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January is always a month for optimism, planning and predicting. As we enter the new year, we find ourselves reflecting on the past year and anticipating what’s next for trends in learning and development. On the one hand, this year is simply a continuation of the last one. On the other, the world – and the worlds of business and learning – are changing faster than ever. Here are five trends shaping learning and development for 2018 – and what you can do to prepare your organization for the changes to come.

1) Augmented Reality

These five trends are shaping learning and development for 2018.

Augmented reality (AR) is oozing into everyday living, in the form of games (think Pokemon Go and Real Strike), GPS devices and AR shopping experiences. It’s inching into the workplace, as well. Meta, a San Francisco-based augmented reality headset maker, garnered headlines in 2017 when it replaced employee desktops with their Meta 2 AR headsets delivering augmented workstations. There’s every reason to believe that AR will continue on its path toward mainstream adoption in 2018.

As more jobs require the use of AR, the workforce will need to be comfortable and competent to thrive at these jobs. Soon, workers will expect immersive technologies, such as virtual reality and AR to enrich their learning experiences, helping them to gain knowledge and retain information – and better prepare them for the work realities of the (very near) future.

2) Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t new. AI and machine learning are helping to process insurance claims faster and more accurately, to discern disease from healthy cells, and to accurately distinguish between the enemy and a boulder on a distant terrain. 2018 will see more and broader adoption of AI in the workplace as AI moves from a novelty to a core productivity resource.

For hiring managers intent on diversity hiring, for example, AI technology is readily available to screen resumes and reduce unconscious bias during the recruitment and hiring process. AI can help keep the focus on skills and competencies, rather than age, race, or gender identity.

3) Demographics

As Josh Bersin put it in a recent CLO Magazine article, “we are getting older (and younger).” We are living longer and people are engaging in work activities into their 70s and 80s. At the same time, Millennials (born 1980 to 1995) are 80 million strong. Many are already in management positions, shaping the workplace from the inside out. They bring a self-confidence and love of learning to the table. Tech-savvy multitaskers, millennials are eager and able to connect with others around the world. These hard workers also demand a work-life balance, placing great value on their after-work activities as well. In 2018, it’s no longer about getting millennials up to speed on how things are done; it’s about embracing a millennial-led workforce and aligning skills and talents to support the multicultural, digitally connected community they embody.

Organizational leaders will need to ensure that their learning programs support workers of all ages. They must cultivate a flexible work environment that promotes connections across geographies and cultures, while encouraging work-life balance. And, of course, skill development must keep up with the realities of today’s way of doing business, moving beyond teaching younger workers about how things used to get done.

Quick Note: In 2018, get ready for Gen Z! Born in 1995 or later, the oldest of this generation is in college now. This is your talent pipeline. They’re already putting their own stamp on what’s next.

4) Bite-sized (Video) Learning

Since Grovo just trademarked the term “microlearning®”, we’ll talk about “bite-sized” learning. In our fast-paced, digitally-driven world increasingly led by ever-connected millennials, it’s no surprise that bite-sized learning has emerged as a technically, socially and organizationally viable learning approach. Getting just the information employees want and need, when and how they need it, is a good thing. In 2018, these small chunks of learning increasingly will (and should) be video-based.

YouTube is reportedly the 3rd most visited website in the world. Video is more engaging and memorable than text. And the technology of smartphones has made video more accessible and acceptable. It’s the right time for video e-Learning.

Quick Note: Millennials are rampant text-based communicators. Gen Z connects through images. Get ready!

5) Competency-Based Higher EducationThese five trends are shaping learning and development for 2018.

Higher educational institutions are changing. They have no choice. Costs are rising. Enrollment rates are declining. Students and employers alike are challenging the outdated business models and teaching approaches entrenched in four-year degrees that leave college grads ill-prepared for innovative and emerging career fields. There’s a demand for students to gain important skills, not just “book learning,” at college. The U.S. Congress is even stepping in, with an early attempt to overhaul the Higher Education Act to (among other changes) boost competency-based educational programs. It’s no surprise that investment in such programs is projected to increase by 18% over the next five years.

For employers, 2018 is a promising time to collaborate more closely with colleges and universities, to define a shared vision of the skills and competencies students need as young professionals. Together, employers and educational institutions can deliver guest professors who infuse a classroom with real-world examples, certification programs to address a rising labor demand and internships to provide students with skills and experience before they finish their programs. It’s a win-win-win for students, colleges and employers invested in the future workforce.

Are you ready for 2018? What is your top learning and development priority? Are there any additional trends in learning and development that you’ve identified? We’d love to know! And if you’re looking for a learning or competency conversation, technology, or solutions to support your priorities, contact us. We’re always eager to support the skill development of the future workforce.