Every year, I identify five trends that I am seeing in the industry as a whole, and forecast on where they will be heading throughout the year.

In 2011, I saw quite a few items that resonated. They involved talent management, “hello and goodbye” with vendors, social learning, upswing in mobile learning, new feature sets in the authoring tool space, flat lining in web conferencing and standalone platforms.

LMSs/LCMS/CMS/learning platforms in commercial and open space continued their presence. Some items stood out, others continued in an everlasting awful experience (customer and support service – as a whole).

Here now are five trends and their respected forecasts. These five stood out above the rest, albeit I really found ten that said, “Whoa!”.

The Future

#1

Augmented Reality and Kinect

I know its in the buzz phase, but every day new apps are being developed and launched in the commercial space. If emerging technology has taught us anything, it is only a matter of time until it bounces into our space.

Actually it already has with some end users. I have seen continued interest and downloads for open source AR tool kits. In two past webinars on this topic, average attendance was 180 people from all over the world. One company even went so far as inviting me to speak on the topic to their L&D group.

There are consumer locations that have implemented augmented reality without using a mobile device to view it. Thus, if you are training people, you are no longer limited to using a mobile device with a camera, nor having to rely on geolocation – a big win.

If you have a mobile device with a camera, opportunities are endless. For the mobile learning space – it is a necessity. Especially when people are in the field whether it is with consumers, at a job location, meeting with business clients, whatever.

No longer are they stuck saying, well it would something like this – and show an image or hard doc, now the end user can experience it.

Best of all, whether you are utilizing AR in education (I see this as a massive win for all students) or at a business location, you are no longer stuck with courses, even sims that are either boring, lack constant engagement or as we all know, turn off folks who frankly do not like e-learning.

Augmented reality opens those doors. If you are still a huge fan of ILT or believe a blended learning approach is necessary, why stick only to PowerPoint, handouts and long talks? Why not hand people a tablet with an AR app on it and expand their horizons. Product training becomes real – they interact, engage and see it in real time, rather than a static experience.

Brainstorming? Remember those wonderful sessions. People break out into groups and write their thoughts on white poster paper and then review it with everyone. Boring.

Augmented reality style: people see in real time the brainstorming ideas, they are transformed into a visual design based on the app, people communicate with Twitter or a built in micro blog, voting is possible and final ideas are vetted.

Then in your next session, people see what has been identified, they are no longer left to wonder – what will it look like or will it work.

Kinect

When people think Kinect technology, they think X-Box 360. Yet this is no longer the case. Kinect technology was not created at a Microsoft lab, rather it was created by a group of folks in Cambridge, England.

The technology is revolutionizing every day life. From helping stroke patients, senior citizens at healthcare facilities, to fitness to robotics and in education.

In the past year:

  • Apple has filed a patent for 3D Kinect experience using touch free gesturing
  • Another Apple patent includes allowing users via touch free gesturing to move content from one device to another (example from your iPad to your television)
  • Allscripts merged hospital software with an accurate gesture -based system
  • XTR3D is developing gesture recognition software for televisions using 2D cameras such as a computer webcam or the one in your smartphone – to extract 3D out of a 2D image. They plan on launching a version next year on smartphones.
  • PrimeSense sells a device without using a Kinect device. You simply hook it up to a computer and it provides a Kinect-like experience.
  • Qualcomm acquired GestureTek, which uses ultrasound sensors to track movement via a microphone, rather than a camera. GestureTek develops motion control for tablets, e-readers, smartphones and televisions

Forecast

Expect a few commercial vendors to jump into the augmented reality space for e-learning. Most likely with tablets and smartphones. Open source toolkits already exist, so I am projecting an increased use with education and businesses who have the tech folks in house to build such apps.

These vendors, I believe will consist of:

  • Vendors who offer an authoring tool or game sim and will develop additional product lines tied to Augmented Reality
  • Vendors new to the space focusing on developing and launching AR apps for the mobile crowd
  • Custom development shops developing AR apps for customers (business, education, etc.), who do not have the inside staff to build such an app

Costs and quality will vary. A very good or great custom shop, whether it is one person or dozens, will be pricey. For vendors creating standalone apps for the masses on a variety of offerings or new product lines, costs will need to be significantly lower, otherwise it will not be successful.

It would not surprise me, if a vendor or two develop partnerships with AR houses to build, or create AR apps using open source toolkits.

Those that enter this space will truly be cutting edge and thus adoption will be slow.

Kinect technology and gesture free will equally make an appearance in 2012. I am projecting that the number of vendors who enter this space to start slow, but gain steam – at least with some aspect, by the end of 2012.

If you had to decide which of the following: AR or Kinect technology will be more widely used in 2012, I’m betting on Kinect technology.

Great opportunities in education (K-12 and higher ed) and even with companies, although I see it more with mid size and large. Costs will vary, again lower price points are needed. What is great about Kinect technology is that it will work with tablets, eventually smartphones and televisions.

#2

Talent Management

Continues to be a growth market. The Big Dog vendors jumped in two years ago, with some components and have now vastly expanded. Smaller size vendors are now entering the foray.

The problem though lies in the fact that once you add some features, eventually you will need to add more and more (HRIS modules for example), which then places you into the ERP space and those vendors.

Thus, your competition expands:

  • Large size vendors such as Saba, Cornerstone On Demand, SumTotal, Taleo, SuccessFactors – recently acquired by SAP
  • Talent Management only systems that have existed in the market for years
  • ERP solutions that offer various HR modules plus Payroll, Billing mods

Some of the Big Dogs are offering as close as you can get to a mini ERP system with modules targeting HR specs including compensation and billing.

My take is that some systems with such features, perceive there is a market of those who are not interested in such solutions from Oracle, SAP, Peoplesoft, Lawson or Workday. The would rather have a streamlined solution.

Downside to such an approach – especially for small to mid size vendors

Loss of customers. Despite what some people are saying in the space, there are still a large quantity of customers who are not seeking and/or do not want any talent management functionality – even if it is turned off in the system.

I have a client with over 100,000 users who had no desire to select a system with talent management, because they had no desire to use it. Thus the argument that companies plus 10,000 or even 50,000 all want TM/PM functionality, is ludicrous.

Forecast:

Continued growth, especially with small to mid size vendors. Added capabilities for mobile (please read my forecast on mobile learning – regarding future growth).

For the larger size vendors, I expect that by the end of 2012, to see a few systems drop their core learning features to 10% of their entire product. They truly become a mini HR ERP with robust talent management functionality, rather then their initial premise of a LMS.

#3

Social Learning

Total stagnation. I will admit it is one of the most disappointing features that failed to deliver in 2011. The “gerbil in the wheel” mentality continues, despite over 30 different types of social media. Here are a couple of reality points that most vendors fail to recognize:

  • Most end users access off site their systems, unless they are hourly and their only option is to access via work
  • People who use Facebook and Twitter prefer those over your own FB like page and micro blog. I only know of a few vendors who have integrated FB and Twitter APIs into their systems – so it is actually Twitter and Facebook.
  • Video blogging exists – so why are we still seeing blogs?
  • Wiki usage is down – again, why I am still seeing wikis?
  • Collaboration is only as good as those who constantly use it and utilize it – it is like anything else that involves groups – some people are active, some are not – but if you offer collaboration offer some additional feature sets that people want to use, and helps them with their jobs, not just “collaboration” which consists of features we have seen in web conferencing
  • Skype – add it – its “hot”
  • Thousands of API directories out there with thousands of social media components you can add – any commercial vendor today could implement these, right now open source people are – so why lose it potential revenue?

Forecast

Flat. I have seen very few vendors moving forward with cool functionality. Social learning is becoming a generalization of anything that involves collaboration. It is embarrassing and worse a disservice to learners.

#4

Mobile Learning

Hot. I’ve talked about this topic extensively, so I won’t bore you on repetitive details.

However, at the minimum you should be offering (regardless of your product line)

  • Online/offline synch – there is a demand here, and recent data shows that more consumers are selecting tablets with Wi-Fi over 3G or 4G
  • Self contained app for content authoring tool vendors – iOS should be a priority here, then Android, Windows. Blackberry is flat and it no longer is the king kong in the business world
  • iPad/iPad2 and future version support – utilize the features, beyond just having it be seen in Portrait mode or landscape
  • Add dropbox or something similar – I have seen this with a few vendors in the RCAT space, and it makes sense – Dropbox is hot – why not offer instantpaper capability too?
  • HTML5 support – sorry Flash fans
  • M-Commerce

Forecast

Still going to be red hot in 2012, regardless of the product line or market – i.e. web conferencing, content authoring tools, standalone platforms, content aggregators or LMSs. If I am an extended enterprise system that enables mobile learning features, my new term is now m-commerce.

You can still say e-commerce, but there are people who are now recognizing the buzz word, “m-commerce”. The new talk is the power of talent management with mobile.

A wonderful article on it, is here. Recommended reading for anyone using or planning on incorporating talent management, incl. recruiting.

#5

SaaS

Super hot. If you are not “in the cloud” jump in. A recent review of my directories are showing a significant jump in SaaS only solutions. If you are a RCAT, move to the cloud. Desktop is finished.

What is amazing though, is how many SaaS based vendors are failing to grasp the global marketplace. If you are in the cloud, there is a strong likelihood that people are exploring your system, that are not in your country or region.

My personal view is the brick and mortar philosophy still exists with many vendors. They see themselves only for a specific region or a few regions, forgetting they have a web site and more importantly, a SaaS based product.

Even if you do not have a sales office in a specific country, don’t worry – you will still attract customers. A huge key is digital marketing.

Forecast

On Fire. Expect a large swath of vendors to move into a SaaS only product. Multilingual is a must here. As noted in previous posts, people prefer their native language not just English.

Bonus: One of the hottest emerging markets is Mexico.

Too many vendors are focusing only on the U.K. – it is already becoming saturated.

Double Bonus #6 – since it is the holiday season

Online Authoring Systems

A year ago, the hot ticket item was Lite LMSs. They are still around, but what I am seeing is an uptick in online authoring systems.

Components include:

  • SaaS based course authoring tool – it is the primary feature
  • LMS streamlined functionality – some reports, minor analytical date, e-mail messaging (I have even seen SMS – sweet), batch uploading of users and yes, I have seen two vendors add some tracking functionality
  • Assessment/Survey tool – I’m starting to see this as a feature (not required mind you)
  • Low cost
  • Proprietary content – again, typical feature (these systems do not enable you to upload content using any other tool but there own – hence online authoring system)
  • Non compliant – i.e no SCORM, AICC or PENS – however, I am now seeing a few vendors offer PENS (created by AICC back in 2005, but slowly gaining traction)
  • Peer review

There are quite a few vendors in this space, but IMO the best one is dominKnow’s Claro. Many folks know of Mindflash.com and Articulate Online. Please note that not all vendors in this space offer the above components.

There are some vendors who are going beyond these components. Claro enables true HTML5 output.

Forecast

Expect a large increase in the number of content authoring tool vendors implementing online authoring systems. Those who want to get ahead of the competition should explore course marketplaces – including those that offer free courses. If I am a RCAT vendor who has a LMS, ditch the LMS and switch to an online authoring system.

This is my major hot trend for 2012.

Bottom Line

Based on what I am seeing, 2012 is going to be the best yet.

E-Learning 24/7