The Future of Online Learning – The Great Convergence


The ability to learn online has been around for a little over 20 years now. Until now most online learning has depended on the skills of web developers and teachers to create recorded or static pages that are delivered via the web.
But we are on the cusp of a new way, a better way to provide learning that utilizes the best of learning theory to help students achieve their educational goals.

What is E-Learning
Online learning, or E-learning, began in earnest in the late 1990s shortly after the arrival of the internet. While distance learning had been available for many years before the internet via correspondence courses, telelearning, and closed-circuit classrooms, the cost and lack of interactivity were generally prohibitive for large scale use.

E-learning today is the delivery of learning, whether one-time training or a full degree, via the internet. Delivery of the learning material can be synchronous where everyone is online and able to communicate at a set time, usually via video, or asynchronous with the lecture recorded and assignments submitted at a later date.

The E-Learning market is projected to reach $325 Billion by 2025. This includes business training and traditional education. If you work for a company or business, you have probably completed basic human resource required training via eLearning. Don’t worry, in the future that training will be much better.

Online Class
One of the fastest-growing segments in eLearning is the offering of online classes or degrees. These are generally offered by content experts, hopefully teamed with a good instructional designer, to create a course for training or education. There have been two areas of dramatic growth within online classes: Graduate degrees and self-paced or personal learning.

As higher education has become more competitive and with the decline in number of traditional college-aged students (18 to 22 year-olds), many colleges and universities have renewed their focus on graduate programs. Unlike graduate school in the past which usually involved taking night-classes if you were employed or moving to a new city or state and serving as a graduate assistant for several years (and eating a lot of ramen), today’s online classes allow people to take their graduate classes without leaving their home city or state. Courses are usually taught asynchronous, allowing the student to complete the class material on their schedule.

MOOC
MOOC or Massive Open Online Course were developed in the late 2000’s/early 2010’s as an equalizing force to education. With the goal that anyone could participate in a class for no or low-cost and learn from the best teachers in the world. Usually, you could not earn college credit taking these classes unless you paid tuition to the University that sponsored the content.

MOOC’s use an LMS (Learning Management Software) to provide lectures and assignments to the participants. While not as commonly used today, they had a definitive impact upon E-Learning and helped launch such companies as edX, Udemy, and Coursera.

Webinar
In contrast to MOOCs & online classes, webinars are designed for a single delivery of a presentation, lecture, or seminar. Webinars can be delivered synchronous (live) or asynchronous (recorded). Due to their nature, the software used to deliver a webinar tends to be lighter-weight with fewer features than a MOOC or online class.
Webinars tend to be more business-focused and used for marketing or one-off training experiences. Most webinar software includes tools for interactivity either through voice or text chat.

The Future of Learning
The next generation of learning is poised to accomplish what educators have longed to provide. Learning that is not based upon the industrial/assembly line model, but meets each learner where they are at and enables them to accomplish their learning goals. While we could categorize this as the next generation of online learning, I believe that it will impact all of learning; K-12, higher, online, on-demand, and corporate.

There are many contributors to this next generation of learning. No single discipline owns the future of learning. Without skilled educators who can draw from each of these disciplines, we will continue to limp along as we currently are.

In the late 2000s, I began preparing my students for the convergence of game development and film. There was no question in my mind that we would see two fields merge, using the same tools to create the new content. In the mid-2010s the convergence began and we are now seeing many films (both indie and AAA) using game engines to create real-time CGI. The next convergence, which will have a far greater impact on the average person, is the E-Learning Convergence.

The E-Learning Convergence brings together very different fields to create immersive, story-driven educational experiences. In the E-Learning Convergence graphic above, I have included some of the required skills for the future of E-Learning.
The Learning Pyramid is something taught to every education major. Developed by The National Training Laboratory, the Learning Pyramid conceptualizes how different methods of instruction impact learning.

While there are many variables that can impact the percentages, (a good lecture as opposed to a boring lecture), few would argue that the most effective way to learn something is to practice doing it or to teach the material to others.

With the E-Learning Convergence, it is my educated opinion that we will see the majority of the learning process transferred from the low retention methods such as Lecture & Reading to the higher retention rate of Doing.

As previously mentioned, the convergence will require contributions from experts in many fields:

Content Experts
Content experts provide the pedagogical knowledge and structure for the lesson. The content expert is critical for a successful project, providing a depth of knowledge that keeps the lesson and material accurate and informative.

Generally, knowledge experts are researchers, professors, or teachers with years of experience. Their contribution might include to verify and review the final class, provide the outline and knowledge on how the information should be sequenced, and sometimes providing recorded lectures to augment the course.

Storytelling
Few would question that a well-told story helps people to retain knowledge. By creating a story, learning becomes more enjoyable and memorable.
Does anyone remember playing Oregon Trail? Have you died of dysentery?

By providing a story that was semi-interactive, students learned about the westward expansion and how fraught with dangers such expansion was. Great storytelling helps people to learn and retain what they were supposed to learn.

Game Design
The field of serious games is a subset of the game design focused on creating games that help people to learn. The games are designed to bring the fun of playing a game and apply it to a learning experience, providing opportunities to practice and learn new skills.

There are a lot of areas involved in game design: Character Design, 3D modeling, texturing, materials, programming, level design, networking, and game engines to name a few. Fortunately, we have more people studying game design today than at any time in the past.

Instructional Design
Instructional design pulls together learning and instructional theory to create educational experiences. The instructional designer is responsible for pulling the resources together and designing the delivery of the content in the best method that is feasible.

The instructional designer is involved throughout the entire process. According to Indeed.com, instructional designers are very much in demand. Treat them well, the project depends upon their skills to deliver a quality product.

VR + AR + MR = XR
Anyone who has experienced any of the XR tools that are available will can easily see how important this is for the creation lessons that allow the learner to learn by doing. With WebXR we are able to create realistic simulations that enable the learner using equipment like the Oculus Quest Opens in a new tab.to experience a much more immersive experience.

While XR could be placed within the area of Game Design (and I probably will in the future), as it is dependent upon game engines for development and deployment, there are other resources and tools that are making the delivery of XR experiences much more cost-effective than standard game design.

Tools such as Babylon.JSOpens in a new tab. and AframeOpens in a new tab. are now making it possible to deliver XR experiences via a web-browser. I’ll write more on this in another blog article, but if you’re interested in the topic, I’ve got a book in development that can be purchased from Burtons Media GroupOpens in a new tab. that will teach the basics of WebXR. I have also made several tutorials on Babylon.JSOpens in a new tab..

Personalization
Individualized learning has been the dream of educators for centuries. Being able to create lessons that appeal to each person who is taking the class and helps them to achieve their goals is the ultimate purpose of personalized education. Thanks to the advent of new AI tools this will soon be achievable.

Using AI we can more quickly spot individual needs and help the learner to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, it will also mean more design work to create eLearning that is individualized.

The Great Convergence
What is the great convergence?
In my opinion, we are about to see a dramatic improvement in the quality of learning material. We now have tools that previously we only dreamed of using. With the advent of low-cost mobile and VR, the availability of broadband Internet, new tools for design from Unity & Unreal, and the ability to deliver that content anywhere in the world thanks to new open-source software from the Khronos group at Google and Microsoft’s Babylon.JS, we can now create learning modules that are revolutionary.

Finally, we have all of the elements, albeit some of those elements are still in their early stages. But we have the elements to begin the process of creating engaging learning delivered nearly anywhere in the world to anyone who wants to learn.

How I Got Started In Online Learning
My wife and I have had a desire to create alternative education options for decades. In the late 1990s, we built one of the first online K12 schools in the world. It was something to behold and garnered the attention of many large organizations. As we were implementing our curriculum we knew that the future of learning would depend upon the topics that I’ve outlined above. To help solve some of these problems, we launched a game design degree at a local university.

At that university, I was asked to train the faculty on how to create courses for online education. The year was 2003, which made both the game design degree and online learning offered from a university very cutting edge. Unfortunately, the university had a change in administration, the new people did not share this vision. So I changed universities and implemented an even larger, top-ranked game design program.
Fast forward a few years and we are now working on a new implementation of that K12 school with a broader vision for higher education.
We finally have all of the tools available that my wife and I only dreamed of when we launched V.1 of our school. As the convergence begins to happen, I invite you to continue to follow our development here on My VR Professor as we work to implement our convergence model of eLearning.

Do you agree or disagree? Are we on the cusp of an e-learning convergence? Did I miss something in this review? I look forward to your thoughts on the subject!

Dr. Brian Burton is a teacher and professor with over twenty-five years of experience teaching game design, CGI, Information Technology, Computer Science, and MIS. His primary field of research is in using virtual worlds for learning. You can reach him at drburton@myvrprofessor.com

Want to help support my efforts to create the future of learning? You can support me on Patreon Opens in a new tab.or check out my eBooksOpens in a new tab..

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