Industry trends that make you cringe: 10 learning experts share their bugbears

What digital learning trends and buzzwords make you cringe? We asked 10 top L&D leaders what big trends everyone’s excited about, but they think might actually be a load of hot air. From AI to VR, here are our experts’ takes on the trends that might be a misfire, lack substance or require a warning sticker.

experts elearning trends cringe

10 trends in  workplace learning that will help you make sound decisions 

With so many industry buzzwords, how do you tell what’s just noise?

There’s no doubt that there are, and always have been, a lot of buzzwords in the workplace learning industry. I’m sure I’m not the only one who plays “buzzword bingo” at conferences like Learning Technologies. Be it “AI,” “AR,” “VR,” “microlearning,” “personalization” or this year’s hot one “learning ecosystem,” how can you figure out which trends have something genuine to offer, and which ones are merely short-term or empty fads?

“People are talking about AI, augmented reality, microlearning and all sorts of things, but they are talking about it. All our research shows is that while everyone’s talking about it, actually, fewer than 10% are using these tools.” – Laura Overton: CEO, Towards Maturity

Which trends need a warning sticker?

Here’s what the experts think:

“The debate around  macro vs. micro learning is taking people down a blind alley.”

“My biggest bugbear is “microlearning.” How many pieces of microlearning do you have to consume before it becomes a piece of macrolearning? And actually, the biggest problem people have is not about content length or size – it’s about doing something with content. It’s about applying the knowledge and sustaining skills and behavior. So, microlearning on its own is meaningless. We should focus on what’s needed to drive change: being more social, working together, nudging each other to improve performance. The debate around macro vs. micro is taking people down a blind alley. We should obsess less about forgetting curves, and more about doing curves.”

David Perring, Director of Research at Fosway Group

david perring micro vs macro learning

“The thought of actually delivering a VR experience, at scale, is pretty unthinkable.”

“I worry about AR / VR. It’s a trend that comes and goes, but I just haven’t seen much that people could really use. The majority of our clients have process issues putting in place relatively simple initiatives, so the thought of actually delivering a VR experience, at scale, is pretty unthinkable. Maybe I’m thinking about the wrong context; maybe it will be small scale, high value, high-risk training forever. But I can’t see it really impacting most people in the near term.” 

Dr. Ben Betts,CEO of HT2 Labs


“Neuroscience – people are sticking the badge on what they do without really understanding it.”

It might sound a bit weird, but the buzzword that is creating a lot of noise without always having substance could be “neuroscience.” I think there’s a lot of people using it as a word and saying “Yes, we’re using neuroscience,” but they are looking at neither psychology nor neuroscience. They are picking up a snippet of theory from somewhere else and reusing it – sticking a badge on what they do without really understanding it.

Stella Collins, Author of “Neuroscience for Learning and Development”


“We don’t talk about  ‘learnification,’ so why do we talk about ‘gamification’?”

It’s been around for a few years, but the word “gamification” just doesn’t sit easily with me. It’s particularly the word “gamification” that’s my bugbear. I have nothing against proper learning games. Serious games, simulations, etc. create opportunities for people to make mistakes and fail, and that’s absolutely at the core of learning. But the word “gamification” has sometimes become a way to make a bitter pill a bit sweeter by adding some board game element to a design.

If you are designing a great experience for learners that’s action-orientated, has challenge in it, and is relevant to learners, you don’t need to gamify it. It should stand on its own terms. I’m wary of people who talk about putting some snakes and ladders element around your otherwise dreadful piece of compliance learning. We don’t talk about “learnification,” so I don’t know why we talk about “gamification.”

Stephen Walsh, Director at JamPan & AndersPink

stephen walsh gamification

“I’m still not sure if VR is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

I have two bugbears. The first is VR. There’s some really nice, cool examples out there, but I’m not sure that we’ve found a true training need for that yet. The other one is that there’s a lot of talk about AI. I think that’s driven by people having things like Alexa at home, who think that’s true AI. Until we actually get to the point where these machines are thinking, learning and suggesting ideas that are truly intelligent, rather than something that’s been curated, then I’m not sure AI for learning is there yet. A lot of it is reliant on the amount of data needed to make that stuff work, and for me that’s probably a good five years away.

Paul Westlake, Solutions Consultant at Kineo


“Learning Styles – there’s just no empirical evidence to support them.”

I always come back to Learning Styles. The whole “Are you a visual learner or a kinaesthetic learner?” and all the variations within that. I’m not saying learning preferences don’t exist, they absolutely do. Our learning preferences feel real and tangible, but the evidence isn’t there that they help us learn better. It’s good to go and look learning styles up, and consider if you’re hitting all the bases when you design or deliver content – but don’t pigeonhole and think “You’re a visual learner, so you only need that kind of content.” 

Jo Cook, Editor at Training Journal

jo cook on learning styles

“I’m seeing some fantastic examples of VR, but not necessarily by learning companies.”

VR has great potential, but there’s a risk people might jump on it for reasons that don’t actually help their learning goals. You can, of course, create a simulated office environment for fire safety training, and enable people to walk virtually toward the exits. But is that the most effective/efficient way to meet that learning goal? I think VR is a technology to keep an eye on, but I’m waiting to see more learning-led results.

David Wood, Founder of JamPan


“AI – it’s just too much of an investment.”

Trends come up each year. First it was social, then mobile and now AI. I don’t think AI will stick. It’s too much of an investment and L&D is still too behind the times.

Sam Taylor, Digital Development Manager at Hitachi Rail Europe


I’m a little worried about AI and chatbots… and then there’s microlearning too.”

It isn’t that I don’t see potential in AI and chatbots, but some L&D teams tend to hail new developments as silver bullets and can get sidetracked trying to make them fit. It is great to keep up with trends, but it’s key to address the basics first, and then you can gather momentum.

Microlearning is another one – is it a new way of learning, or is it just a result of not having well-designed learning solutions? If you listen very carefully to the buzzwords over the last few years – mobile learning, gamification, curated content, microlearning, etc. – they are all telling us the same thing. Our users want better learning experiences, but you need to find out exactly what that is for your organization.

Fiona Quigley, Digital Learning Innovator at Logicearth


There’s a lot of talking the talk, but not many are applying new tools.”

People are talking about AI, augmented reality, microlearning and all sorts of things, but they are talking about it. All our research shows is that while everyone’s talking about it, actually, fewer than 10% are using these tools. So, there isn’t any usage right now. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to dismiss them as lacking in substance. The application in context is the critical thing. We need to be aware of the potential and open our minds to what they could do, but still focus on the needs that need addressing above all.

Laura Overton, CEO at Towards Maturity

Final thoughts

It’s pretty clear that all our experts are taking many of the current buzzwords with a grain of salt. Yes, there’s potential in AI, AR and VR – but the value to L&D is yet to be proven. Perhaps there are other, simpler ways to meet the required goal instead?

When it comes to buzzwords like “gamification” and “microlearning,” there’s always a risk that learning designers jump to use them without thinking through the why. And making lots of short content may equal “microlearning,” but does it equal effective learning? (Or any learning at all?). As for snakes and ladders compliance training – that sounds more like

As we heard loud and clear in our first interview with our panel, a project should always start by getting under the skin of the audience – the problem and the contexts in which the problem arises – before turning to tech or jumping on a trendy bandwagon for a so-called solution.

Make sure you take approaches that will help meet your goal. This free project planning template will help!

What’s set to be ‘hot’ this year? Take a look at the 10 trends research says you’ll see in 2018.

A big thank you to our experts for sharing their insights and advice!