Evolving technologies and hectic schedules are driving people to online education, or e-learning. Yet this platform is young, so change is rapid.
Here’s a look at today’s biggest trends in online education.
1. M-learning: Lessons on the go
Education has reached people’s pockets and purses with the introduction of mobile learning. Internet-enabled mobile phones and tablets let people download course materials, review grades, and check assignments wherever they are. All they need is the right mobile app.
The US Market for mobile learning 2010-15 forecast (Ambient Insight) reports, “US market for mobile learning products and services reached $958.7 million in 2010. The five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is estimated at 13.7%, and revenues are projected to reach $1.82 billion by 2015”.
2. Podcasting: Learning through recorded talks
You don’t need a smart-phone or tablet to partake in mobile learning. One of the most basic, and most ubiquitous forms of mobile learning is the podcast. While people have downloaded these pre-recorded talks onto their iPods for years, many educators have recently realized their value for delivering additional lectures, interviews, and more.
Edison Research’s recent, The Current State of Podcasting explains that:
- 45% of Americans in 2010 have watched or listened to a podcast, up from 43% in 2009. This equates to approximately 70 million Americans 12 and older.
- The podcast audience has expanded from predominantly “early adopters,” to mainstream media consumers in 2010.
3. Social learning: Facebook isn’t just for friends anymore
Just weeks ago, teachers in the state of Missouri won a major battle with lawmakers who had attempted to ban teacher-student contact via social networks. Networks like Facebook, the teachers argued, were far too important as communication channels with students. Similar debates take place on a daily basis across the country, although this particular case reached a far higher profile than most.
Social networks aren’t just about open lines of communication, either. Educators in high schools and colleges worldwide hold virtual office hours on Facebook, Ning, and Twitter; post assignments on more education-oriented networks like Edmodo; and build dialogs and discussions through services like ePals and School Town.
Even Second Life is still around, though not quite the revolutionary tool for which many educators had been hoping. Research and social learning theory, in fact, suggests that merely creating and using avatars (whether complex like those in Second Life or simple, customizable pictures, help to model ideal social behaviors for students.
4. Blended/hybrid courses: The best of both worlds
Many institutions have increased retention and success rates with the help of blended (or hybrid) courses, where teaching time is split between online and face-to-face. In these courses, the flexibility and advantages of e-learning are coupled with face-to-face teacher contact.
Seven years of research at the University of Central Florida (UCF) found that blended courses have the potential to increase student learning while lowering attrition rates, compared to equivalent, fully online courses.
5. Evolution: Better tools for learning
As the e-learning market matures, so does the software and available tools. Today students can have a complete, immersive multimedia experience, with platforms like WizIQ offering text chat, audio/video conferencing, polling, high tech virtual classrooms, and recordable sessions.
The promising results in the emerging field of E-learning Psychology give credence to our own anecdotal evidence around the efficacy of online education. People generally learn better when multiple sensory modalities are engaged, and when the environment and approach suits their learning styles. Constructivist learning theory stresses the advantages of feedback, self-pacing, and discovery learning that online education can offer students when delivered in engaging ways.
While there will always be room for in-person learning, the growing importance of e-learning in a variety of contexts is expanding access to knowledge and driving the art and science of teaching into the 21st century.