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Becky Norman


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Four key learning trends in 2020

The way we learn is changing – it’s time the industry changed with it.

Few in the L&D industry could have predicted the challenges that this year would bring for organisations but, as we enter the second half of 2020, which learning trends are taking flight and which are falling by the wayside?

At a time of uncertainty and rapid change, there is a need to understand what is going on and a need to adapt to a new situation.

The Open University’s Trends in Learning 2020 report has identified four key trends that are shaping the future of learning. The aim is to guide organisations to ensure their learning provision is current, relevant and effective, leading to the best possible outcomes. The research is based on The Open University’s annual Innovating Pedagogy (IP) reports, which were launched in 2012. The IP reports are collaboratively authored by researchers in the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, together with different external partners every year. They are designed to share the university’s knowledge of learning innovations and the emerging technologies that often provide the impetus for innovation.

To better understand what these trends mean for the future of L&D, we spoke to Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, professor of learning technology and communication at The Open University’s Institute of Educational Technology for some expert insights.

This year’s report outlined four key trends in learning, one of which is AI in education, which we hear a lot about in the industry. Will AI soon be indispensable to L&D if the profession wants to remain relevant and valuable to the wider business?

AI is being deployed across many aspects of organisations. Managers and employees therefore need to know and understand more about it, as well as using it to enhance professional learning and to improve processes and results. Adopting AI might require structural and cultural changes such as working in cross-functional teams. At the same time, AI is now part of most people’s everyday experiences when using smart assistants on their phones and chatbots in commercial transactions, so there are also everyday opportunities to explore and consider the potential and the downsides of this technology.

We know from Donald H Taylor’s Global Sentiment Survey that data is critical for learning and development, but your report talks specifically about open data learning. What does this entail and why is it a 2020 trend?

Learning with open data involves creating activities that utilise the vast amounts of data that is now being shared by governments, NGOs and other organisations.

This creates valuable possibilities for learning because the material is grounded in the real world and it is relevant to local and global issues, for example the environment, economics or health. Using data that is relevant to the learners (e.g. studying local energy use or government spending) can be motivational and encourage greater participation and engagement. Using real data also creates possibilities for enhancing data literacy in authentic activities, for example dealing with errors and complexity that might be missing from artificial textbook examples.

With this growing need for data, it’s understandable that the report lists ‘engaging with data ethics’ as its third trend. What tips do you have for L&D professionals on ethical data handling?

  • Use data and analytics whenever they can contribute to learner success, ensuring that the analytics take into account all that is known about learning and teaching in a given context.
  • Equip learners and educators with data literacy skills, so they are sufficiently informed to give or withhold consent to the use of data and analytics.
  • Take a proactive approach to safeguarding in an increasingly data-driven society, identifying potential risks, and taking action to limit them.
  • Work towards increased equality and justice, expanding awareness of ways in which analytics have the potential to increase or decrease these.
  • Increase understanding of the value, ownership, and control of data.
  • Increase the agency of learners and educators in relation to the use and understanding of educational data.

Why do you think ‘animation in learning’ is a 2020 trend in learning? How and when should this tool be harnessed by L&D?

Animation is not a new approach in itself, however what has changed is that it is now much easier to find and to create animations, and advanced technologies can produce more engaging, richer or more accurate visualisations. Animations open doors to someone else’s expertise, as the learner is able to watch how an expert tackles a difficult problem. With growing availability of data from multiple sources, animations can also be effective in showing abstractions, for example population movements and environmental changes across a city. Supporting learners to make their own animations can aid understanding and creative self-expression and can be a prompt for other activities.  

The global health crisis has been a catalyst for flexible learning. How do these trends play into this shift towards more personalised, agile and self-directed learning?

At a time of uncertainty and rapid change, there is a need to understand what is going on and a need to adapt to a new situation. The ability to harness AI, open data, and visualisations puts learners in a stronger position to do both things. Learners will increasingly look to AI-driven platforms that can recommend relevant courses or training to help them acquire new skills and competencies that will strengthen their job prospects or ability to stay employed. In emergencies and crises learners might make more use of self-directed learning and artificial agents such as robots, especially when contact or communication with human teachers is difficult or impossible.

Author Profile Picture
Becky Norman

Managing Editor

Read more from Becky Norman

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