Five Online Learning Trends Learning and Development Professionals Cannot Ignore

As we all know, technology evolves quickly. This has been especially true for the elearning industry since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. As schools, businesses and other organizations adjust to the new normal of social distancing, remote work and moving many in-person activities online, elearning is booming. Here are five online learning trends that educators and training and development professionals can’t ignore.

Virtual Learning Environments Are Here To Stay

The move to online education and other forms of distance learning is booming and will continue to do so. Administrators and instructors are scrambling to adapt their training methodologies from in-person class sessions to asynchronous and blended instruction.

The rise of new Learning Management Systems (LMS) has been steady for over a decade. But with an increased need for remote learning, online education and the platforms that host it are becoming fixtures in organizational budgets and software ecosystems. The devices and ways in which learners access information are changing quickly; the same goes for the way they process that information. It is a brave new world!

Some sectors have been slow to accept the “new normal,” and much of the discussion around elearning focused on the disadvantages rather than the upsides. Now that the world has been dealing with COVID for almost two years, many of those advantages are becoming apparent. A single mother without a home computer can access all of her classes at the public library or on her smartphone. A veteran suffering from PTSD can stay away from places and situations that will cause too much anxiety, but he can still learn and acquire credits.

There is a long list of positives associated with elearning, including lower commuting costs and more environmentally friendly solutions to traditional training methods, such as flying to conventions. Online instruction offers access and opens the doors of education to a diverse pool of learners and their circumstances.

Learning Management Systems replace or enhance a host of administrators, teaching assistants, file cabinets and paperwork. Solutions such as Tovuti, Cornerstone and Absorb act as extensions of both the classroom and the trainer’s office. LMS solutions automatically cover teaching duties. Functions including auto-scoring and attendance sheets are taken care of, and the solutions also perform administrative duties.

Trainers spend much less time on enrollment, updating class lists and sending emails to absent students. Administrators can click a single button to notify large groups about unpaid bills, overdue assignments and expiring certifications.

There are even cloud-based systems, such as Tovuti LMS, that blend a sleek UI/UX with a holistic approach to online learning and education.

Course flexibility and enhanced learning modalities that include interactive courses, gamification and branching scenarios have raised the overall learning experience for all online learners. Tovuti also enhanced its interactive tools with virtual classroom settings and permission-based training tracks that are designed to unlock as learners progress. This can be done without meeting face to face.

While the strengths and weaknesses of online instruction are well documented, the best approach is to simply seek to learn as much about it as possible, offer effective instruction and hope to improve the method.

Universal Design for Learning Helps Everyone

The basic tenet of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is that if learning systems and methodologies are put in place to help learners with disabilities better access content, then their nondisabled peers will also benefit from increased access.

Accessibility is a civil right, and everyone can benefit from accessible teaching materials based on the principles of Universal Design for Learning.

Steve Krug, author of “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability,” said that making digital information accessible to everyone is “not just the right thing to do; it’s profoundly the right thing to do.”

“The one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made nearly often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives,” Krug said. “How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better?”

UDL consultants work with organizations to help everyone do their jobs better to improve the lives of others. UDL contributes to campuswide and corporate initiatives to make sure that education is accessible to all. Digital teaching materials should be usable by the largest number of possible students under the widest variety of possible circumstances.

Training professionals and learners need to be armed with information and other resources about electronic accessibility. This is guided by UDL principles. The influence of teaching is a focus, as well as an emphasis, from the learners’ perspective. Instructors should check out tips, techniques and strategies for incorporating accessibility and universal design (e.g., whitepapers, webinars, checklists, guidelines).

Instructors should also meet with instructional design consultants to discuss the pedagogical aspects of UDL. Students can find practical and current answers to questions about such matters as accommodation of students with disabilities, assistive technology and campus resources.

Instructors Become the Facilitator of Learning, Not the Source

How can a teacher have enough time to work individually with students? How can an instructor talk to every student in every classroom every day? Consider how things traditionally happen: A student works on homework, possibly late into the night, only to get stuck on a problem. They can’t finish because the next 10 questions are very similar to that one. Frustrated, they give up and the next morning wake up with a headache, bags under their eyes and unfinished homework. Such scenes are regular occurrences in traditional classrooms.

The flipped classroom goes a long way to resolving such problems. Instructors are no longer the source of all knowledge. They simply facilitate learners’ access to it. This frees them up to help learners who are struggling or supplement course material with activities.

This approach turns around the schedule, switching the time set aside to homework and class lectures. Learners complete assignments in the classroom instead of at home. This means that when you get stuck on a problem, the teacher is right there to guide and lead. Classwork and lesson plans are taken care of remotely with the help of video lectures and on-screen tutorials. Many math and science classrooms have adopted this model, made famous by the highly acclaimed Khan Academy.

Lessons in a flipped model replace teacher lectures with instructional material. For example, there could be a video that students watch and interact with at home. The next day, they apply what they learned in class. This happens through a variety of activities and assignments that would once have been homework. Now, the teacher serves as a coach, guide and supporter.

Benefits include the ability for students to work at their own pace. Learners determine for themselves the material they need to review. Concepts are applied in different contexts in class to ensure that they thoroughly understand the content.

“But this model can be unsuccessful if students don’t do advanced work – if they don’t have access to reliable internet outside of school, for example,” says Bethany Petty, author of “4 Tools for a Flipped Classroom.” “Students who are unable to complete the advance work the evening before find themselves either unable or ill-prepared to participate in class activities the following day.”

Petty continues: “One solution is to keep the advanced work in the classroom – students can reap the benefits of flipped instruction while doing everything in class. In this model, teachers give their students time to watch the video or read a text in class; students then do the follow-up work, with the teacher providing help and guidance as needed. This is extremely helpful for students who need help with the content they’re learning in the video.”

The teacher still moves from being the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side” by providing individualized help for each student. While some teachers may prefer to avoid whole-class direct instruction, others may find it helpful for their students when reviewing content or demonstrating or revisiting a concept. Part of the beauty of the in-class flipped model is that it provides a great deal of flexibility for teachers based on their students’ needs.

Mobile Learning Has Gone Mainstream

Many schools have been exploring mobile learning for years. Mobile learning initiatives are a cooperative exploration of mobile learning led jointly by campus partners and involving faculty from every academic area.

Mobile learning is being implemented in individual courses. It provides opportunities for intensive faculty development in mobile teaching strategies. Integrated mobile learning takes place across entire academic programs, vastly expanding networking infrastructure and e-content offerings.

To further review this exploration of mobile learning, see “EDUCAUSE Review Online” and “Academic Impressions.”

Mastery Learning Changes How Teaching Happens

Many online colleges and schools make use of the transformational education innovation of mastery learning. Effective implementation can completely change the way students learn, how teachers teach, how curriculum is developed and the inner workings of schools.

The strategy has been around for a long time, but with the influence of Khan Academy, it gained popularity in online education. This style of teaching and learning requires students to master a concept or skill before moving forward. Instead of treating a 70 or 80 as a “passing grade,” students are expected to demonstrate mastery in that topic by demonstrating proficiency on assessments.

Key features of mastery-based learning (MBL) include:

  • A curriculum design based on assessments
  • Assessments in any form that allow instructors to determine proficiency
  • Graduation to the next grade/level/topic that’s contingent upon successful completion of prerequisite assessments
  • Curriculum is committed to the success of all students (i.e., students are not “allowed” to give up)

According to The Best Schools: This standard may sound very difficult to reach, but it makes good sense and has practical implications. We wouldn’t settle for a cardiologist who is only ninety percent competent to perform heart surgery; or a dentist who cleans only seventy percent of your teeth. Likewise, mastery learning requires students to master the material with demonstrable one hundred percent competency. For Khan Academy students, mastery is measured as ten correct answers in a row, with the questions drawn from a battery of subject-specific questions.

“If your school utilizes mastery learning, then expect a lot of retesting,” the article continues, “you’ll also want to make heavy use of online tutorials and any teacher assistance available to you. You can’t coast on a score of 70 and keep flowing through your degree program. You’ll need to fully grasp the material or else your college experience will be slow and painstaking.”

Such educational models are just scratching the surface of their potential. They have the potential to lessen socioeconomic and racial achievement gaps and loan themselves to being more affordable than traditional courses. Ultimately, their great value lies in how they can improve outcomes for students.

Author Bio: Tyson Chaplin holds a master’s degree in Educational Technology and has worked in the elearning industry for over 10 years as an instructor, content developer and administrator. He is currently the Chief Learning Architect at Tovuti Inc. If you would like to learn more about Tovuti, click here.

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