Our modern approach to learning today would have been unfathomable to educators and learners alike only a couple of decades ago. The biggest driver of this change has been the technology available to us. With greater innovation in the technological landscape over time, more avenues of learning evolved and, as a result, the eLearning market size surpassed USD 315 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach USD 1 trillion by 2028.
With the latest eLearning tools available to us today, every single educator has the potential to reach millions of learners across the globe from the comfort of their own homes. How did we come so far? And more importantly: where will we go from here?
In this article, we aim to answer these questions and determine the role of eLearning and the EdTech industry in the journey to democratize and deliver eLearning efficiently, quickly, and conveniently worldwide.
E-learning Through the Years
The concept of eLearning has been around for about two decades. However, the first attempt at creating an electronic learning device dates even further back, to 1924 when Sidney Pressey invented the ‘Automatic Teacher’. This assessment device allowed students to answer a question correctly before automatically moving on to the next question.
The next notable attempt was BF Skinner’s ‘Teaching Machine’, which aimed to provide regular reinforcement by rewarding users who provided correct answers and keeping students engaged by promoting self-paced learning.
The following decades saw the evolution of computers and the concept of Computer-Based Training (CBT) came with that. CBT allowed learners to acquire most of their knowledge via a computer. The pioneer CBT system called PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operation) closely resembled the modern concept of eLearning, complete with multimedia learning, chat rooms, and graphics. These features remain the hallmarks of high-quality eLearning even today.
Later, in the early 90s, the idea of CD-based training took off. The content on the CDs was complemented with occasional workshops as well as access to chat rooms so that learners could be mentored. Eventually, the web took over the CD era, and in the late 90s, everything from newsletters, to chat rooms, and other study materials were available online instead of via discs and CD-ROMs. As personal computers became more and more popular, the first web-based Learning Management System (LMS), called Cecil, was created in 1996.
The idea of the modern LMS continued to evolve from that with newer and better technology. A shift from passive learning began to take its course, aided by interactive features, online assessments and grading, discussion forums, and more. The advent of the smartphone took it a step further, as mobile LMS became a reality, which gave learners the freedom to engage in learning activities regardless of their geographical location. Like technology itself, eLearning has evolved rapidly.
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The Ed-Tech Industry Today
With all the technological evolutions that have taken place, the modern eLearning landscape holds tremendous potential. The Ed-tech industry was already steadily rising in both popularity and demand and the recent event of the pandemic has accelerated this trend. Today, with the most advanced technology available to us, eLearning focuses on leveraging modern pedagogical methods to ensure that learners take an active role in their own education. Let’s take a look at the top trends in the eLearning industry today:
To gain the learners’ attention and enhance retention, it is important to create engaging and memorable learning experiences. By gamifying learning, students feel more invested in the learning process, as many of the games are interactive. In contrast to the passive, unidirectional flow of information in a traditional classroom, gamification allows for a more active learning experience.
Additionally, students feel compelled to improve their skills with tools such as a leaderboard and a points system, which also encourages healthy competition among the learners. Gamification also represents a cross-pollination of technology: as video games became ubiquitous in most people’s childhoods, the incorporation of game-like experiences into training and education was a natural progression for eLearning.
Beyond eLearning, another great way to learn is by completely immersing yourself in the learning environment. With the latest Virtual Reality (VR) technology available, students can now experience more practical and hands-on ways to learn. Not only are concepts better retained using interactive technology, but it is also possible to give students a better perspective and understanding of concepts that are otherwise hard to visualize. Not to mention, immersive learning is a much safer way to train for high-risk careers such as emergency medical services.
Sometimes the advent and evolution of technology can create their own challenges. With so many screens vying for our attention, people today are left with an attention span of a mere 8 seconds. Getting learners to pay attention to huge chunks of information has become a virtually impossible task and it is important to shape eLearning in a way that factors into this limitation.
Microlearning is a method that breaks down complex information into smaller, bite-sized chunks and focuses on a single learning objective at a time. Mobile learning is especially helpful in implementing microlearning by sharing notifications with tidbits of information while leveraging spaced repetition. Similar to the concept of convenient learning, students can consider an AI paraphrasing tool to study complex coursework material with better clarity.
The modern eLearning approach puts learners in the driver’s seat and lets them take control of their own learning. By allowing learners to create their own learning paths, they can create personalized learning journeys that align with their personal objectives. In addition to that, students can also choose how they receive information. Some students prefer video lectures, others podcasts or notes. Depending on their preferences, many institutions also offer variable levels of interactivity as well as different assessment options.
Attention spans aside, online learning can also be very isolating. Social learning can help address that. Modern LMS platforms now come equipped with discussion forums where students can interact with each other, as well as ask questions from their instructors. With the help of these forums, students can share resources, work on group tasks and learn from each other.
Other tools like Open Response Assessments allow peers to assess each other’s work, giving them a better understanding of the content as well as reinforcing their learning. Although discussion forums themselves aren’t necessarily new technology, improvements to layout, notifications and even interactivity have allowed discussion forums to evolve and social learning to follow accordingly.
What the Future Holds
The future of eLearning would aim to build on the current trends and perhaps make learning more personalized than ever. By leveraging Artificial Intelligence, educators are becoming able to identify the individual learning patterns of each student and create adaptive learning plans. It is possible that in the future, each learner has their own, self-paced, carefully curated learning path built to maximize learning. Imagine an eLearning course providing you with the exact content you need to learn, oriented to the way you prefer to learn, and delivered in a way that’s most convenient for you to learn.
Apart from greater personalization, we can also expect immersive technologies to become more accessible and advanced, which would enable students to use them more effectively. In addition, educators are looking for ways to create learning ecosystems, where several different media and technologies can be used to deliver content, while simultaneously enhancing the social aspect of eLearning.
At nearly 100 years old, eLearning has surprisingly old origins, though it has come a long way from the rudimentary Automatic Teacher. While technology has changed quite dramatically through this time, what remains constant is our effort to deliver self-paced, personalized, and interactive learning experiences on a virtual platform. We can expect this trend to endure, but at the same time, we should expect newer technologies to transform our understanding of eLearning in the future, just as they did in the past.
To explore the eLearning options available to you, Edly is here to help! Our team of experts can help you create the perfect online learning solution fit for your organization. To find out what kind of LMS works best for you, feel free to get in touch with us, or request a free demo!