I had the opportunity to attend the Association for Talent Development (ATD)’s TechKnowledge Reimagine Learning conference in Las Vegas last week. With around 1500 attendees, the ATD Conference offers the latest technology trends in talent development and an opportunity to show how Udemy for Business’ consumer-based learning platform can help reimagine learning at organizations.

Here are some of my key takeaways on the exciting, innovative trends that are happening in corporate learning.

1. VR is not a virtual reality yet

While Vegas will always be a little noisy—too many bright lights and slot machines—I did get the opportunity to try an Oculus Virtual Reality (VR) headset. My takeaway? I’m not sure what the hype is all about. I did VR rock climbing, but it was not at all like the real thing—it was far too easy and didn’t invoke any fear of heights. At this point, the VR experience is not a “virtual reality,” but more of a “360 interactive video game.” The experience felt similar to Xbox Kinect or Wii, the only difference is that you can swivel your head and look around. The bottom line: virtual reality, in the real sense of the word, is still some years away. The challenge I see with applying VR to recreate immersive learning environments is that the user will always know it’s a game and not “real,” and it likely won’t trigger the same feelings as in the real world. For example, in military or police training, you know you won’t actually die. This makes a big difference in your decision-making and actions. It’s still an innovative training tool, but it hasn’t reached its full potential yet.

2. Data as a sixth sense is changing the workplace

We’re experiencing an exciting, new revolution in the workplace with the rise of big data. We used to live in an environment of data scarcity, but today we live in an era of data abundance. With all kinds of data insights at our fingertips about employees—everything from what makes a good manager to why people leave—L&D leaders can use this data to shape the behavior they want.

According to Rahaf Harfoush, a digital anthropologist and author of the fascinating book The Decoded Company, when we use “data as a sixth sense” and apply it to change behavior, we can then create “engineered ecosystems” or meaningful work experiences. She shared the well-known example of Project Oxygen at Google. After three months of combing through all kinds of data from performance reviews to emails, Google’s People Analytics team distilled eight key traits of successful managers at the company. They then used this data to reform how they recruited managers and they created eight new training modules focusing on teaching each trait to new and existing managers. The result? Managers improved up to 70% in their performance reviews in terms of the eight desired traits such as being a good coach, not micro-managing, and showing empathy. Rahaf Harfoush describes this as creating a culture with intent or shaping engineered ecosystems using the power of big data.

3. Social collaborative learning is a powerful way to learn

According to education research, there are two features that make good learning environments: active learning and relationships. So it makes sense that the collaborative environment of networked relationships offered by social media creates a natural place for learning.

There is nothing like asking your colleague to show you how to do something. However, imagine multiplying this by ten times, a hundred times even. This is the power of social media. But how do you promote collaboration and get people to interact? We can’t force people to be social, but L&D can create the right environment for social collaborative learning to occur. For example, L&D can create a digital space for learning by tapping into the potential of “crowd sourced learning” by getting employees to interact and create content on chat discussion forums, internal wiki pages or Slack messaging channels. This kind of informal learning that happens in everyday conversations offline and increasingly online is on the rise. Social collaborative learning can reinforce what was taught in formal settings and create supportive peer environments for continual, on-demand learning.

4. Millennials are driving self-directed learning

In this era with so many on-demand online learning resources available, Millennials can find what they need to learn on their own. Millennials also expect consumer-like learning technology. They want learning to be fun and engaging like Netflix, with ratings and reviews to help them cut through the noise and select what they want. Our recent Learning Index Report found that Millennials were the largest group of online learners on our Udemy platform at 48%, ahead of Gen X and Baby Boomers in the workforce. What does this mean for L&D? It means you need to provide a host of really great and innovative learning resources and make them available for your workforce to use when and where they want. Find out what online resources your employees are already using and bring those solutions into the workplace to create a familiar environment and increase learning engagement.

5. L&D as curators means being trusted advisors

Bringing in cool external resources to create a blended learning environment also means L&D professionals need to become curators and trusted advisors of learning content. Jennifer Hofman of Insync Training explains that curation validates the resources you’ve collected so it’s important to share why a particular resource resonated with you. Think of an independent bookstore or library with recommended books by staff members with notes on why they liked this particular book. When you’re excited about something, people are more likely to want it. And if it’s good, they will begin to see you as a trusted expert.

It’s an exciting time to be in L&D. However, the diversity of new technologies and approaches can be overwhelming sometimes, so think big and start small.

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