The arena of online learning is continually reshaped by technological advances. Just as we must pay attention to the latest research on learning and pedagogy, it’s important to be aware of current technological trends. These have the potential to redefine what it means to learn online.
What technology trends have impacted online learning and will continue to do so in the coming year?
Cloud computing refers to delivering capabilities as an online service accessed from a web browser. The number of applications and services that rely on cloud computing seem to be growing exponentially, impacting both the development and delivery of online learning. Web-based tools for scheduling, project management and documentation increase productivity and enhance personal mobility. Online image editors and other multimedia production tools provide access to a host of new and often less expensive applications. Steaming media services, like Amazon S3, make it easy to store and deliver large media files. While online applications for webinars, presentations and mind maps provide new ways to learn and collaborate online.
Open Source Software
Open Source software products for eLearning, for which the source code is freely available, are becoming widely accepted. An increasing number of organizations are taking advantage of Open Source products, like Moodle and Sakai, for Learning Management Systems and authoring tools, like Udutu, for course production. The advantages? Open Source apps are usually free to download, which makes online learning more affordable. Access to the source code makes the programs customizable. Also, Open Source software often has a large and supportive community. The downside? The documentation for Open Source software can be disorganized or sparse. Some organizations forget to add in the costs of customization.
Social media technologies are exploding, providing an array of offerings for learning online. The prevalence of social networking, real-time search and discussion, and collaborative technologies increase the opportunities for informal and unstructured learning and can enhance structured learning strategies as well. Although organizations have been slow to adopt and promote social media technologies for learning, interest in these approaches is increasing. Individuals, rather than organizations, have been using social media technologies for self-directed and collaborative learning for quite some time.
Immersive and Gaming Environments
With 3D virtual environments coming online at a steady pace, sophisticated virtual authoring software, and augmented reality beginning to take hold, learning in 3D is now more feasible than ever. Although it increases development time, the potential for improved learning transfer from virtual environments to the real world can no longer be ignored. And of course, there’s the motivational factor too.
This year set the stage for a more robust mobile learning space, where limitations in access, power and speed had to be overcome. Due to more powerful mobile data networks, ubiquitous access to wireless, mobile tools that work across platforms and more smart phones and devices that are Flash ready, many types of learning can be set free from the personal computer. More organizations are exploring mobile learning to provide just-in-time resources and learning objects to an increasingly mobile and virtual workforce.
The popularity of eBook Readers, such as the Kindle, are increasing the opportunities for learning from digital books. As these become more accepted by consumers, online learning professionals might consider incorporating digital books as part of an overall learning strategy. The devices will probably need to improve when it comes to color and graphics, but they are slowly impacting self-directed learning.
Netbook computers—those highly affordable mini-laptops—are making the Internet more accessible to the masses. Priced at around $200-$300 dollars, netbooks are contributing to a reshaped eLearning environment by increasing the number of people who can participate.
In your opinion, what technology advances or changes in consumer and user behavior are impacting online learning? Comment below.
[Photo credit: Kozuch]