2016 eLearning Hype Curve Predictions

This year, we are placing our annual (and very popular) learning technology predictions on the the hype cycle. Here’s the short version.

2016 eLearning Predictions Hype Curve

Our 2016 eLearning predictions set in terms of Gartner’s hype cycle.

Below the fold, find the long version.

Innovation Trigger: Internet-enabled Physical Simulators and EHR-integrated Performance Improvement Activities

Online learning lags behind other industries in adopting new technologies. This is not because people in online learning are not interested in new technologies; it’s because we’re not a high-revenue industry compared to giant industries like consumer goods. When the Internet of Things started to become real, investors thought first about Internet-enabled refrigerators and cars. Investment in Internet-enabled learning devices came along years later.

We’ve now reached the point, however, where researchers at places like the University of Wisconsin-Madison are developing Internet-enabled physical simulation devices. The earliest applications in online learning are probably for high-stakes simulations: teaching skills in fields like surgery and defense, where learners really need to practice a lot before they go out and try their new skills in the real world. Eventually, these devices will send detailed reporting to learning management systems, in roughly the same way that an online quiz or a SCORM module can report to an LMS.

Performance improvement activities have been an officially recognized part of continuing medical education for years. They’re increasingly required of medical practitioners, particularly doctors, as the fourth part of maintenance of certification (which, by the way, has its own entry below). But currently almost all performance improvement CME (PI-CME) activities require manual entry of performance data, either by the learners themselves or by those tasked with administering the technology. This is a major barrier to learning, and so people are naturally starting to think about how the data can flow directly out of an electronic health records system into learning software. Before that can happen, educators will have to work with technologists to overcome the much-bemoaned lack of interoperability between the various EHRs, some concern about HIPAA, and the immaturity of PI-CME learning technologies.

Quick hits – sorting through recent entries in the Innovation Trigger bin:

  • Gamification: Not serious games or games for learning, but “true gamification.” We’re putting this in here out of respect for WCW visionary David Wipperfurth, who claims that no one has done real gamification yet in eLearning. He would probably agree with the general gist of this article.
  • Free Online Education (again, thanks to David Wipperfurth): MOOCs (see Trough of Disillusionment) are the tip of the iceberg; what people are talking about is public (governmental) commitment to creating a free, totally online, fully accredited university.
  • Crowd Sourcing Instructional Design:  People are doing it for user-testing and SEO, so why not ISD? We can think of some reasons. But the excitement is out there. Credits to WCW visionaries David Wipperfurth and Mary Meyst on this one.
  • Subscription Learning: Learning works best in small, spaced, digestible chunks, right? So why not something like, say, a weekly self-assessment case study instead of a big certification test every ten years? We think this one has a relatively clear path to the Plateau of Productivity. Credit to WCW vision Dawn Ramin on this one.

Peak of Inflated Expectations: xAPI and Badges

At the big eLearning conferences this year, roughly 50% of sessions and exhibitor booths were focused on either xAPI or Badges. This is a pretty clear sign that these two (separate) standards are at the peak of the hype curve. The promise of these two standards is (speak of the devil) interoperability: the ability to report about learning between separate systems.

We project that Badges will reach the Plateau of Productivity before xAPI, simply because Badges is a less ambitious standard than xAPI that clearly meets the very common use case of tracking completion of a learning activities across different platforms. That use case is currently being handled by forcing learners to download PDF certificates and transcripts from system A and submit those files through webforms in system B, an egregious “manual” process that needs to go away. Badges can do all that with just two button clicks from the learner: one click to transfer the badge from system A to a “backpack,” and a second click to transfer the badge from the backpack to system B.

xAPI, on the other hand, has taken on two challenges: offering more reporting than SCORM, and simultaneously doing it between separate systems. (Whereas Badges offers reporting between separate systems, but currently offers much less reporting than SCORM does.) That’s fighting a war on two fronts. In xAPI’s favor, the U.S. Defense Department is supporting it, so xAPI will probably eventually make it through the swiftly approaching Trough of Disillusionment and reach the Plateau of Productivity….eventually.

Trough of Disillusionment: MOOCs and MOC

Acronym-wise, the difference is a single O, but MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) and MOC (Maintenance of Certification) are actually two very different things. Nonetheless, both have been publicly dragged through the mud of the Trough of Disillusionment in 2015.

The New York Times, an early booster of the prominent MOOC platforms, has recently turned a more critical eye to MOOCs, reporting on their low completion rates and uncertain business models. As is always the case with the hype cycle, the MOOC model has not been helped by a number of poor applications of the technology. Our feeling at Web Courseworks is that MOOCs, when done right, have been a positive force that has proven the value of social learning and brought new legitimacy to online learning in general. We expect continued carnage, however, possibly including the demise of one or two of the three big MOOC platforms, before MOOCs reach the Plateau of Productivity.

MOC is not an online learning technology; it’s a new approach to medical certification that seeks to raise standards for CME (Continuing Medical Education). But MOC has huge implications for organizations like ours that offer technological solutions for CME. MOC requires doctors to do new, more demanding types of continuing education (specifically, self-assessment and performance improvement), and it also requires them to periodically re-take the certification test that they previously took only once. A vocal group of doctors has strenuously objected, even forming an alternative certification organization that maintains the old system. As with MOOCs, news of this strife has reached the national media. In our world, this bad PR has led to uncertainty in the market, with some buyers taking a conservative approach to learning technology that seeks merely to support traditional CME models, while other actors in the market are still aggressively investing in innovative technology to support MOC.

Part of the problem is that supporting MOC use cases currently requires customization of your learning platforms: there is no out-of-the-box solution for all parts of MOC. Long-term, however, MOC is here to stay due to the imperative for quality improvement in healthcare in general. Before this is done, industry-standard technology platforms will emerge that offer cheaper ways to support MOC. And before that happens we might need to see more standardization of the MOC requirements (they currently vary across the dozens of boards that certify doctors in various specialties) and even, as discussed above, the emergence of more open and interoperable EHRs and registries to better automate connections between education and performance.

Quick hits:

  • Self-service software support: Every mature software product needs a knowledge base, FAQs, and a user community. Those things are great. But these resources are not going to eliminate the need for actual people whom you can talk to – that’s the point of disillusionment. Thanks to WCW visionary Mary Meyst for this entry.

Slope of Enlightenment: Mobile Learning

Mobile learning was once a huge challenge in online learning because our industry was strongly committed to Flash, especially for SCORM packages. When both iOS and Android devices announced that they would not support Flash, we were left holding huge libraries of Flash-based SCORM packages that will never even be accessible on most smartphones and tablets, much less mobile-optimized. However, there are now real solutions out there: learning management systems that are mobile responsive, SCORM authoring platforms that offer reasonable (if imperfect) support for HTML5, and webinar platforms that have reasonably (if not perfectly) delivered on app-based strategies.

Plateau of Productivity: Blended Learning

At Web Courseworks, we’ve now reached the point where a majority of our clients are doing some form of blended learning, typically a flipped-classroom approach where learners do online pre-work before attending a live event, either place-based or live online (e.g., webinar). The key technologies that support this are now (as would be expected on the Plateau of Productivity) “checkbox requirements” for association-focused learning technology, which any vendor should be able to offer support for: quizzes, video and SCORM support for the pre-work; the ability to release content within courses based on date or learner completion of pre-work; attendance-tracking; and Level 1 evaluations and certificates.



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  • Excellent insights. Thanks for the great article Andy.

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  • Claire Douglow

    Aaah seems to me that badges are more and hopefully on a decline to nothingness really. A small community of die hards left who prop it up cant make it a reality – nobody left to fund this initiative and no ownership body behind it. Opensource projects usually survive because they help people to create products or valuable services, I have yet to see an openbadge project that is not just a basic short term eportfolio. This was always a solution looking for a problem. They were designed for a customer (learners) who never really wanted them – go ask learners for yourself. Absolutely no evidence of a positive impact on learning – gamification maybe but not Badges. They were a poor mans understanding of competency based education.

    • Andy Hicken

      Hi Claire. Thanks for your comments. You could easily be right about the future of badges. I disagree, however, that it’s a solution looking for a problem. There is a definite problem in professional development and continuing education of tracking completion of learning between platforms.

      Here’s a use case: I’m a doctor. I go to my professional society’s conference and attend 12 hours of accredited CME sessions. Eventually, my professional society emails me a PDF certificate (yes, many of them are still using email) that verifies my attendance at the sessions. Months later, I need to complete my annual self-reporting of CME completion to the board that certifies me; I absolutely have to maintain this board certification in order to continue to be employed by my current employer. I search my Inbox for all the PDFs I’ve been emailed over the last few months, save them to my hard drive, then log into the certification board’s platform and complete a series of webforms detailing each CME activity I’ve attended over the course of the year, attaching each PDF certificate to a webform.

      In theory, badges could make this process go away: instead, I go to the medical society’s platform, transfer the badges to my “backpack,” and then transfer them to the certification board’s platform. A lot less manual work, and more verifiable than a PDF certificate.

      • Claire Douglow

        What you are talking about is a ‘certification middleware’ similar to an ebs in software which joins up data between systems. Technically I see value in this in the same way I seem value in standards like XML.

        What you describe could be feasible. Unfortuately the mozilla backpack doesnt allow you to transfer badges out of it and now given mozilla’s disinterest in badges I cant see that feature appearing any time soon.

        I can see why. The infrastructure required to become the middleware of all digital certification transfer would require alot of investment and development. Unless there is a way to harvest the data for your own purposes i dont see where you find the funding aka cash to support such a global initiative. And thankfully I dont think harvesting user data for their own interests is what mozilla is about.

        For profits like big publishing companies might build their own backpacks for data harvesting purposes but its doubtful other organisations will trust them with their own learner data. I just dont see anyone funded well enough to say – hey supporting this streamlining of certification transfer between systems is worth ploughing huge resources into. Its not solving a huge problem and lets face it edtech funders & philanthropy want to revolutionise learning not fix backend data transfers globally.

        Also this isnt what the badge community promotes as openbadges raison d’être. I’ve followed this community for years now and it feels like for some it is a platform of self promotion. Its all about paradign shifts and future predictions, and nothing about what an impact badges have made. Its like a “free beer tomorrow” sign. When is the last time you read a discussion about the openbadges benefit to the learning process. Also keep a track of the number of badges they say are being issued, the growth isnt exactly stellar. Yet little or no blogs about “why badges arent growing”

        The community talk about things like evidence being baked in …. really?? its certainly linked from data on the badge png but is that really baked in? Will the issuer store an accessible version of your evidence for the lifetime of the badge for others to review. I doubt any issuer will make that commitment.

        I used to be an advocate of Openbadges but the impact and the tech just isnt there. I have you tried changing your email address and see what happens with your badges in the backpack….thats a whopper.

        I’m sorry if this response comes across as an attack on badges but i feel like i’m taking crazy pills on this one. I just dont understand why people arent calling this one out more. Its fails on many levels for me and I wish edtech could get its act together and focus on the basics that support teachers and learners and not wet dream paradign shifts.

        What if the next impactful genuine thing to happen in edtech is missed because it didnt promise to be a paradign shift? What if it just encourages a learner to speak to their teacher more? Perhaps a tiny impact but an honest positive one none the less.

        Lets face it the majority of edtech journalism would just ignore it and we’ll all be poorer because of that 🙁

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  • yukilo

    ELearning in different portions to make the education worth in every possible manner will be very much productive as well as perfect to deal with the probable process flows in precise manner. In order to get the better options to run in proposed manner before mentioned guidelines are the key factors to make the move proper for all.

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