Announcing the 2021 LearnGeek Hype Cycle

In Featured, General L&D by JD Dillon

How is workplace learning evolving? Which strategies and tactics are making an impact? Which proven practices should I consider introducing within my learning ecosystem?

We reflect on these questions at the end of each year as we update the LearnGeek Hype Cycle. Inspired by the Garner version, this brief, common sense report is our attempt to close the gap between “thought leadership” and workplace reality. We leverage industry research, literature reviews, practitioner conversations and practical experience to chart the progress of the 20 most-discussed topics in L&D.

The January 2021 Hype Cycle features entries for (in alphabetical order):

  • 5G
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Augmented Reality
  • Curation
  • Digital
  • Ecosystems
  • Gamification
  • Learning Science
  • LXPs
  • Measurement
  • Microlearning
  • Mobile
  • Performance Support
  • Personalization
  • Self-Directed Learning
  • Skills
  • Social
  • Video
  • Virtual Reality
  • Workflow Learning

Check out the full report for details on each topic.

Here are six highlights from the 2021 LearnGeek Hype Cycle.


Curation accelerated up the curve as the concept took on a renewed meaning due to pandemic-induced changes in how work gets done. Like every business function in 2020, L&D had to find ways to overcome disruption and keep pace with workplace changes unlike anything they had seen before. Teams quickly realized they didn’t have the time or resources to build internal training to address every new problem. Curation played a critical role in helping L&D keep up. Teams combined structured training, user-generated content and third-party resources to make sure employees had the support they needed to do their jobs safely and productively at all times.


We’re finally going to figure out mobile. When people went home in March 2020, L&D had to go with them. This shift helped us recognize that “mobile” means more than “responsive design.” Employees need a universal learning and support experience regardless of technology, role or location. BYOD programs are accelerating, especially with frontline employees, as organizations work to improve information flow and build agility without the need for extra time or investment required for traditional workplace technology implementations.


This is a new entry on the 2021 Hype Cycle (replaces blockchain). The global push for 5G networks is ramping up now that iOS and Android devices are readily available. We’re not exactly close to everyday 5G access due to current infrastructure limitations. However, businesses are motivated to find use cases that justify investment in private 5G networks. Future workplace tech upgrades will include 5G-enabled devices. L&D needs to start thinking about how we can leverage the increased speed, reduced latency and improved capacity 5G brings to help people do their best work (not just push training content to mobile devices).


This was the only topic that moved backwards on this year’s graph. We had a good idea of how digital learning was advancing until jobs changed overnight. Now, digital workplace transformation is ahead by 5+ years. L&D has work to do to address our new reality. In 2020, we did whatever we could to get people the help they needed. Classroom sessions and job training became eLearning modules and Zoom sessions. It wasn’t always pretty, but it did the job. Now, the 2020 fire drill must become a renewed digital strategy in 2021 as economies begin to recover and organizations find the next normal.


This is by far the LOUDEST topics on the 2021 Hype Cycle. Skills clouds. Skills marketplaces. Skill-based learning. Reskilling was a “we should start thinking about new skill requirements in a few years” conversation in 2019. In 2021, enterprise HR teams are prioritizing the strategic development of skills their companies already know they’ll need. At the same time, Operations and L&D are accelerating upskilling and reskilling initiatives so employees can take on additional tasks and adapt to new roles. Is the skills conversation really that different from the competencies conversation HR has been having for 20+ years? Can L&D reimagine their strategies so employees are able to build the skills they need to do their best work today AND prepare for tomorrow? We’ll find it soon as this topic rapidly progresses from buzz into hard reality.


Artificial intelligence is about to reach the peak of Hype Mountain. AI-enabled technology is directly associated with a collection of other hype cycle topics, including skills, curation, personalization and measurement. While AI is far from new, it has become a clear topic of interest as more vendors introduce (or say they’re introducing) AI capabilities. There were more AI conversations at individual conferences in 2020 than across the entire industry the year prior. Two books were published on the potential for AI in talent development over the past 12 months. Now, the challenge for L&D pros will be experimenting with AI to solve meaningful workplace learning and performance challenges without getting caught up in the hype around a rapidly evolving and increasingly controversial technology.

What do you think of our latest hype cycle insights? Does this report reflect your day-to-day reality within L&D? Did we miss the mark? Which topic(s) should appear on our next hype cycle? Which have moved past the hype and can be removed during our next update?