The future of eLearning
Virtual learning, distance learning, online learning… whatever we call it, the principles of eLearning have been around for a long time. But what will eLearning look like in the future – and is it ever likely to fully replace traditional, face-to-face classroom education?
A brief history of eLearning
The word ‘eLearning’ means different things to different people. For some, that little ‘e’ is all-important: eLearning is defined as education using electronic media, such as videos and smartphone apps, inside the classroom or elsewhere. Others might say the concept of eLearning includes any kind of distance learning, letting people learn flexibly and at their own pace in any location. Either way, eLearning certainly isn’t new. The first computer-based training course was developed way back in 1960, while the Open University, offering home-based flexible education, was founded that same decade in 1969.
Over the years, with the introduction of home computers, online resources and smartphone apps, eLearning has become ever more accessible. Computers in classrooms in the 1980s and the launch of the World Wide Web in the 1990s signalled exciting new educational possibilities. By the turn of the century, electronic learning resources to support education for all ages were already widespread: the internet, though still in its relative infancy, was well established as a valuable research tool, and interactive CD-ROMs helped make learning more relevant and compelling.
Today’s world: eLearning as an essential lifeline
Fast forward to 2020 and during the coronavirus pandemic, eLearning took on a new urgency. No longer a gimmick or novelty, it became an essential lifeline providing a continuous education to children of all ages who couldn’t physically attend school. The dangers of a ‘digital divide’, where children without access to laptops and WiFi during periods of lockdown might lag behind their peers, became all too apparent.
The Heart Tech Appeal
At Croft, throughout the pandemic and as part of our Croft in the Community initiative, we’ve been helping combat digital poverty to enable better access to an online education for children across Hertfordshire. We pledged to supply free mobile broadband to 100 families and teamed up with Heart FM to appeal for donations of laptops and devices.
In a future where eLearning is an integral part of everyone’s education, we hope these essential tools will be freely available to all.
A turning point in the history of education
In future, the home-schooling that took place during the pandemic is likely to be seen as a turning point in the history of education, marking a ‘before and after’ in terms of the way the curriculum is taught and how students learn. It’s shown educators what is possible, what works and how learning might look in the years to come – as well as revealing important shortfalls. There’s more research to be done on the effects lockdowns have had on learning, and this is likely to uncover some essential areas where eLearning can’t be substituted effectively for face-to-face classroom teaching (or at least not yet).
New eLearning technologies
Nobody has a crystal ball, but we can catch a glimpse of the future of eLearning in the technology that’s already being developed and deployed today. These technologies are just beginning to be explored – but it’s likely we haven’t yet exploited their full potential. Tech-savvy educators using cutting-edge methods will pave the way for more mainstream use in the years to come.
Augmented reality and virtual reality
There’s a buzz around virtual reality in education: it’s a new and exciting tool that could (almost literally) bring any topic to life. Learning through experience – by visiting a historic site or exploring an object from all angles – is well known to be more effective than more passive education styles. And with AR and VR technology, this can become a (virtual) reality. In the future, it will enable students to visit the places they’re learning about or go back in time to discover what a period in history was really like to live through. In practical subjects like medicine, would-be surgeons will be able to practise difficult procedures virtually.
In the future, as always, human teachers will be central to learning but AI technology could play a valuable supporting role. Today, we use AI in simple ways: for example, with chatbots programmed to answer simple questions. In tomorrow’s world, the way we use AI is likely to be more subtle and complex. For example, if computers can learn about the needs and learning styles of individual students, they’ll be able to generate a curriculum that’s personalised and adapted to each learner’s unique profile. Artificial intelligence could even do smart things like suggesting improvements to course content, based on the data it gathers from actual pupil performance.
Learning management systems
One big shift during the coronavirus pandemic has been the widespread adoption of online learning systems like Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams for home-schooling. These learning management systems have the potential to make life easier for both teachers and students and they’re likely to loom large in the future of eLearning. Marking – the bane of every teacher’s life – could in many cases be automated using an LMS, and the technology it uses could even enhance the quality of the assessment. For example, educators will be able to easily access patterns and trends in pupil performance that might not otherwise have been spotted and adjust their teaching accordingly. Meanwhile, students will benefit from having an archive of all their learning available in one place, including recordings of live lessons, so they can dip into it whenever they need to.
eLearning trends of the future
The new technologies we use are influencing popular practices in education. Many of these are likely to be here to stay!
- Social and collaborative learning. We’re social animals and working with others has always been fundamental to the way we learn. Since the advent of social media, educational tools like online chats and forums have been second nature to digital natives – and they’ll continue to be a cornerstone of eLearning into the future.
- Adaptive and personalised learning. Good teachers have always adapted their approach to individual learners – and perhaps, in the early days of online technology, this wasn’t something that eLearning could replicate. But in the future, far from a one-size-fits-all approach, one of the strengths of computer-based learning will be its ability to offer different resources to every student, based on their own individual learning requirements.
- Simply put, microlearning is the practice of breaking up lessons into small chunks. Many people have already adopted this type of learning in their use of educational apps like Duolingo, spending just a few minutes every day building up their knowledge. As we grow to understand more about effective learning, microlearning could play a larger part in classroom-based education in the future.
- Everyone learns better when they’re actively interacting and having fun, so games and quizzes have long been a feature of every classroom. In the future, the gamification of learning (and game-based learning) will become more sophisticated, with virtual reality likely to play a bigger role.
Learning tools with a purpose
In the early days of the internet, eLearning was often seen as a novelty and many resources developed simply reproduced printed materials into an electronic format. One expert said in 2001: “Most e-learning replicates the worst features of face-to-face instruction. So, it may be cheaper to ‘deliver’ knowledge over the Internet, but it will not be more effective.”
Today, and into the future, this remains pertinent. To be effective, the technology we use to enable learning needs to be user-focused, deployed sensitively to support students in their learning journey. It’s likely that many of the technological developments that will have the biggest impact on student success will be simple essentials like fast, reliable internet connections that enable better real-time interactions – so that the learning tools we’re already using can be deployed more effectively.
Here are some of the most meaningful benefits to be had from eLearning in the future:
- People will have more say in where and when they learn, with ‘hybrid learning’ (some in the classroom, some at home) likely to be a mainstream option. This should open up educational opportunities to a wider cross-section of the population.
- Unlimited resources. With electronic learning materials, there’s no limit to the number of books students will be able to access – there will no longer be any restrictions based on how much you can carry or store. Having virtual libraries available on tap will revolutionise the quality of resources open to students.
- New connections. Far from limiting social interactions, eLearning will break down physical boundaries and connect learners from all over the globe. Students of the future will learn valuable lessons from the experiences of their friends and counterparts all over the world.
- Reduced teacher workload. The idea of automation and artificial intelligence is scary: could it make educators redundant? In fact, what’s more likely is that with the technology to support them, skilled teachers will be able to spend less of their time doing repetitive tasks and dedicate their energy to delivering thoughtful and effective teaching.
- New subjects to study. With the rise of eLearning, perhaps the very subjects we learn will change. There’s likely to be a larger focus on topics like coding, which in turn will help young adults to develop new eLearning materials in the future.
Connectivity for all
For eLearning to be successful, free access to the right devices and connectivity will be essential or the digital divide that was feared during recent lockdowns will become a reality.
Wondering how telecoms can support with your pupils or employee’s education and training? Get advice from our team of friendly telecoms specialists and make a plan for an eLearning-filled future.