Over the past few months, I have seen the signs of what could be the next generation of teaching – learning experiences, the signs that show how traditionally accepted models and conceptions of tools are being superseded and are gaining focus and importance from education companies, vendors and users, not just innovator-entrepreneurs who have a good idea. It seems that the hype is over and there is serious enough interest to put money and focus into production from large players.
Let us look at the top challenges/needs that are being addressed by this serious interest.
Web 2.0/Web 3.0, Cloud computing, HTML5, Tablets and Smartphones have really evolved during the past year or so, with a lot of new products and platforms emerging that have a direct relevance to how content and collaboration can happen in the education context. Even as the world over people are predicting the death of the LMS as we have known it, the major objections to the shortcomings have been addressed by the LMS vendors.
Features such as the ability to integrate with social networks and media, the ability to use informal learning pedagogy within the structured confines of the traditional environment, the ability to apply traditional business analytics to the learning process, the ability to work with mobile devices for content delivery and interaction and the ability to be open and adaptive to learning needs, are now surfacing in products. One needs only to look at the change in platforms and products for companies such as Blackboard, SABA and Mzinga to witness the transition. Somewhere education companies are signalling their intent to provide, as George Siemens says, platforms for education.
While net pedagogy has made a tremendous mark with the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), there are other initiatives like the Khan Academy (which perhaps does demonstrate the power of a good instructional technique, but that is about as far as it goes), traditional open universities and the OER movement seem still to be lagging behind the change.
The struggle within traditional systems to embrace the newer and perhaps more relevant pedagogical modes will be shaped by the availability of tools and techniques that are simple to adopt and implement. That is, one of the important factors will be the availability of an institution-mindset compliant technology replacement for the LMS.
Assessment remains a sticking point – particularly for informal network based modes – that has not been fully resolved. Part of the reason why it is (and promises to remain) an unsolved challenge is the contradiction in terms with an entire process of accreditation and certification that is the foundation of the traditional system. Network based assessment places far greater responsibility of demonstrating and assessing competencies on the main protagonists – the learner and the employer (/task).
In the traditional scheme of things, however, I do see some interesting moves towards new assessment techniques. One is the evolution of standard forms to more complex forms of assessment – task based and even collaborative. The other is the use of immersive simulation platforms and serious games, not just for learning but also for assessments.
There has been sufficient movement around standards as well. With TinCan and LETSI, there are some interesting ways of looking at the learning experience. IMS is also evolving new specifications that accommodate the newer realities (Learning Tools Interoperability, Learning Information Services and Common Cartridge). There is hope that standards will support a shift to easier and more efficient creation of new learning experiences, assessment modes and administration support.
There is also the realization that costs must be contained/reduced (especially in developed countries) and this is placing great pressure on the traditional players in businesses such as educational publishing. And we see them responding to the challenge in a variety of ways – all digital. I think people do realize that these solutions may perhaps be one set of the solutions for the developing countries (over the next 10-20 years) and perhaps the only solutions for the countries that are going to contribute the bulk of our learners worldwide by 2050 – the less developed countries of today. But somewhere, I have felt that policy has been too slow to respond to these change trends and this is a missed opportunity.
I believe that we have crossed an inflection point over the past year and now it is a period of growth and consolidation. The contours of the next generation learning experiences are clear in intent, although there will be numerous successes and failures on the way. It is going to be an interesting time for entrepreneurs, because new ideas will find a playing ground.