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2021 E-Learning ‘Trends’

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Annually, a plethora of prediction articles sprout up across the internet in the first few months of the year. We reviewed dozens of these 2021 e-learning predictions and narrowed them down to a list of five recurring trends. From advances in data analytics, to designing for mobile first, none of the items on this list are new and most will likely be familiar to you. However, what sets this list apart from the others that we reviewed is that these are not trends or ‘fads’ in e-learning, but rather abiding principles and best practices that will add value to your online learning approach for years to come.

The growth of big data and learning analytics

‘The education space is changing, and big data will impact the experience or satisfaction of [learners] and enable the acceleration of change.’

– Jaen Adams, Business Systems Analyst Lead at Hubble Studios

The collection and analysis of e-learning data has revolutionised the industry. During the COVID-19 pandemic, where we saw a surge to move learning online, big data got bigger, and learning analytics became more important than ever before.

Data from learning management systems gives us information on the effectiveness of course delivery, learner preferences and performance, engagement metrics (views, progress, participation, etc.), areas of strength and weakness, and completion rates. This data can be sorted, filtered and analysed to identify patterns and provide insights into any potential issues.

In turn, the insights gleaned allow us to make informed decisions about optimising the e-learning experience. More specifically, they can be used to improve learning assets and assessments, develop customised or personal learning experiences, and provide clarity on learning development and performance. Having access to this data, and the ability to analyse it in detail, gives us the opportunity to measure and test whether we are providing our learners with appropriate, effective and engaging learning experiences. Further, allows us to continuously evaluate and improve on the learning experiences that we are offering to our learners.

Big data and learning analytics will continue to play a significant role in informing e-learning improvements throughout 2021 and beyond.

Adaptive learning and personalisation

‘By using learning experience platforms, we accumulate valuable information about learners’ desires by tracking their self-guided learning paths. This makes it easier for us to adapt learning and content according to trends and changing needs.’

– Crystal Farmer, Learning Technology Team Lead at Hubble Studios

Big data, learning analytics and artificial intelligence-based algorithms can help us adapt to the unique training needs of individual learners. Through data-informed decisions, learning can be personalised to provide content based on the learner’s preferences, pace and performance. This results in a learner being more challenged and less frustrated, as the course is able to target their individual educational needs. These automated personal learning pathways are referred to as adaptive learning since the learning platform adjusts to the learner’s experience and adapts the learning pathway to best suit their needs and behaviour.

Learning management systems (LMSs) and learning experience platforms (LXPs) can be used to host these automated learning pathways and create a completely self-directed learning experience. You can compare this approach to Netflix, in that the platform monitors the learner’s usage, behaviours and engagement, then adjusts the learner’s experience accordingly to provide them with the learning pathway most relevant to their needs.

The big Vs of e-learning

‘Video in the e-learning space has been vital in the past year especially. It is a widely accessible tool that will continue to deliver dynamic and engaging asynchronous lessons to learners and bring distanced learners and faculty together in an increasingly remote-based future.’

– Chelsea Evans, Multimedia Team Lead at Hubble Studios

While video-based learning and virtual classrooms were popular prior to COVID-19, the remote- based nature of the ‘new normal’ saw an increased adoption of these modes of training. This is due to the fact that they provide a more engaging learning experience in comparison to other mediums. Such engagement is particularly important when learning is undertaken virtually as learners are largely self-directed, not having direct exposure to their classrooms, peers and educators.

Video content is often preferred over simple plain-text content as it promotes the quick distribution of knowledge and has increased retention rates due to its audio-visual nature. Furthermore, interactive videos have proven to be more effective than traditional video content due to the learner’s active engagement with branching scenarios, quizzes, downloadable resources, embedded elements and the like. Virtual classrooms are more flexible than traditional classroom sessions as they can span across regions and have the ability to incorporate interactive digital elements such as polls and other tools that provide real-time data. Both video-based and virtual classroom training have proven to be effective means of disseminating information in home-based learning environments, and they are predicted to be widely used throughout 2021 due to their high engagement levels in remote-based settings.

Social learning

‘We turn to our peers to feel connected. Impactful learning is about engagement, without which learning is just a one-sided conversation. Social learning enables conversations that bring people together – sparking new ideas, challenging beliefs, troubleshooting problems – and builds a sense of community that makes learning relevant and engaging.’

– Elizabeth Jahncke, Learning Design Team Lead at Hubble Studios

Social learning (theorised by Albert Bandura) is centred around the concept that learning takes place in a social context by watching, listening and doing. By creating a learning community and fostering friendly competition, social learning helps to create a culture of self-improvement and collaboration. In practice, this includes using tools such as chat rooms, discussion boards and social media.

The implementation of social learning, however, depends heavily on factors such as environment (learning at work versus learning at school/university), the age of the target audience (how do they communicate and how do they use social media?) and cultural backgrounds (do learners have the confidence to voice their opinion on a more public platform?).

Given the impact that COVID-19 has had on face-to-face learning, the practice of social learning also gives learners a sense of community, providing a space where they can interact with their peers and build relationships.

Designing for mobile-first

‘The more we can break down barriers to learning, the bigger impact we can have through digital education. Designing for mobile-first is a key example of this.’

– Carien Aalbers, Head of the Academic Office at Hubble Studios

Mobile learning has been on the e-learning trend lists for some time now. Though mobile-readiness was a requirement, it was often treated as an afterthought: training was built for a desktop experience and adapted for mobile after the fact. This year, the industry is moving towards taking the mobile experience as the starting point.

Mobile-first learning is all the more appealing considering that there are predicted to be as many as 3.8 billion smartphone users across the globe in 2021. This translates to close to half of the world’s population, making mobile an obvious platform to consider, and prioritise, when designing e- learning solutions.

This trend means a slight shift in thinking and implementation techniques for learning designers and technologists. It also entails a push to continue thinking about how we can create content that is suitable for the flexibility and convenience that mobile learning allows. For example, this could result in an increased focus on microlearning – another e-learning trend that’s proven popular in the past few years. Microlearning entails providing students with bite-sized information that facilitates quick, manageable knowledge consumption. Mobile microlearning allows learners to consume content when and where suitable. This is convenient for learners who are short on time and resources.

Article by: Jane Moorcroft & Tara Cawthra

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