Last week, I spoke at the virtual vehicle, a research center at the local university of technology. The general topic of the event was “digital learning” and I was speaking about digital learning in corporations. The event was organized by a local business facilitation organization and was targeted towards HR decision makers interested in the applications of digital learning in business.

The speaker line-up started with an university lecturer’s look at how learning is currently changing, followed by concrete applications and the possibilities afforded by modern learning tools presented by the CEO of an eLearning provider. I was up next, describing the introduction of an eLearning system in an enterprise setting, before the final presentation (by the hosting organization itself) gave a hands-on example of how augmented reality could be used for learning.

In this article, I’m picking up a few noteworthy topics from the collective talks and try to transfer them from their corporate learning origins to the online learning world:

  • Do these topics apply to online learning?
  • Are we considering these aspects already? Could we do more?
  • How will these topics eventually shape the future of online learning?

Mobile Learning

Mobile learning isn’t a new topic anymore, but the corporate learning market is only now starting to seriously consider mobile devices as valid tools for knowledge transfer. I honestly believe that online teachers have the edge over the corporate eLearning market in this regard. Driven by a desire to attract visitors and generate revenue, online instructors are forced to obey SEO principles, and create courses in a way that make them accessible on all devices. Corporate eLearning authoring tools are only now starting to produce useful output for mobile devices.

While video training platforms generally do a good job of making videos accessible on a variety of devices, and modern landing pages are normally responsive, work remains to be done when it comes to other course elements. Slides which can barely be read on mobile screens are not uncommon, and interactive elements (which are prone to cause accessibility problems) aren’t even widely used in online teaching yet.

Learning On-Demand

More and more, we’ll need access to small chunks of knowledge right when we require it. Learning will be an activity of its own less and less, and will become more embedded in every day tasks.

I think that online courses in general are a step in the this direction, making information accessible from anywhere at anytime. However, access is granted to entire courses and the current technology is in no way adapted to fulfill the requirement of serving small chunks based on immediate needs.

Content locked away behind a variety of access mechanisms on a great number of platforms or behind private LMS installations means that content is fragmented without a common database. This situation doesn’t allow for on-demand access to just the piece of content a learner needs in a particular situation.

Looking at it from this perspective, marketplaces have an advantage over independent course hosting due to a large number of courses on the same platform. In theory, these marketplaces could grant access to individual pieces of content from their course database and allow users to find these information nuggets based on tags and metadata. Udemy’s business model isn’t really compatible with this approach, but who knows where it’s headed. Skillshare is a little closer to target, with a big number of compact, skill related courses, and Curious is already putting a lot of focus on bite sized chunks of knowledge.

Easy Content Creation

It’s easier than ever to create learning content. The ubiquitousness of online courses is proof of that, and while the corporate eLearning world is often afraid of tackling learning projects, most online instructors have no fear of starting course development. However, there is also a large number of people with an interesting skill set who wouldn’t consider teaching online because they perceive it to be difficult. We can certainly do more to educate potential online instructors and give them easy-to-use tools and resources to get started.

User-Generated Content

Future learning modules and classes will not just be prepared by the instructor, but will incorporate pieces of knowledge contributed by learners. Collective ownership of information is a buzzword that was mentioned, and while paid courses will still need to be prepared by an instructor (otherwise, why would people pay for a course?), it’s certainly an interesting idea to increase users’ contributions and improve the overall value for all students by doing so.

Assignments that are submitted and discussed by participants in a facebook group could be seen as a common way of implementing this at the moment. However, this can only be a start, and I think it’ll be up to the technology providers to facilitate users’ contributions even more. Without the right tools, it’ll be very difficult for online instructors to accommodate this trend effectively.

Gamification

An interesting story was told about a learning management system that is working surprisingly well for a company. In this particular LMS installation, learners can challenge each other to a knowledge duel. They complete exercises and quizzes and try to beat their opponents. If companies have started to accept such a playful approach to learning, and it turns out to be effective, I think the online learning world shouldn’t ignore it.

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Simpler gamification mechanisms (e.g. badges which are awarded for progress along a learning path) have been around for a while, but I’m a little doubtful as to their effectiveness in online learning. While the psychology behind it may be sound, and we may all be collectors and high-score hunters, I think this only works in platforms where you spend a lot of time and can measure yourself against others. Individual courses with a mere hand full of students, hosted by white label platforms, may not provide an environment where your high-score carries meaning and will motivate you to push on. Again, course marketplaces may have the edge there, as students may consume several courses on the same platform and rack up badge after badge.

On the other end of the spectrum, one can go to extremes by creating fancy games. In corporate eLearning, this is a task for professionals as the skills and tools to do this are quite specialized. Currently, I wouldn’t advise online instructors to start developing anything more than simple hangman-style games or puzzles which can be created with ready-to-use toolkits. I think there’s huge potential for tools to be developed which would enable online instructors to incorporate a lot more gamification aspects in online courses.

Augmented Reality

VR glasses were used to demonstrate an example of learning skills with augmented reality. A short videoclip was played inside the glasses and a random participant from the audience was asked to perform print-head maintenance of a 3d printer without further instructions.

While this kind of thing is currently a long way from the methods commonly used to conduct online training, I think it’s only a matter of time before augmented reality features find their way into all kinds of apps and services.

What if you could point your phone’s camera at parts of your newly bought household device, and different learning videos would play, explaining the respective parts? Wouldn’t that be a cool way of providing user manuals?

Once the technology is in place, I believe online instructors will be very quick at adopting these tools and re-structure their content accordingly.

What do you think?

What’s your opinion? Where are we headed? Which tools make sense, and which developments do you dislike? Leave a comment below!

Wondering where online instructors teach without using complicated LMS? Check out our free course hosting platform guide

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