4 Corporate LMS Software Trends in 2020

January 9th, 2020
  • Mobile accessibility to your learning platform is a must-have, not a luxury.
  • Professional skills, like communication and conflict resolution, are an increasingly robust content area often tailored to Gen Z.
  • Microlearning isn’t new- figure out whether it’s useful to you before factoring it into your buying decision.
  • Artificial Intelligence can be beneficial, but don’t get FOMO- ask vendors the hard questions to figure out how much it actually matters for you.

If you’ve seen any “trends of 2019” articles, you’ve probably seen references to “microlearning,” “mobile-first,” and the all-present, inescapable “AI.” As 2020 approaches, which trends should you focus on, and which ones are smoke and mirrors?

We had Cornerstone, a 20-year incumbent in corporate learning management, lend us their Content team to help us pull back the curtains on 4 of the most important trends for 2020. Here’s what each trend means to software buyers like you, and how it might influence how you buy and use learning management systems.

1. Mobile Accessibility

Trend Status: Need to Have

Mobile access to learning content is now a necessity in your platform. 

So what’s driving this trend?

Doug Segers, Head of Original Content at Cornerstone OnDemand, argues that mobile accessibility emerges from “an expectation around being able to consume content when you want, how you want, in the format you want, on the device you want.” Even if you want to “listen to it at the gym, then I want the audio version of it. It’s about meeting learners where they are.” 

Mobile accessibility isn’t just a matter of convenience. John Marshall, Director of Content Strategy, identifies two scenarios where mobile learning is the only option.

First, “not everyone’s job takes place in front of a desktop computer.” For employees who travel a lot, or who are not in knowledge-based industries but still require training, like manufacturing, are prime candidates who “may find their phone is the most likely place for [professional learning] to happen].

Learning also crosses borders. “Outside of the U.S. too, in terms of infrastructure, people’s phones may be their connection to the Internet.” The conversion to mobile-first content consumption has been a strong trend for years now worldwide, and corporate learning strategies can no longer ignore the medium.

Takeaways for Buyers

Since you almost certainly need your learning platform to be mobile-ready, what features and capabilities should you be looking for in corporate LMS software?

On a broader level, try to discern whether LMS providers are approaching their content with a mobile-first mindset. While total mobile accessibility is still a work in progress for much of the corporate learning management field, some vendors are investing in standardizing mobile content. Reviews of corporate LMS can help provide experience-based insight into how well each software actually performs for mobile users. However, we can’t talk about mobile learning without talking about the generation that grew up learning on phones: Generation Z.

2. Professional Skills Development

Trend Status: Crucial for Gen Z, Beneficial for Everyone Else Too

The newest generation to the workforce also brings new light on skills development. Segers positions their content team as “pre-predicting disruption… as digital natives enter the workforce, there’s an opportunity to help them with their interpersonal communication skills.” This newfound skills gap ostensible emerges from living in environments where, by their own admission in Cornerstone’s research, they experience more digital contact than physical communication.

While a new default approach to communication isn’t inherently bad, there’s a significant chance of miscommunication and disruption within teams if Gen Z isn’t given the tools to translate workplace dynamics and politics. As Dr. Summer Salomonsen, Head of Cornerstone Studios, points out, “we have so many expectations around how people are able to communicate ideas, take feedback, delegate, criticize, give feedback, manage up.” These skills form much of the foundation for a functional and healthy workplace.

The importance of these skills, and of addressing professional skills gaps when identified, can’t be understated. So what does that look like in a corporate LMS?

Takeaways for Buyers

There’s one quantitative signal and one qualitative signal for what professional communication development a particular corporate LMS product can provide.

The quantitative signal is the existence of a content series tailored towards Gen Z talent. Some early movers already have this content available, such as Cornerstone’s Digital Native Advancement (DNA) content series. As we enter a new decade, expect this kind of content to become expected and immediately needed, rather than a forward-thinking offering.

When professional skills content becomes standard, explore how it’s being offered. Marshall cautions that teaching interpersonal skills “is a very internal, individual process that is very different from learning a set of very technical skills.”

This means that the content should be as accessible as possible, both in terms of medium (hello again, mobile accessibility!), and in terms of a format that’s cognizant of the delicate and personal nature of the content itself. Be sure to ask LMS providers how they tailor the approach of their communications lessons differently from technical skills and regulatory compliance courses. 

For perspectives beyond vendors’, reviewers are already beginning to evaluate corporate LMS products on their accessibility for the younger workforce. Expect insights like these to become increasingly frequent as more of Gen Z starts engaging with these products. 

3. Microlearning

Trend Status: Overly Trendy (But Important when Contextualized)

Microlearning is a unique trend. On one hand, it’s an acknowledgement that humans have always learned “based on concepts that build together and create more complex concepts,” and is thus very important.

On the other hand, it’s nothing new! From Dr. Salomonsen’s perspective, the learning management industry “has jazzified this term in a way that’s nonsense. Microlearning is not new, we’ve always learned this way….”

So, what does it actually mean? From Dr. Salomonsen’s experience, microlearning is “something that is inherently single concept that’s delivered across medium in my workday.”

It’s worth pointing out that the “micro” is directed towards the concept list, not the time or scope of the learning. This definition pushes back against some of the connotations that microlearning should be the ability to learn a concept in a microscopic period of time when you need a skill to then turn around and apply it immediately.

Instead, microlearning is just an approach to content offering as a whole that’s more atomized, rather than grandiose lesson plans with lots of bells and whistles that may, or may not, be of any value to you in the first place.

Takeaway For Buyers

Microlearning shouldn’t necessarily be a differentiator between products. Like mobile accessibility, any given product should be expected to be accessible across medium, and in the format best suited for your learners.

Don’t let “microlearning” be a flashy headline that distracts you from the core question of, “does the content they teach convey the skills and information you need, and does their platform let you teach and reach your learners the way you need to?” The low frequency of reviewers mentioning “microlearning” lends credence to the argument that it’s not a central factor for many users.  To help with this, have an idea of what formats and frameworks are most impactful for your learners before you talk to a vendor so you can stay focused on what matters to you.

4. Artificial Intelligence

Trend Status: It has its Role, but It’s Not Magic

Did you really think someone could make a list of trends and not bring up AI? To be fair, AI capabilities, or algorithms more specifically, do play a role in modern learning management. According to Cornerstone, algorithms in their product are the driving force behind their personalization capabilities and ability to dynamically inform what content should be served or curated by the content team. 

However, comparing how AI and algorithms are used in various products is not an easy task. While virtually every Top Rated vendor’s blog features content on artificial intelligence’s role in eLearning’s future, there is scant detail across the board on how it’s currently used. 

Here’s the key–most algorithms are only as intelligent as the training data it has to learn from. Bad, narrow, or incomplete data can make for an equally ineffective algorithm and personalization approach. Cornerstone points to its 3,500+ customers and 40 million users as an effective pool of training data for algorithms and AI to learn what content users need as quickly as possible. Reviewers have yet to comment on what impact they’ve felt regarding AI and algorithms’ growing adoption. 

Takeaways for Buyers

When you see an LMS vendor talk about AI or Machine Learning, don’t let the concept or language get in your head. Dr. Salomonsen claims that “L&D (Learning and Development), not unlike a lot of industries, latches on to terms, and then uses them simultaneously to sound really intelligent and also to strike fear in the hearts of buyers.”

On the other hand, don’t discount the value that well-designed and well-informed programs can do to personalize and curate your content on an individual level. To find the Goldilocks spot, push the vendor on the tangible impacts and differences you’ll see because of AI’s presence in their platform.

Cornerstone’s Dr. Salomonsen concurs. “Feel empowered to ask what [AI] means to that provider,” she advises buyers. “Ask questions like ‘how does this fundamentally differ from information I already have about my employees.” Once you start pushing on what the concrete differences are, the marketing fluff will quickly fall away, leaving you more equipped to evaluate the actual value AI might bring.

Looking Forward

Trends can help you make the most of the newest techniques and technologies. They can also be over hyped or over promised by people with a vested interest. Cornerstone helped provide a vendor’s perspective on some of the top trends in corporate LMS software for 2020, and you can also see what users think of Cornerstone OnDemand, as well as other corporate learning management platforms.