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Five Hot Corporate Learning Trends I Saw at ATD TechKnowledge

When it comes to HR technology, it’s always puzzled me why talent acquisition and corporate learning were always viewed as something apart from “talent management.” That separation has largely fallen away over the past few years — especially as much of the hottest innovation in the industry has emerged from these two categories. However, when it comes to learning technology, the silo mentality is alive and well.

In the research report on learning technology buyers that we did last year in conjunction with Brandon Hall Group and the Human Capital Institute, one of the key insights was corporate learning moving to the center of the talent technology stack. At the enterprise level, learning is moving across and down into the organization. At the midmarket and SMB levels, interest in and adoption of learning technology is exploding.

What I saw at ATD’s TechKnowledge Expo in Las Vegas certainly validated our point of view. Buyers were there and they knew what they were looking for. Although the conventional wisdom says events are a lead-generation, top-of-the-funnel activity, what actually seems to be going on is that events are closer to a mid-funnel, due diligence activity. Buyers are refining their short lists of vendors they’re already familiar with, not looking for solutions to business pains.

However, there was still a lot of innovation on display for learning buyers. The five most interesting things I saw:

The continued rise of the next-generation LMS: Learning technology buyers are similar to the broader talent management buyer in one regard — they are largely dissatisfied with their solutions. A Net Promoter Score of minus-10 percent to minus-35 percent is fairly common. It’s not surprising that as a new type of SMB and midmarket buyer goes into market without the burden of legacy technology, they are looking for a better mousetrap — a different take on the LMS. Most of them have some sort of take on user experience — slick UIs, streamlined admin functions, and heavy on the social and collaboration elements. There were lots of LMS vendors, but three cool ones I saw:

  • Metropolis LMS: A new play coming out of the collision of EdTech and corporate learning. They are pushing the extended enterprise capabilities that last year’s research showed SMB buyers are interested in. Can learning be a revenue channel? In a world where every company is a publisher, the answer is yes.
  • Torch LMS: Already active in the SMB and midmarket, Torch LMS is taking a shot at the enterprise with a focus on eliminating the frustrating and time-consuming aspects of administration. User experience isn’t just about end users; it’s about the back end of the technology as well.
  • Inquisiq LMS: Taking on the complex and often opaque world of LMS pricing, these guys are differentiating based on pricing model — keeping it simple and prices low. They also show the range of the market today — they can serve the needs of small 25-employee companies or 100,000-FTE enterprises.

Peer-to-peer learning: Everyone knows that most of the learning that happens on the job occurs informally — one employee to another. Tons of money has been spent on enterprise technology designed to facilitate knowledge sharing. More often than not, it’s shelfware that’s unused and unloved. And in any case, the critical failure point in connecting subject-matter experts to people who could learn from them is the talent profile — no one fills these out and they certainly don’t maintain them. seems to have fixed all of this. They’ve developed an easy-to-use platform for peer-to-peer knowledge sharing that populates talent profiles from LinkedIn and allows employees to record and share video content about topics they know best. These guys come out of New York’s Silicon Alley — where companies like Namely and Greenhouse are shaking up HR technology with innovative solutions. This was easily the coolest thing I saw all day, except maybe …

Apps for everyone: OK, the coolest thing except for these guys — Velocity from Mobiquity. Mobile apps are a great way to get employees to engage with content. Of course, apps are also crazy-expensive to produce. These guys have figured out an easy, scalable way to put app development in the hands of end users, not development teams. Want to develop an app for a sales kickoff meeting? Imagine integrating calendars, agenda, training, games, videos, certifications, and surveys in one app, with full reporting on the back end so you can measure the results. That’s all possible with this app, and they are functioning in complex, compliance-driven enterprises such as pharma and CPG.

Training reinforcement: Demonstrating the ROI of corporate learning has long been an elusive goal. Much of the value was measured by tactical metrics such as course completions and, at worst, gut feeling. Those metrics won’t cut it in a data-driven world. And now it’s possible to measure a key aspect of learning: Is anyone actually remembering this stuff? Mindmarker is a Dutch company that has built a platform that improves the effectiveness and retention of training. You can easily set goals, set measurement criteria, and evaluate progress.

Better content experience: Our research shows that content management and user experience is major pain point for learning professionals – one that is largely unaddressed. As a result, you’re seeing companies at the show such as Inkling, a next-generation content creation and management platform that has already been highly successful in commercial publishing, moving into the corporate space. They aren’t alone. Companies such as Xyleme and Udemy are setting the bar much higher for content.