvented, rediscovered, or simply left alone?


About Jocelyn R Davis

Jocelyn Davis is Principal of Seven Learning, a leadership development firm that creates a lasting lift in leaders' effectiveness using classic books, films, and stories.
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