What are the trends in e-learning?

On: November 1, 2010
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About Anne Lukas
Before I went to Amsterdam to start the New Media Master, I studied Educational Design, Management & Media (BA) at the University of Twente (Enschede, Netherlands). During this time, I did an internship in Sydney, Australia for an educational company. There I was designing course material for academic institutions, but unfortunately only print-media. In my opinion is this medium too limited to educate people nowadays because of its lack of interactivity. So after this experience I wanted to be more engaged in e-learning. For the future, I wish to become an instructional designer who develops educational software, websites, etc.


While I was wondering about the right topic of my master thesis, I was thinking of technologies that might have the biggest impact on e-learning in the future. That means, that I don’t want to write about Second Life or other new media that didn’t revolutionize learning in the last years. Even though the number of users is increasing, I honestly don’t see a big future of Second Life for educational purposes. I am more interested in new fields of e-learning that will change the ways of teaching and learning.

After some Internet research, I found the following trends for e-learning technology:

Technical University of Civil Engineering Bucharest (Carabaneanu et al.)

  • Mobile technologies: In the future learning solutions and services will be integrated into mobile technologies as mobile phones, PDAs, digital pen and paper, and in the long term, mobile devices that are not yet on the market. In the long term, learning solutions and services are also likely to be integrated into electronic appliances, machines and information interfaces.
  • Simulations in e-learning process : For a number of years, simulations have played an important role in the training activities of certain sectors, like the defense, aviation and aeronautical industries in several countries. They were not adopted until now on a large scale as learning tools due to some factors like the cost of development and the lack of tools for developing high-quality simulations. These days we are in a different situation and simulations are being adopted in other industries and for a broad range of skills and competence development. Technology and cost barriers are continuing to shrink, opening up the potential for wider adoption of simulation technology.
  • Adaptive learning environments (ALEs) : In the recent years there is an increasingly heightened awareness of the potential benefits of adaptivity in e-learning. This is happening because the ideal of individualized learning (i.e., learning suited to the specific requirements and preferences of the individual) cannot be achieved, especially at a “massive” scale, using traditional approaches. Factors that further contribute in this direction include: the diversity in the “target” population participating in learning activities (intensified by the gradual attainment of life-long learning practices); the diversity in the access media and modalities that one can effectively utilize today in order to access, manipulate, or collaborate on, educational content or learning activities, alongside with a diversity in the context of use of such technologies. A learning environment is considered adaptive if it is capable of: monitoring the activities of its users; interpreting these on the basis of domain-specific models; inferring user requirements and preferences out of the interpreted activities, appropriately representing these in associated models; and, finally, acting upon the available knowledge on its users and the subject matter at hand, to dynamically facilitate the learning process.
  • Open source e-learning tools : Most of these products have extensive developer communities and present strong arguments for considering open source applications like an alternative to commercial products. Some of the criteria that are in favor of making a decision regarding an Open Source software applications are related to cost savings, stability, performance and access to code. On the other hand, for ensuring that users in the near future as well as the longer term have access to the best available applications, these Open Source software applications should be built on open standards.
  • Standards development : Standard development is meant to knit together disparate groups and interests in the distributed learning community. It is intended to coordinate emerging technologies and capabilities with commercial/public implementations.

 Dr. Amy Finn, Chief Learning Officer, Centra Software

  • Blended Learning: An emerging trend in e-learning involves blended learning programs, designed to integrate e-learning with traditional training methods to increase overall effectiveness. No longer is one delivery method alone sufficient to handle enterprise-wide training needs. The construction of true blended learning programs moves learning itself into a new age.
  • The disappearing Learning Management Systems (LMS): A few years ago organizations looked to LMS to solve their business problems. The LMS strategy was a reasonable one, but one that involved a corporate commitment in time, cost, resources, and energy that few organizations could afford or be successful at. Learning Management Systems were said to be able to “do it all” for the internal workings of an organization. The fact is that no one product can do it all, and it is not reasonable to assume one would be able to do so.

Gartner Group & the University of Pennsylvania

  • Serious gaming: Human beings love to learn through experience. Many e-learning providers have discovered that they can use video game technology to develop fun, engaging, effective simulations. Industrial employers can train workers to handle sophisticated tasks without risking injury or production quality. Other types of teams can grow skills and learn best practices by participating in simulated quiz shows or treasure hunts. Fun e-learning programs help boost staff morale while reducing the time it takes for team members to integrate new skills and ideas.

To this list of e-learning trends, I would like to add Augmented Realities. “Augmented Reality (AR) has a distinction from what we commonly know as Virtual Reality (VR). The primary and basic distinction is that VR relies and depends upon an environment created and manipulated within the context of a virtual environment. AR allows users to manipulate and retrieve information within the real world environment. AR allows individuals (i.e. students) to experience the realness of something without harmful consequences of their actions.” But what does AR mean for education? “Through exploration AR abides by the primary tenets of constructivist learning theory. Students are able to manipulate their environment with the use of technology to derive at an understanding, while acquiring knowledge. The difference is that in AR there are not any consequences for their actions as there would be in a behaviorist learning environment.”

In my opinion, Mobile Learning and the use of open source software have the biggest potential to be the way to learn and teach in the future simply because of cost effectiveness and usability. A huge amount of students own a mobile with Internet access. That means, that they carry around a tool that offers plenty of learning possibilities wherever they are. So why not using it for education? On the other hand, open source software is not only cheaper (it’s free), it also gives student the opportunities to learn about alternative software and get engaged with computer science. I just read that some countries, e.g. Germany, are facing problems because of the lack of computer science and other graduate engineers. So why not supporting the use of open source software to improve for example programming skills?

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