What will online education look like in 2016?

By Michael Crump | 14 March 2016

The future is coming! And while it may not exactly look like The Jetsons – yet – insights from the tech world impact even our most basic daily interactions, especially when it comes to education after high school.

As more and more students turn to online courses that help them secure better jobs, deepen their education, or complete training for their employers, advances in eLearning are moving faster than ever. Here’s what you need to know to stay ahead of the game:

Learning on the move

While devices like Google Glass and the Apple Watch aren’t yet affordable for the average working person, you’d better believe that eLearning companies are taking their cues from major internet moguls. “Augmented learning” incorporates visual or auditory lessons into an online learner’s curriculum. This means that your Google Glass could show you a training video during your first day on the job or give you extra information about your surroundings to make sure you can keep up with your co-workers.

If that sounds a little…unnerving…here’s something that should feel more familiar: You wake up in the morning, check your email notifications on your iPhone, and bang out an essay on your laptop before you go to class. Most of us probably don’t even think about doing this any more, but even 10 years ago, moving seamlessly between a mobile device and a computer was difficult, if not impossible.

According to UpsideLearning, a leading company in learning technology, “More than 60% of online adults use at least two devices every day” in both the United States and Britain. Even more interesting: many people will begin a task on one mobile device – say, their iPhone – only to finish the same task later on a different device, whether a tablet or a laptop.

So, what does this increased flexibility mean for your average online learner? Get ready to learn on the go. Whether you use a quizzing app on your phone to learn important vocabulary terms or complete assessments on your laptop during your morning commute, you should feel comfortable learning – and demonstrating what you’ve learned – across multiple devices.

biking on nature track

More than just a game

This trend started years ago in the States, and you can see it almost everywhere as Millennials become parents: learning games on tiny tablets built for toddlers, like those made by LeapFrog. It might be tempting to dismiss these tech-crazy parents for pushing their kids to learn by keeping their eyes glued to a screen instead of a book, but educational games are making their way to post-secondary learners, too.

Take the latest innovation for future web developers and coders: Code School. In an article for Inc., Aaron Skonnard, CEO of online learning company Pluralsight, describes their latest educational innovation: “With Code School, users watch a short video, then stop and practice what they’ve learned through a series of interactive coding challenges and assessments – all in the browser – before continuing.”

In addition to this unique mix of interactive learning techniques, Code School taps into the competitive nature of gaming, encouraging students to earn points, win badges, and complete challenges – all while practising coding that’s guaranteed to earn them a spot on a web development team.

Competitions and games are being implemented for learners in other fields, too, including business administrationAccording to an article in U.S. News and World Report, students at the New England College of Business and Finance compete against one another as they direct an imaginary business to success – or failure.

Here’s Jason Kramer, the college’s eLearning expert, on what makes gamification such an effective learning tool:

“Taking game-based mechanics and aesthetics and applying it to learning elements allows us one sort of tool that we can use to make the learning experience an exciting ​memorable one. One of our goals is to get our students talking about our classes afterwards.”

One thing is clear from this increasingly popular trend – if you’re an online student, you’d better be ready to get your head in the game.

woman participating in virtual reality game

Learning gets personal

For better or for worse, “Big Data” has arrived in online education. By now, we’re familiar with the ways internet companies like Google track our movements online – where we shop, what we like, our habits, what marketing category we fall into. It all gets caught in Google’s giant invisible data net. But what does “Big Data” mean in an educational context?

For starters, eLearning companies can actively track how individuals respond to learning specific concepts. Maybe you flew through an assessment based on an online video with high marks, but didn’t do so hot when you had to prove your mettle by reading and responding to a course text. By analysing a student’s feedback, software developers can adjust the content of their learning platform to make students more successful in the future. Or, if you have an online instructor on the other side of your screen, your teacher can adjust her instruction to help you retain material more successfully in the next lesson.

In this educational atmosphere, learner preferences – whether you choose to stream a video or play a game that assess your skill level, for example – will take on new weight. The hope is that by letting learners personalise their education by indicating a set of instructional preferences, instructors and eLearning companies alike will become even more effective teachers.

concept journey

Alternative learning strategies

Many students turn to online learning in order to juggle a busy personal and professional life with their education. Learning online can be lonely, though, so online educational providers are seeking ways to integrate social learning into online curricula.

This means you could be in a program that mixes online learning with in-person homework strategy sessions with a teacher, called “flipped learning.” Or, you could wind up logging more hours on social networks like Facebook to complete projects with other students in the same online course. Only in an online education class could you actually use Facebook to receive high marks, instead of winding up in a disciplinary meeting with a disapproving teacher!

Students also turn to online education in order to learn at their own pace and manage testing anxiety. If you fall into the category of “bad tester,” you can look forward to the project-based learning trend. Rather than emphasising assessments, some new online course models ask students to work toward completing projects that demonstrate a range of skills. Like the integration of games into online coursework, project-based learning gives students a concrete goal to work toward over a long period of time, rather than just proving what they know on an assessment and moving on.

Which of these new technologies or learning techniques sound the most appealing to you?

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