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The changing world of learning technologies

This post was written by Mark Arbedour and first appeared on the Epic blog on 14th November 2013.

change in learning techAt a recent meeting at Stanford School of Engineering, a range of institutions were discussing the new world of MOOCs and what it means for the future of education. David Patterson, a computer science professor at University of California, Berkeley who co-taught one of the early MOOCs, isquoted as saying: “It’s like 1993 in the history of the World Wide Web. We’re a year and a half into this revolution, and no one knows where it will end.”

There is no doubt that HE and FE are going through a lot of soul searching at the moment, experimenting with new types of courses and business models. I got the same sense at February’s MoodleMoot in Dublin where over 100 institutions came together and debated the future of education. There was the same sense of great change occurring, of being on a journey with no clear destination; some people were excited by this and others worried. With great change comes great opportunity, and the amount of educational technology startups in the past couple of years has been staggering. Some are arguing that we are in an edtech bubble with companies being acquired for ridiculous money.

Workplace learning too is in the midst of a major technology shift. I have spent nearly two decades in workplace learning and have seen the delivery medium move from video to laserdisc then CDi and CD-Rom and then onto the web and now mobile, which reflects how computer-based training broadly follows the consumer marketplace. In the case of laserdisc and CDi they were short-lived experimentations (Epic has always had an eye on the ‘next big thing’), but video and CD-Rom were standard training media for many years.  But we haven’t seen a major technology shift since the late nineties when learning started to move on to the web.

What we have seen in this time is lots of incremental change as the web technology changed. Web 1.0 was all about presentation of content, and e-learning courses at the time were no different from CD-Rom (‘Click next to continue‘). Web 2.0 was all about moving the means of production to the consumer with the read-write web and user collaboration. And with this the learning technologies landscape changed too, and Wikipedia became the most successful learning tool of all time. Unfortunately, Web 2.0 didn’t have a great take up in workplace learning and many in the sector are still stuck in the ’Click Next to Continue‘ frame of mind rather than learning through collaboration. Of course, it doesn’t have to be like that, and if you’d like to take advantage of social and collaborative tools in your learning, then please give us a call.

Now though, we do have a seismic shift occurring with the move to mobile devices.  Smartphones and tablets are fantastic tools for learning and are only just starting to be explored in this way. And this time, it looks like the workplace learning community is ready to take up the challenge. There are moves towards performance support resources and job aids, personalised and adaptive learning, context awareness and location awareness, and mobile technology is the facilitator for all these things. There is recognition that learning happens everywhere, not just in the LMS, hence the excitement about Tin Can API, and recognition that learning is lifelong, hence the excitement about Open Badges. Then we have virtual classrooms, wearable technology, the Internet of Things, big data and learning analytics. After a decade of small, incremental changes, we are back in a time of tremendous change and possibility, more so than I’ve ever known in this industry.

This change and opportunity is being felt in both educational institutions and workplace learning, and the two worlds are increasingly coming together too. The beautiful thing is that no one knows where this journey is going to end; the possibilities seem endless. In reality, it never will end of course, as the technology will be constantly changing and us folks in education and workplace learning will always be reacting to that. But as a learning technologies geek, what a great time to be involved!