Learning Technology Trends To Watch In 2012

As the technologies of the 21st century evolve and mature, we become the beneficiaries of exciting approaches for designing learning experiences. The convergence of informal and social media learning, combined with the explosion of smartphone and tablet use, is having a huge impact on how we think about training and education.

So while last year’s list of learning technology trends to watch in 2011 is still viable, there are new and important learning trends to follow and explore this year. Here are the ones that stand out to me (in alphabetical order). What stands out to you? Comment below.


Several years ago, audience members at presentations and workshops began communicating with each other using their smartphones and laptops. This interactive communication became known as the backchannel. With the evolution of social media tools, particularly Twitter and blogging, the backchannel now provides the documentation of events, such as conference sessions, so that people can attend virtually and continue to learn after the event ends.

One dedicated practitioner of using the backchannel in this way is David Kelly, who collects the communications regarding an event in one place. As an example, check out David’s backchannel pages from many conferences. In addition, the forward thinking eLearning Guild incorporated an official backchannel section into their DevLearn 2011 Conference event site. In its new incarnation, the backchannel is merging with content curation, described below.

Content Curation

Digital curation is nearly a necessity for dealing with information overload. Content curators scour the web for information on a particular topic, collect and filter the information for readers, and then maintain and update it. Effective curators add value to content because they decide what is worthwhile, providing meaning to the content through what is selected, what is omitted, how it is organized and how it is summarized or introduced.

More dependable than a search engine’s algorithm, the content you’ll find in a well-managed curation site may build on a topic or ensure that articles relate to each other. Content curation could be the responsibility of the learning architect in many organizations some day. Hopefully, more curation tools will allow curators and readers to comment on collections. Some curation tools include: Scoop.it, bagtheweb, Storify, Pearltrees and Bundlr. Two curated sites of interest include: eLearning curated by Paulo Simões and Content Curation World by Robin Good.

Developing in the Cloud

An increasing number of platforms for creating and hosting learning experiences are web-based. This means that the software resides online only rather than on your desktop. This creates a seamless path from online course creation to launching the course itself. It also makes it easier for authoring tool publishers to provide team collaboration features. Some authoring environments for creating online learning in the cloud include:

  • Composica: An online platform for building courses in a collaborative environment so team members can communicate during the process.
  • eXe: A well-regarded open source authoring tool for creating and publishing web content.
  • Interaction Builders: In a category by itself, are the tools from the eLearning Brothers, who provide an online service for creating interactions, which are then downloaded and incorporated into an online course. To build interactions, you choose a template and add text, images and audio. Interactions publish to a single flash file.
  • My Brainshark: A web-based subscription service for creating and hosting on-demand multimedia presentations. My Brainshark is free; My Brainshark Pro has advanced features. Also see Brainshark for a paid enterprise version.
  • Lectora Online: A collaborative online version of the Lectora authoring tool, it lets team members share and modify course content. Lectora Online has lots of templates for publishing to tablets.
  • Ruzuku: An online platform that allows you to easily create scheduled or on-demand online courses as well as learning communities.
  • Udutu: One of the earlier online course building and deployment platforms, Udutu provides a free online course authoring tool with paid hosting services.

Expanded Instructional Designer’s Role

Captured in Clive Shepherd’s book, The New Learning Architect, the idea that an instructional designer has only one function—course creation—seems outdated. Although many will continue to develop courses, instructional designers will need to think in broad terms about how to close learning gaps. This means understanding the strategies that underlie diverse possibilities for learning, both formal and informal, traditional and nontraditional, online and print and face-to-face and virtual.

For example, instructional designers are managing communities of practice, curating content, facilitating online discussion groups, organizing events and supporting social media for learning. Instructional designers are often the proponents of innovation and the persuaders who convince upper management that interaction and collaboration will make for a smarter organization. As more instructional designers and educators see themselves as learning architects, the world will become a smarter place.

Flipped Learning

The flipped learning model, which started in the classroom, transposes homework with classwork. In the world of education, this means students get the presentation portion of a class as homework through videos, screencasts and podcasts. Then during class, there is time for interaction, discussion, projects and individualized instruction. The model is based on the idea that learner interaction and enrichment in the classroom are more effective than passively watching a teacher present or lecture. As this strategy grows, flipped classrooms may all look different. But how can this be applied to workplace learning?

In the workplace, flipped learning can take many forms. For example, Jane Hart writes about the Flipped or Social Webinar she facilitated in which participants were asked to read and reflect on an assigned article prior to the event. Then rather than saving their questions for the end of the webinar, participants were able to spend the webinar time in discussion, asking questions and applying knowledge. Imagine the possibilities when learners are thinking and interacting rather than watching a “sage on the stage.”


Watch for a better understanding and more effective use of game mechanics in training and education this year. These are are wonderfully captured in Karl Kapp’s book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, scheduled for publication in May 2012 (the title may change at this point). Kapp notes that although gamification has the power to engage both young and old, a game structure can’t be artificially placed on content as a ruse for interaction. Rather, effective games provide meaning through real engagement, immediate feedback and a sense of accomplishment that is well-integrated with sound pedagogy.

As noted by neurologist, Judy Willis, games provide an individualized achievable goal that initiates the dopamine-reward system, which provides a powerful pleasure response. Although she was focusing on the world of education, adults also find pleasure in learning through games. They provide a safe environment for exploration that leads to greater understanding.

HTML 5 for Mobile

If you’re not technically-minded, the debate over HTML 5 versus Flash may have passed you by. The key point is that most web-based learning has been delivered in the Flash format, which is Adobe’s light-weight technology for presenting interactive multimedia content over the web. But for a variety of competitive and technical reasons, Flash is not supported on all mobile devices (in particular, the iPhone and iPad) so an alternative was needed.

Enter HTML 5, a web technology that had been in development for years, which can partially replace the functionality of Flash. Now that support for HTML 5 to deliver multimedia to mobile browsers is growing into a consensus, many publishers of authoring tools have converted their products to output to HTML5 in addition to or instead of Flash. If you’re planning on delivering content to a variety of smart phones and tablets, you’ll want to know which authoring tools publish to HTML5. Here are some options to explore at the moment; others are working hard to catch up:

  • Adobe Edge: Created by the developers of Flash, Adobe Edge provides interaction and animated content. It is still in “preview” mode at the time of this writing.
  • Flipboard: Although most people think of Flipboard as an app for aggregating social media content, you can also use it to create content in a magazine format. It currently is only available for the iPhone and iPad.
  • Lectora and Lectora Online: A well-regarded authoring platform for creating interactive multimedia content and assessments, Lectora, publishes for desktop eLearning and for mobile devices.
  • Pastiche: Developed by Xyleme, Pastiche is an authoring tool and hosting solution for creating interactive content delivered on the iPad. You can create online courses, interactive textbooks and performance support solutions. Because is hosted in the Pastiche store, Pastiche iPad apps are iTunes approved.
  • Rapid Intake mLearning Studio: mLearning Studio covers its bases by publishing to both HTML5 and Flash. After adding multimedia assets (text, graphics, audio and video) you can publish to a cross-platform mobile course player for smartphones (Android, iPhone and newer Blackberries) as well as the iPad.
  • Sum Total Toolbook: Toolbook has been around the world of eLearning for a very long time—they are on version 11 at the time of this writing. They provide a mobile learning solution with templates and styles for creating interactive content for mobile devices.

Please note that not all desktop browsers can handle HTML5 and its associated technologies. So don’t assume that the same format will work on both mobile and desktop.

New Blended Learning

Blended or hybrid learning came about because one eLearning course is often not the solution to an organization’s or an individual’s learning needs. Until recently, blended referred to a learning experience that included both instructor-led and online self-paced components. But that was a long time ago in Internet Time.

Now that live synchronous instruction frequently occurs online and that opportunities for individualized learning abound, the definition of blended learning is expanding to include any number of strategies, from learning through a community of practice to mobile performance support. For example, someone might attend a workplace webinar on how people learn, then participate in a video-based Google+ hangout with a cognitive psychologist, and join a LinkedIn community of instructional designers to discuss the application of these ideas.

There is an obvious  advantage to this breadth of thinking—it better meets the needs of learners. It enables designers to think in unlimited terms about what makes an effective learning experience and to consider that learning is an ongoing process rather than a discrete one. See Expanding the Instructional Designer’s Role above.

Now it’s your turn. What trends are you observing? Comment below.

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  1. Joanne M. Lozar Glenn says

    Connie, thanks for this fascinating and really useful information. Thanks for consolidating it here. I found “flipped learning” really interesting–makes sense–I’m thinking it’s maybe a variation of what used to be called advanced organizers?

  2. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Joanne,
    Glad you found this useful. Flipped learning is very cool and makes perfect sense. Something I’d thought about but didn’t quite know how to put it into practice.
    I think I see what you mean about the flipped learning being like advance organizers, but only partially. Advance organizers are more like learning objectives or some smaller piece of information given prior to a learning experience to ready the learner’s mind for the new content. In flipped learning, it seems as though learners are getting the whole package prior to application and synthesis. Anyway, nice to hear from you and thanks for your comment.

  3. Jim Schultz says

    Connie, I liked the list and we are starting to see implementation of the blended learning and flipped classroom in specific schools around the country. The educators in HS, CTE and Community Colleges who have tried this seem to be showing positive results. However, as is everything in education, real adoption is slow. Although teachers are using the methods, administrators are not integrating and trying to get them adopted across multiple classes in a district. My wish is for continued experimentation in education. This will help all students (not just some) to engage and learn.

  4. Pierre Miranda says

    Excellent summary, thanks!

    Concerning “Developing in the Cloud”, I’m skeptical. SaaS solutions are usually very expensive in the long run, being based on yearly subscription fees. I don’t really see the added value in terms of authoring.

  5. Connie Malamed says

    HI Pierre,
    Thanks for your comment. You make a good point, that some could end up being expensive in the long run, though be aware that some are free.

  6. Connie Malamed says

    Great sentiments, Jim. Thanks for keeping us up to date on what’s going on in the world of education, as it influences workplace learning and vice versa.

  7. Robert says

    Thanks for this.

    Another option for HTML 5 content creation is Tumult Hype, which is Mac-based. It’s only $30 – a great deal!

  8. Amy says

    Great article! I just started using a multimedia slideshow type tool in my class called VoiceThread. It allows me to deliver content and interact with my students asynchronously. They seem to like that they can use it on their iphones and make different types of comments.

  9. Carole McCulloch says

    Hi Connie,
    Regarding the Blended Elearning – I believe that meeting the needs of the learners is one half of the equation – matching the design and delivery style of the tutor is the other. I have commented further in my blog.
    Regarding the Content Curation – I agree with you entirely, those who curate meaningfully and share will be followed – they will create the thrones for the Content Kings.
    BTW I am following your blog with interest and gave it a plug at the Smart Workers Guide to Social Media. (smiles)

  10. Connie Malamed says

    Thanks for your input, Carole. And thanks for the kind words. I look forward to reading your blog and I hope others do too: coachcarole.wordpress.com.

  11. DLevine says

    I am an ed-tech graduate student and also obtaining a certification in online instructional design. I enjoyed your information about flipped classrooms (and their relevance to the workplace as well as educational settings) and the onset of HTML 5- a definite development with the trend towards mobile devices. Ensuring those online courses will be accessible with iPads or the equivalent is a necessity.

  12. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Daina,
    Welcome to The eLearning Coach. I see you’ve chosen the right career! I agree we need to insure those online courses will be accessible with all mobile devices. Not sure we’ll meet that goal, but it is an important one. Thanks for your comment.

  13. Leah says

    I fail to see how flipping the classroom is any different to our lecturers at university back in 1989 giving me a reading list to go over before each class and then (sometimes) grading us on how well we discussed the issues or answered questions put to us. The question is, without resorting to this, how will we get learners to read/watch/listen to the content before they attend the workshop/lecture etc. Workplace training situations have been ‘flipping the classroom’ for years as far as I’m aware and getting anyone to do the ‘homework’ is always an issue.

  14. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Leah,
    I hear what you’re saying and thanks for your comment. I think the homework video has to be compelling, using techniques that we know work, such as explanatory visuals, storytelling, etc. In the classroom, it can be enticing project-type experiences rather than controlled discussions where people are graded. To transfer this to the enterprise would take a lot of thought. Relevance to the workplace would be key. For example, what about development of real projects that help someone be more productive or role-playing or simulations. I agree that educators, trainers and instructional designers need to be very creative to make this work.

  15. Robert Bohlen says

    Super article Connie. I saw a post on LinkedIn, referencing the article. Wonderful links and insights.


  1. […] Expanded Instructional Designer’s Role Captured in Clive Shepherd’s book, The New Learning Architect , the idea that an instructional designer has one only one function—course creation—seems outdated. Although many will continue to develop courses, instructional designers will need to think in broad terms about how to close learning gaps. This means understanding the strategies that underlie diverse possibilities for learning, both formal and informal, traditional and nontraditional, online and print and face-to-face and virtual. Udutu : One of the earlier online course building and deployment platforms, Udutu provides a free online course authoring tool with paid hosting services. Learning Technology Trends To Watch In 2012: The eLearning Coach […]

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