It used to be that the skills and knowledge one learned in college would be enough to carry them through a lifelong career. Now, however, the pace of technological change means that the knowledge and skills one needs to stay successful are changing at a tremendous pace. Fortunately, the same technology that gives our skills a limited shelf life also holds the key to enabling us to keep pace with digital transformation. Enter eLearning and EdTech (digital technology in education).
Edtech and eLearning have been evolving over the years. The first form of computer-assisted education emerged with the PLATO mainframe-based system in 1960. With the advent of personal computers in the 1980s, educational programs and materials could be distributed to schools and home learners. In the 1990s, this type of computer-based education became commonplace. By 1999, however, CD-ROMs gave way to Internet distribution, and the term "eLearning" was coined. Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, online education and Web-based instruction developed and grew.
Digital technology is fast and efficient at finding and presenting information, but computers need help in transferring understanding and skills to learners. Over the last ten years, it’s become clear that EdTech and eLearning work best when they are blended with live interactions between learners and instructors.
In the second decade of the century, beginning in 2010, EdTech and eLearning have evolved to have a growing impact on our lives in 2020. Let’s look at the changes over the last ten years.
In 2010, the American Library Association recognized Flat World Knowledge (now FlatWorld) as an outstanding provider of educational content for its open textbooks. Open textbooks are electronic textbooks licensed for public use for free, unlike traditional textbooks that are subject to strict copyright control.
“The Year of the MOOC”
In 2011, Stanford University offered three MOOCs, free and not for college credit. MOOCs are Massively Open Online Courses, with educational content available on-demand to large numbers of users via the Internet. “Introduction to AI” gained an enrollment of 160,000. In the era before MOOCs, the main form of EdTech was the Learning Management System (LMS) model, usually closed, proprietary software platforms tailored to individual companies and institutions. MOOCs allowed courses to be accessed by anyone with a Web browser and Internet connection.
In 2012, the New York Times declared “the Year of the MOOC.” MIT started a university MOOC consortium initially called MITx, which was soon joined by several other universities and renamed edX. MOOCs were seen as the default for eLearning, and they seemed to be its future. But by 2012, an article in Harvard Business Review said that technology skills have a limited “shelf life” and need to be refreshed continually. That was the year that Simplilearn committed to a blended learning model for professional education, combining online courses with classroom instruction.
In 2013, edX partnered with Google and Stanford University on initiatives to make an open MOOC platform available to course providers. The Open edX platform supports several university and college courses on a wide range of subjects using the MOOC model. This was a big bet on MOOCs as the preferred model of eLearning.
In 2014, the Georgia Institute of Technology created the first massively open online degree (MOOD) program. Approximately 375 students enrolled in this online Master of Science in Computer Science program. “Since we announced the online Master of Science in Computer Science last May, our goal has been to create the best possible academic experience for our online students, just as we try to do for all of Georgia Tech’s residential students,” said Georgia Tech Provost Rafael L. Bras.
Beyond MOOCs: Blended Learning
By 2015, studies of MOOCs showed average completion rates of about 15 percent. By contrast, blended learning approaches that combined online learning and in-person interactions showed better results. It was in 2015 that Simplilearn committed to a fully-online blended learning approach, replacing its physical classroom instruction with live virtual classrooms (LVCs) so that all Simplilearn’s learners could benefit from the classroom component of instruction and personal learning support.
In 2016, Microsoft incorporated AI-based eLearning tools into Office Word: Researcher, for instant access to Internet sources, and Editor, which applies machine learning to suggest improvements in writing style and grammar. In the same year, Facebook piloted a self-directed learning platform in a Western US chain of public charter schools for middle and high-school grades.
In 2017, investment in EdTech globally reached US$9.5 billion, up 30% from the prior year. These investments went to more than 800 companies.
Adapting Learning to the Learner
In 2018, data analytics in EdTech and eLearning increased in importance. Jim Milton of Campus Management wrote in Forbes:
One area where prescriptive analytics is making an impact is adaptive learning -- an educational method that uses algorithms to deliver learning resources that are customized to individual learners’ needs. Adaptive systems employ heuristics to dynamically study and “learn” from a student’s engagement with courses and their physical interactions with the institution’s resources (e.g., the frequency of library or recreational center visits over a period of time or frequency of learning management system program usage).
Much like an advisor, the system then recommends an adjustment to the student’s learning path. By collecting, aggregating, and analyzing data points across students’ interactions and outcomes, the system prescribes a customized course of action for advisors or faculty that is most likely to help individual students achieve optimal results.
In 2019, the topic of augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) in EdTech attracted a lot of attention. For learners attending physical classrooms, AR offers the potential to enrich the classroom experience with supplemental information from digital sources. For learners both in classrooms and online, VR allows learners to experience environments (real and artificial) outside the classroom and away from the computer. VR also will eventually let learners interact naturally in immersive live virtual classrooms.
Current Trends in EdTech
Now, in 2020, we can expect some important changes in EdTech and eLearning:
- Mobile education - delivery of online learning to mobile devices will make big inroads in eLearning. One example is Simplilearn’s new mobile platform.
- Personalized education - driven by AI, course curricula, and pacing can adapt to the needs and styles of individual learners.
- Continuous learning and upskilling - with the accelerating pace of emerging technologies, there is a commensurate demand for new skills to implement and manage them. Moreover, people with existing technology skills face the need to upskill to avoid obsolescence. Employers need to plan for maintaining the skills of their employees to reduce the need to recruit skills from outside and to maintain employee satisfaction.
For continuous learning and upskilling in the digital economy, Simplilearn offers a range of blended learning options. Learners can choose individual courses or integrated master programs in Data Science, Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Computing, Digital Marketing, and many other disciplines.
Over the past decade, the evolution of EdTech has allowed eLearning to change and adapt to new delivery technologies, new skill demands, and new ways of doing business. Simplilearn is your gateway to eLearning to stay successful in the age of digital transformation.