2016 was a year of change for L&D. As we approach the end of this year, I feel L&D has come into its own—redefined, recharged, and ready to do even greater things in 2017.

The good news is—as a result of this transformation in 2016—L&D has come out on top with a new, elevated, and strategic role at organizations. In order to help L&D professionals ride this exciting wave of change, we’ve put together 5 Workplace Learning Trends and 5 Predictions in our 2017 Learning Index Report based on the online learning patterns of thirteen million students on Udemy and hundreds of thousands of employees at work.

Three trends that give rise to the L&D Renaissance

Three key trends are converging and giving rise to the importance of L&D in the business world. First, the rapid rate of technological innovation requires an agile, adaptive workforce. Second, tight skilled labor markets are making it challenging to fill new positions and companies realize this talent must be nurtured internally. Finally, the rise of the ‘employee experience’ as well as Millennials’ desire for learning opportunities to stay engaged at work are also reshaping L&D.

What I’m most excited about is that all of these trends are creating an opportunity for corporate learning professionals to innovate and push the envelope on how learning occurs at their companies.

What are some of the great things we predict for L&D in 2017?

We expect innovation in L&D to reach new heights next year. Already in 2016, L&D professionals are experimenting with all kinds of new forms of learning—throwing out the old and bringing in the new. Here are a few of our predictions for 2017:

Organizations will shift from push to pull learning that’s personalized

L&D will continue to make the shift from traditional top-down push learning towards a more creative pull environment with a range of informal learning experiences at employees’ fingertips. It’s no longer about L&D shuffling people through formal training courses, but will be about providing the tools to access a variety of informal learning on their own—everything from on-demand mobile videos and social discussion forums to even VR (Virtual Reality). Gone are rigid instructor-led classrooms and in its place we will see new learning formats like talk shows and learning festivals.

We also expect a more personal and grassroots approach to learning, including aligning training with individual employee career development goals. Crowdsourcing successful manager behaviors across the organization and creating community-based learning with new manager cohort groups will become more prevalent.

The business world will get serious about Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality (VR) is on the verge of disrupting learning, as we know it. By immersing people into a real-world learning experience, VR creates an apprenticeship style of learning at scale. Imagine ER training for medical teams or fire fighting practice in a virtual world. VR is moving out of the realm of hobbyists, and companies are starting to pay attention. In 2017, we expect organizations to begin experimenting with this new way of learning and finding ways to make it successful.

There are few hurdles still to overcome before VR can become mainstream. For example, it’s expensive to create and deploy virtual worlds that immerse learners in a new environment. Second, distribution of VR will be challenging—it won’t work on low-tech smartphones and comes with bandwidth and motion sickness issues. But the benefits of VR for learning—such as freedom to fail or stronger memory recall—will draw L&D trailblazers to begin piloting VR-based learning in 2017. Companies should keep an eye on this exciting new space for learning in 2017 and beyond.

This is a just a glimpse into what’s in store for learning in 2017. For more on our predictions and an in depth analysis of workplace learning trends—including popular learning times and platforms as well as the latest hot course topics—check out our new 2017 Learning Index Report highlighting 5 Workplace Learning Trends and 5 Predictions for 2017.

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Page Last Updated: February 2020

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