Research Digested: Trends in Learning 2023, The Open University

A snapshot of useful research for L&D and workplace professionals

Why read this report

The Open University (OU) produces an annual report outlining emerging trends in learning. The trends tend to be interesting and broad in their focus – this year’s trends range from AI and the metaverse to seeing yourself in the curriculum and challenge-based learning.

About this research

The report’s trends are taken from another OU report, Innovating Pedagogy, which focuses on the education sector. The trends are a mix of emerging ones that are yet to gain widespread traction in the workplace to ones that are already big noise (AI being the obvious one) and are evolving rapidly. The content of the report is a mix of academic research and comment from L&D/subject matter experts (the expert view).

Standout stats

The nature of the report means that stats don’t really feature, so let’s look at the overarching themes instead and hone in on some of the key points for each one. This year’s trends are:

Advances in AI: Professor Agnes Kukulska-Hulme at the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology, says generative AI tools (particularly ChatGPT) are impressive learning tools but that they have their limitations – social bias and hallucinations, for example. In the expert view section, Mhairi Aitken from The Alan Turing Institute says there has been a lot of excitement and hype around AI, that the tools are good for personalised and adaptive content, but that they’re more appropriate for mundane tasks, rather than creative ones. L&D should proceed with caution, she says!

Multimodal learning: multimodal learning (such as audio and visual) is rapidly gaining traction as our reliance on text-based learning diminishes. Multimodal learning increases inclusivity and accessibility and can lead to greater engagement with and retention of learning. Nahdia Khan, the expert view, says only 23% of L&D programmes are multimodal, despite benefits such as enhanced learning, employee motivation and confidence.

Seeing yourself in the curriculum: this trend is about all learners, their backgrounds, histories and languages, being represented in learning – the content, the materials and the learning approaches. Nathan Nalla, the expert view, it’s about building a culture of inclusion and valuing people. But, it has to be meaningful.

The metaverse: we’ve all heard about the metaverse but it’s still very much at conceptual stages for most of us. Big tech is investing heavily in it so will become relevant to the L&D space sooner rather than later, enabling learners to interact in real and virtual environments. Jane Bozarth, the expert view, thinks there is still a way to go yet until the metaverse becomes part of corporate learning, but she thinks learners will get there first, with L&D following behind.

Entrepreneurial learning: everyone needs to be an entrepreneur now, not just ‘actual entrepreneurs’. We all need to be problem solvers, critical thinkers, creative, risk takers…It’s about being innovative and proactive in solving organisational challenges. Chris Russell, the expert view, says organisations need to foster the right culture, encouraging employees to be creative and to try new things.

Challenge-based learning: challenge-based learning asks learners to immerse themselves in complex problems, leading to powerful learning experiences. It requires and increases skills around critical thinking, reflection and problem solving. Stella Collins, the expert view, says challenge-based learning is very similar to self-led learning and is difficult to achieve in organisations.

Final word

It’s always important that learning professionals know what’s coming down the wire, particularly in an age where employees are often one step ahead in terms of using tech for learning and working. Some of the trends may seem a way off in terms of adoption in mainstream corporate learning, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make waves.

Report reading time: 30 minutes

Media: Website