Groundbreaking trends that emerged in the learning and development space in 2023 are expected to intensify this year as organisations realign systems to ensure future readiness.

The push to include artificial intelligence (AI) tools like audio and visual generation in e-learning management systems is compelling businesses to recognise that personalised, adaptive and tech-centred learning holds the key to effective training outcomes.

“There is a floodgate that’s been opened with AI,” says Michael Hanly, MD of South African learning solutions specialist New Leaf Technologies. “People are now learning at a faster pace and organisations need to anticipate the latest trends in L&D.”

With AI becoming so prominent, one of the big questions is whether knowledge retention will remain as relevant as it was in the past. Hanly does not believe it will.

He says the new model is for employees to keep in the know but not necessarily retain information.

“The focus of training has turned to targeted training to prepare employees for future roles and industry changes. It’s now about adapting the cycle of skills, just-in-time learning that employees need to do their jobs and perform well in real time.

“AI has definitely brought the question of knowledge shelf life to the surface.”

Dovetailing with this development is greater alignment of training with the needs of the business.

Where a learner-centric approach has prevailed in the past few years, shifts in the L&D space in 2023 saw training become more contextual and relevant to business goals. Hanly describes the transition to more top-down learning as a “bit of a pushback”.

One of the areas he expects will receive greater attention in the coming months is deskless work.

More focus will fall on e-learning that is tailored to mobile and flexible work environments, but in line with the flow of operations. “More guided and relevant training – that’s the fundamental shift here.”

He envisages that in addition to greater AI penetration, learning in a social context will gain significant traction. To this end, hybrid learning will start to play a much bigger role.

“We can’t all be in a specific location, so I expect we will see a combination of online and classroom learning. And, thanks to virtual and augmented reality becoming more cost-effective, immersive learning experiences that simulate real work scenarios are likely to grow in popularity.”

Hanly says e-learning systems continue to evolve and are likely to provide even deeper insights, especially when combined with other data sets. A view of the overall operational stack will be used to inform learning and development.

He understands that some L&D professionals, particularly those of the older generation, are fearful of what these changes might mean for their jobs.

However, he reminds them that their fundamental role is still to measure the impact of learning and development on business. This is something that will not change.

“What we need to do as L&D professionals is upskill ourselves and be proactive in change. Even experts in this domain struggle to stay on top of what’s new. What I always reflect is on is that you can keep on top of what is relevant to you.”

Another point he makes is that all the latest technologies will not make an iota of difference if purpose-driven training initiatives are not implemented correctly.