Magazine excerpt: What will be hot in L&D in 2018?

Is 2018 the year L&D finally gets serious about the business, asks Donald H Taylor.

This is the fifth year of the L&D Global Sentiment Survey, the annual check on what the learning and development community is thinking worldwide.

Over 1,000 people from 47 countries responded to the poll’s single question and the results illustrate vividly some of the key themes running through L&D today: some technologies (such as artificial intelligence) are red hot in popularity. Others are already being seen as last year’s thing (micro learning), while some (gamification and MOOCs) have never fulfilled their potential.

But respondents were not primarily concerned with technology. This year’s key findings were of a continued emphasis on personalisation at the cost of collaborative learning, and a greater interest in attuning the L&D function to the business.

One little question

The survey consisted of one question: what will be hot in L&D in 2018? Respondents could choose up to three of 16 options, including ‘other’, which allowed a free-text answer. Locations were gleaned from respondents’ IP addresses. 

Why ask this question? Wouldn’t it make more sense to survey actual plans rather than feelings? The short answer is no.

Some years ago, I tried asking L&D professionals about intentions for the coming year. Their answer was simple: they planned on doing more of everything. After finding this pattern repeated annually for a number of years, we gave up running the survey.

Sentiment has proved to be an accurate predictor of action.

There is another reason, however, why this is a useful question. Respondents are invited to participate electronically – via email and social media. This means they are unlikely to be a representative sample of the general L&D community; they are more than usually interested in new ways of doing things generally, including new technology. They are generally early adopters.

The result is that the feelings of this group about what is hot regularly translates – after a year or two – into what is seen in the wider L&D community. Sentiment has proved to be an accurate predictor of action.  So what are the key findings from this year’s survey? 

Personal trumps collaborative

For four years, two options have dominated the top of the survey results tables: ‘collaborative/social learning’ and ‘personalisation/adaptive delivery’. The past four years, however, have seen a steady fall in collaborative/social learning’s share of the overall vote. From 13.4% in 2015 it dropped to 10.1% this year. The option remained in second place. 

Why the decline in popularity? It all comes back to the question asked: what will be hot in L&D? Since the 2006 publication of Jay Cross’s seminal book Informal Learning, we have slowly come to understand that collaborative, social and informal learning are – or should be – an integral part of L&D’s practice.

For our survey population, the concept is no longer ‘hot’. (It is arguable, however, whether L&D is actually doing anything beyond accepting its importance.)

In contrast, interest in the number one option – personalisation/adaptive delivery – has increased steadily in previous years, but in the 2018 survey, its share of the overall vote fell. It is most likely that this fall is simply a result of the increase in the total number of people voting (from about 850 in 2017 to over 1,000 this year).

From 2015 to 2017, the top three options garnered over 33% of the overall vote. This year that number fell to 31%. It may be that as the sample size increases, we can expect a wider set of interests and a wider distribution of votes. 

Technology or the business?

In previous years, technology has dominated the survey. In this year’s survey, however, virtual and augmented reality, mobile delivery and micro learning all placed lower than in last year’s table.

The stand-out technology for this year is artificial intelligence. In the survey’s five years, no other option has risen five places in the competitive top half of the table. Without a doubt, it will dominate learning technologies this year – expect to see a lot of talk, but also practical applications, including chat bots, tools and algorithms.


About the author

Donald H Taylor is chair of the Learning and Performance Institute. Visit his website at


This is an abridged version of a feature from March’s TJ magazine. To get the full insight, subscribe here.


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