The future of learning

A futuristic report was recently launched by professor Lord Robert Winston that gazes into what learning technologies might look like by 2020.  And the world of gaming is leading the way according to some sources. You can see the full report at: http://www.trainingzone.co.uk/cgi-bin/item.cgi?id=184830. 

There seems to be many views out there on the future of learning so we thought we’d join in too. Here’s what our E-Learning Director Julian Stodd has to say on the subject.

The future of learning will lie, as ever, in a balance between learning technology and learning design. On the one hand, technology will make it easier and quicker to create web based materials, but on the other hand we run the risk of diluting the input from the learning designer. Lowering the barriers to entry to the creation of learning materials does not necessarily lead to an improvement in the quality of the learning.

This problem for the future is a problem from the past; in the early days of computer based training, the educators had the ideas, but the technologists had the power. Very few people crossed both disciplines. A result was that the technologists had an adversely large input into the shape of the learning solution, leading to many technologically driven innovations that were driven by what could be done, rather than by what should be done.

The whole raft of drag and drop, multi choice, VR environments flew out of this with very little evidence base for their effectiveness. Coupled with a misplaced belief that interactivity of any sort was intrinsically beneficial, early e-learning often failed to be effective.

As time passed, the increasing availability of templated software that allowed a relative amateur to create standardised pages led to it’s own issues. Certainly it lowered the barriers to entry and the creation of e-learning, but it failed to account for overall quality of learning design. It was a move towards volume rather than quality.

Today the widespread adoption of Flash and the ease of finding developers has led to much more high quality materials. There still remain significant weaknesses around evaluation and the use of interactivity. Blended Learning is the byword of the decade, with organisations recognising that a mix of trainer led and pure e-learning is often a good, solid, cost effective middle ground.

As for the future? Technology is moving on. Even if we ignore the industry driven frenzy and ignorant promises of web.2, there are a range of new tools available that will have an impact. Blogs and wikis are finding their way into the requirements of tender processes already, with few in the corporate world ready for the likely impact of these frontier environments. There is little understanding of how people use and interact within these environments, what learning benefits they can bring, or what social and legal rules apply. We know for sure that people employ different communication rules in texts, email and blogs than they would in face to face conversation, but it seems likely that companies will have to start using moderated environments if they wish to drive out quality of input and avoid difficulties.

A view for five years time would be that we will see far greater use of forums and blogs in training, but probably in a structured way. Perhaps using a moderator to help structure discussions around topics, much as is done on some of the best pioneering postgraduate distance learning programmes today. There will be an increasing recognition that people are not always equipped to ferret out information themselves from online sources – most people will just use Google or another search engine and go with the top result. The fact that most internet writing is not peer reviewed will inevitably lead to increasing amounts of cross linked nonsense that will pass from urban myth into the realms of accepted truth, with no quantifiable proof behind it.

On the plus side, many users are likely to find the increased use of moderated forums both liberating and beneficial. Even if they don’t actively participate, even spectating from the sidelines can glean insights and benefits.

The future is, as ever, elusive, and for every learner who is enfranchised by the technology, we must be aware that some will be excluded. The sheer wealth of materials available makes it increasingly hard to find something relevant. This will likely lead to the emergence of more portal sites which, in effect, offer moderated content whilst shielding you from the wild west of the techno-nerds. It will be interesting to see in the UK if the BBC Trust allows the organisation to develop what is already the most trusted internet source even further, or if anti competitive funding concerns dismantle an excellent resource.

Whichever way we go, one thing is certain; these are exciting times with change happening at an ever increased pace. Best hang on and enjoy the ride.

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