6 “Non-Obvious” Online Learning Trends for 2018

Rohit Bhargava spends thousands of hours each year spotting “non-obvious” trends he believes will change the world. We’re bringing six of them to your attention because we think they’re also non-obvious online learning trends for 2018. You can find all 15 trends Bhargava identified in his new book, Non-Obvious 2018 Edition: How to Predict Trends and Win the Future.

#1: Light-Speed Learning

Bhargava predicts:

“The road to mastery on any topic gets faster through the help of bite-sized learning modules that make education more time efficient, engaging, useful and fun.”

The standard mode of learning is accelerating because the longing for lifelong learning is colliding with the desire for instant gratification. Add the “I’m so busy” syndrome, short attention spans, and propensity for distraction, and you can see why light-speed learning is in demand.

Learners want knowledge now and they want it quick, and that’s what they’re getting—elsewhere. Bhargava points to online learning platforms like Udemy, Coursera, and CreativeLive as examples of light-speed learning. Check out LinkedIn Learning too if you haven’t already. Courses on all these platforms are split into sections that are divided into 3- to 15-minute modules. You can learn in between meetings, while waiting in line, or on the train.

Today’s learners want time-efficient, engaging, useful, fun, bite-sized learning, just like what they see on YouTube. Short videos on YouTube can teach you anything: applying tourniquets or eyeliner, fixing a washing machine or dinner, and learning to write Russian or code in Python.

Because bite-sized learning is low-commitment and low-risk, it serves as an entryway to more in-depth online learning programs. It helps turn infrequent learners into habitual learners. And, it helps you expand your customer base through word-of-mouth marketing. People are starting to expect light-speed learning. Since they can spend 15 minutes a day learning how to use Asana or Basecamp on Lynda.com, they expect the same experience with your online learning programs.

online learning trends for 2018 - light-speed learning with the human touch

#2: Human Mode

“As automation increases, people hungry for more personal and authentic experiences begin to put a premium on advice, services, and interaction involving actual humans.”

Online learning doesn’t have to be impersonal, and it definitely shouldn’t feel like “distance learning.” You want to connect with your students and help them feel like part of a learning community. That’s why videos are so important. Students become more engaged when they see the faces of their instructor and get a sense of their personality. The instructors of Coursera’s award-winning Modern Poetry course are masters of this type of personal online engagement—and you can learn their their secrets of online course design.

Differentiate your programs from your competitors by simply being more human. Offer more than instruction. Encourage lively discussions in your online community. Provide personal coaching or consultation to help students apply what they’ve learned. You could include a set number of coaching hours in the registration fee, or offer coaching for an additional fee.

You’ve probably seen the life-changing impact of the relationships members make with each other—those relationships can start in your online learning programs. Give students the opportunity to talk with and get advice from fellow professionals a few years ahead in their careers. Start a cross-generational mentorship program. Hold alumni receptions and coaching sessions at face-to-face events so members can take relationships to the next level.

In the near future, AI-powered chatbots will start handling information requests and questions on behalf of the member/customer service team. As your competitors continue to automate, and you should too, don’t forget to accentuate your association’s human factor. Don’t lose the human touch with members. Take time to pick up the phone and call random members to understand more about their learning needs and experiences.

Countless times we’ve heard association professionals say they’re good at their job because they’re a “people person.” Let’s make sure that’s always the case.

#3: Brand Stand

“Reacting to a polarized media atmosphere, more brands feel compelled to take a stand and highlight their core values rather than try to be all things to all people.”

You have an advantage over competitors: associations are not profit-driven, but rather mission-driven organizations. Take a brand stand by highlighting the common values and vision you share with your members, or, as Seth Godin would say, your “tribe.” It’s okay to stand for and get loud about the things that matter to your members. Make them proud to associate with and support your organization.

Brand stand for lifelong learning. Brand stand for giving people—members and others—a hand up by helping them improve their skills and expand their knowledge.

Brand stand for training the next generation of workers—but, in the meantime, don’t neglect the needs of aging workers.

Brand stand for your elearning program’s differentiator—your iconic advantage—and tell that story.

#4: Backstorytelling

“Organizations use the power of stories to share their heritage, mission, and reason for existing with audiences to earn loyalty and position themselves as desirable places to work.”

Associations are naturals for backstorytelling. Every association started out as a handful of volunteers with a great idea, but that story is often hidden on a website’s About page. Over time, associations evolve from a group of passionate volunteers focused on a mission to an institution concerned with bylaws and board books. The old mission statement is copied onto websites and annual reports but no longer resonates strongly in anyone’s heart. The spark fades.

Bring back that spark with stories that inspire and remind everyone about your common purpose. Get people excited about learning and moving the profession and industry forward as they move their own career forward.

Your backstory has to be better than your competitor’s story if you want to attract customers, but it has to really ring true if you want to attract the best talent to come work at your association. People—whether they’re members, attendees, customers, instructors, or employees—want to associate with a brand with an inspiring purpose.

To remember your purpose—and your backstory—reflect on these questions:

  • Why are you in the lifelong learning business?
  • Why do you care so much?
  • How does your association’s success impact your industry or profession?
  • What makes your association stand out from your online learning competitors?

online learning trends for 2018 - enlightened consumption

#5: Enlightened Consumption

“Empowered with more information about products and services, people are choosing to make a statement about their values and the world today through what they buy, where they work, and how they invest.”

Understand what’s important to your members. Yes, you must understand and help them resolve their professional concerns about career advancement, business growth, skills acquisition, networking, and lobbying. But, what bigger issues do they care or worry about?

  • How does your association make a difference in the lives of those who aren’t members yet or can’t afford to be members?
  • Are you helping aging workers remain employable?
  • Are you helping young people and disadvantaged groups get the education they need to find desirable jobs?

People want to know they’re investing their dollars, time, and reputation in a brand they can respect. Make sure members and customers know how their dollars are spent and how they help your association make the world a better place.

#6: Truthing

“As a consequence of eroding trust in media and institutions, people are engaging in a personal quest for the truth based on direct observation and face-to-face interaction.”

Associations must play the role of information curator for their members. Help members filter out the junk and tame their overwhelming information stream. This is a natural role for associations since you already have a relationship of trust with members. You can gain the trust of the rest of your professional community as a reliable resource if you provide this indispensable service.

Curating information for your members—in the form of personalized newsletters or website content recommendations—also serves as a content marketing tactic for your online learning programs.

  • “If you’re interested in topic X, check out our online course on topic X.”
  • “Here are a few 4-minute videos from our online course X that explain the basics of topic X.”

Understanding these non-obvious trends will help your association stay ahead of the curve and ahead of competitors. Be the mission-driven, human, caring, and authoritative source of bite-sized learning opportunities in your professional community—not an obvious strategy, but an effective one.

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