Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Future of E-Learning

E-Learning is in a state of flux.  The early days saw distance learning programs move online and essentially the same boring ‘learn at a distance’ method occur, but in a more paperless manner.  I have never really been a fan of e-learning in its course delivery model.  Sure, it’s an efficient way to deliver content and to many students at once but is it really an effective experience for the learners?  Online tools don’t replicate social learning experiences well, yet.  Sure, with Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Hangouts, Skype, or Blackboard Collaborate (formally Elluminate Live) students can connect in asynchronous and synchronous ways.  But, it is still not the same as face 2 face.  I believe e-learning needs to be a fully blended experience so as to leverage the best of what it means to be human – being together.

I was asked to represent the K12 sector on a “Future Trends” panel at the recent Canadian MoodleMoot.  Along with a person from Higher Ed and two industry representatives we were asked to imagerespond to three prompts.  We were asked to comment on a trend relating to the 2011 MoodleMoot Futures of eLearning crowd sourcing session, a forecast for the Learning Management System sector and Moodle’s place in it, and a trend pertaining to the sector we are speaking for.  To be honest, I felt a little under qualified to speak to this given that I have never taught an online course nor used Moodle.  But, I think my interest in and writing about the future, technology, and learning is what prompted the organizers to extend this invitation to me and it was an honor to participate in this way.

I opened with comments about the exponential change that technology has been relentlessly driving over the past 500+ years File:PPTMooresLawai.jpgsince the invention of the printing press.  That invention unleashed change like never before.  Why you might ask? Well, the ability to mass produce and spread ideas, knowledge, and information of course.  The few hundred years did unfold slowly relative to our experience today and each decade did not feel much different from the last.  However, the past 100 or so years have seen the effects of accelerating change.  We can no longer accurately or reliably predict the future based on our experience of the past.  Do you feel like the past 10 years of your life has been a whirlwind of unprecedented change?  I suspect so…

I chose to comment on Cell phones (mobile learning) from the 2011 MoodleMoot trends.  I believe that besides having immersive capabilities such as 3D holographic displays that you can speak to and interact with using hand motions, our phones will give us access to the power of IBM’s Watson and knowledge tools like Wolfram Alpha but far more advanced than anything we can really imagine.  But we will imagine nonetheless…  I’ve been playing with SIRI and am quite impressed.  It responds to natural language conversation and questioning and taps into various tools and sources on the web including Wolfram Alpha – ask it a knowledge oriented question tells you it will think about it, look it up, and present the info or the directions, the list of items, the contact record, or send a spoken to text email or message, etc.  Based on the accelerated nature of change, this will evolve over the next five years to the point where it will converse with you very naturally in your native language and be your knowledge concierge tapping in to all knowledge and information in the world, in seconds.  It will also “get to know you” and anticipate your questions.  Imagine students using this in class or online – kind-of demands a change in approach from content coverage to deep learning and understanding, iStock_000007946334XSmallengagement with our world and ideas, generation of ideas and solutions, etc.

As to a forecast for the LMS sector and Moodle, I begin by questioning the structure called “a course”.  Courses may be relatively easy to create, deliver, and assess but do they really engage students in the type of learning necessary for our rapidly changing world?  Canned packages of knowledge and activities would seem to be an obsolete method of learning.  I think LMS’ like Moodle need to evolve into learning facilitation systems that look more like project and problem based learning platforms.  Learning could be woven through projects, problems, and inquiry initiatives where students use a variety of online tools (blogs, wikis, tweets, blogs, pins, pix, videos, searches, presentations, discussions, documents, etc.) connected to the LMS such that the artifacts created in the process of using the tools, flow to the LMS for assessment.  An automated creation of a learning portfolio is the idea here.  The LMS / Moodle tools need to lower the bar such that non-technical teachers and their students are able to easily create, mash up, share, and assess facilitated learning activities.  For K12, these tools need to look and work differently for different age groups.  Learning in kindergarten with five year-olds looks and functions very differently from grade 12 / 17-year-olds.

Finally, I spoke about 3D immersive learning as a K12 trend I see growing rapidly.  Currently they require significant skill and time to build the worlds teachers and students would “live” in – this must and will change.  I see these types of online learning environments crossing the line from basic virtual reality experiences (Quest Atlantis, Active Worlds, MineCraft, Second Life) to full iStock_000018493321XSmallimmersive worlds that are difficult to distinguish from reality.  Tied in with cell phone developments, students may use special glasses and perhaps some sort of nerve interface to enter these learning worlds which will engage all five of their senses.  They will meet “face 2 face” with other students and their teachers – learning guides / facilitators.  Perhaps these glasses will be able to shift from augmented reality (like Google’s Goggles) for real face to face activities to fully immersed artificial reality, and back.  It begs the question whether virtual or artificial will be the correct adjectives for this new reality… 

Of course I nor you can predict the future.  But, I think we have to really let our imaginations run a bit now with how quickly things are changing.  With how the billions of minds around the world are now able to connect and mash up ideas and how inventors are so quick to innovate new breakthroughs, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet folks!