Learning Technology Trends To Watch In 2011

Artificial as the year’s end might be, I can’t help but look back in amazement at the technology trends and changes we’ve seen and speculate about how we will learn and enable learning experiences in 2011.

Some of this year’s technology trends are based on disruptive innovation while others are based on changes in outlook and awareness. Here are my observations. Please add yours in the Comments section below.

Growth of Social Learning

There are more than 550 million people on Facebook and 65 million daily tweets on Twitter. Opportunities for learning through social media technologies abound and should grow ever stronger in the coming years. As a growing number of people look outside their training departments to meet their professional learning needs via social media, new services will most likely emerge to meet the greater demand.

For example, learning professionals currently use Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other services to share links and posts throughout the day and night. Online learning-related chats and discussions engage people from around the world, shrinking the geographical and cultural distances between us.

We’re bound to see new services that integrate across all of our devices to improve online collaboration, sharing and discussion, and ones that help people form smaller, more intimate digital and location-based communities.

To LMS or Not

This year proved to be one of great debate surrounding the future and necessity of the Learning Management System. Much of it boils down to whether employee learning should be controlled and tracked, particularly when much of workplace learning occurs through informal channels.

Although most organizations aren’t throwing away their expensive systems any time soon—particularly those in highly regulated industries—the debate does seem to have placed a crack in the armor.

At the very least, there seems to be a growing awareness among learning professionals that non-structured learning can be valuable, that alternative approaches to learning don’t require tracking and that social media technologies just might have a purpose in the workplace. As a result, some LMS platforms are transforming into a broader model, where structured learning is just one part of a larger learning community that enables collaboration, knowledge sharing, and social networking.

Pocket Video Technology

The ubiquitous presence of video in our connected lives got a serious boost from super-portable pocket video technology this year. Started by the Flip and now with many impressive competitors, these small, convenient recorders produce HD video, enable easy uploading to YouTube and other sharing sites, and run for under $200 US.

More than ever before, amateur videographers are teaching, demonstrating and sharing their knowledge and expertise. With 2 billion videos viewed daily on YouTube, this service has become the second largest search engine in the world.

The demand for video is sure to bring about new online services that enhance how videos are integrated into our world for just-in-time, informal learning. According to Ravit Lichtenberg from Ustrategy.com, “In the coming year, gaps in our video experience will be filled with the integration of filtering, tagging, editing and locating tools into each and every video feed.” Sounds good to me.


Due to improved infrastructure, slick mobile operating systems and smartphone market penetration, we seemed to hit a tipping point of readiness for mobile content this year. From mini-courses to collaboration to performance support, mobile learning could go mainstream in the near future.

In terms of converting legacy courses, it will mean streamlining everything—paring down over-sized multimedia elements as well as implementing a ‘less is more’ philosophy. In terms of new development, designers will have to manage the limitations of a smaller screen and decreased memory capacity. When mobile learning hits critical mass, people of all ages and occupations will reap the benefits.

iPad or Alt-Tablets

Although you may resent the fact that Apple won’t support Flash (yet, that is), you have to admit that the iPad continues to push the world of interactive content. The combination of a gestural interface with fine aesthetics, convenience and portability appears to be a game changer. New interactive books and magazines as well as educational and social apps are breaking ground.

But even though the iPad has sold well in the consumer and academic markets, its ability to penetrate into the workforce remains to be seen. Other tablet makers plan to support Flash and considering that over 70 percent of today’s online video uses the Flash format, we may be more likely to see alternate tablet technologies invading the workplace in the future. Note: Adobe Flash CS5 can convert .swf files into HTML-5 for some level of compatibility with the iPad.

Virtual Worlds Rising Up

To find out about the latest learning trends in the virtual sphere, I contacted expert Karl Kapp, author of Learning in 3D and professor at  Bloomsberg University. Dr. Kapp sees 3D Virtual Worlds headed in three directions in 2011.

“One, I see an increase in 3D Virtual World software being used to replace 2D PowerPoint-based virtual meetings. People loose focus quickly in 2D meetings staring at slides on the screen with a disembodied voice. So more companies are adopting 3D virtual worlds—where the environments look like conference rooms or offices—to avoid the mind numbing presentations. This is basically a replacement strategy of virtual worlds.

The second, and I think more interesting, is the use of 3D virtual worlds as enterprise-wide portals. In this trend, I see a 3D virtual world as a place of entry, when a person goes to work (virtually or drives somewhere and logs on). The person can then access social media tools, documents and other applications all from within the integrated 3D platform. This trend is fascinating in that 3D virtual worlds are creating an entirely new interface between employees and the systems they use at work.

The third trend is using 3D virtual worlds as multi-learner simulations. So instead of one person participating in a simulation, multiple people can participate and work together while learning the facts, knowledge and procedures required to collaborate. This is being used primarily with first responders and medical applications.”

Augmented Reality

Gary Woodill, Ed.D., a Senior Research Analyst at Brandon Hall Research and author of The Mobile Learning Edge, was kind enough to contribute his perspective on the trends affecting Augmented Reality related to mobile learning.

According to Dr. Woodlill, “Augmented Reality (AR) is one of the most disruptive applications for mobile learners. It is an example of location-based services, where information is provided to you based on your location, and even the direction that your phone camera is facing. With that information, your smartphone can supply additional textual information about what you are looking at, or can blend computer generated objects with the video or still image on your screen.

AR can also supply clues and problems to you through your smartphone based on your location, allowing for both training applications and learning games while on the move. For example, there are AR applications that can add historical objects to the picture of your surroundings as you move through a town, giving you a richer sense of the historical significance of an area.  Another AR application tells you the tenants of a building as you point your camera in its direction.

Because mobile learning is showing raid growth, and because Augmented Reality is one of its most compelling uses, look for rapid growth in the next five years in learning applications that use augmented reality concepts.”


According to Technorati, the blog count reached 70 million last year. Even though a quarter of them are most likely bot-created spam blogs, the quantity of content ‘in the cloud’ is still staggering. Blogs give everyone a voice to communicate, teach, spout opinions, learn and network. And with RSS technology, blog posts are quickly pushed to subscribers for easy access.

Although blogging has always had hints of social sharing, this is more evident than ever before. Jon Sobel, of Blog Critics notes that, “Bloggers’ use of and engagement with various social media tools is expanding, and the lines between blogs, micro-blogs, and social networks are disappearing. As the blogosphere converges with social media, sharing of blog posts is increasingly done through social networks.” With this much information available through so many forms, blogging should continue to prove a worthy medium for teaching, discussion and learning.


The digital book publishing revolution is thriving as a result of improved electronic readers, the introduction of the iPad, the open ePub format, and a growing popularity of downloadable books in .pdf format sold by authors. With the advent of ‘always on’ devices, eBooks present one more path for learning and content distribution.

In the future, forward thinking training organizations will provide their print materials in downloadable formats for employees to study or reference as needed. And as more digital readers become Internet-ready, books will hyperlink to other sources of information, providing a richer reading experience.

QR Codes

A QR Code is a type of barcode that can be read by QR scanners and mobile phones with cameras, using a QR reader app. Capable of  holding text, data and URLs, QR codes have a greater capacity to represent information than the old fashioned 10-digit barcode because they are two-dimensional. Okay, these weren’t a booming trend in 2010, but we’ll probably see more of them in the future.

Librarians and educators have found inventive uses for bar codes you might find inspiring. For example, QR codes containing a hyperlink have been placed on library shelves. The code links to more information about a related subject. In her blog, Instructional Design Fusions, Diane Rees writes about ways to use QR codes to explore stories in non-traditional locations, enhancing educational activities.

These are some of the trends I’ve seen, read and heard about. What about you? Comment below.

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  1. Jason says

    Great overview! Might the author or readers be able to recommend sites or companies which create or support 3D or Virtual World course content development. An additional caveat would be those who have implemented these technologies in web accessible/ 508 compliant environments.

  2. Peter Shanks says

    How about gamification -adding game like elements to everyday activities (see http://gamification.org ) and augmented reality – superimposing information over a real world view (for example the junaio browser)

  3. Connie Malamed says

    I had been thinking I needed to contact an expert about Augmented Reality and found Gary Woodill to add his take on AR for mobile. I’ve updated the article with his thoughts. Love your gamification idea, too. Thanks Peter!


  1. […] So viele Trends wie in diesem Jahr waren noch nie da. Hier also “Learning Technology Trends”. Einigen sind sichere Tipps, wie z.B. “Growth of Social Learning”, “To LMS or Not”, “Pocket Video Technology” oder “Mobile”. Andere brauchen etwas mehr Phantasie und Vorstellungsvermögen, wie z.B. “Virtual Worlds Rising Up”, “Blogs ” oder “QR Codes”. Connie Malamed, The eLearning Coach, 17. Dezember 2010 […]

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