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In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated transformations in online learning. As schools and businesses were forced to go remote, the way we learn was pushed into an online environment.
Fortunately, online courses weren’t new in 2020, but the sudden demand for improved learning led to all sorts of new and improved tech. Exciting online learning trends like video, interactive content, and AI, began to reshape the way we teach and learn. This transformation wasn’t limited to traditional classrooms, either.
As companies faced the problem of training their remote workforces, and isolated employees looked for new opportunities for growth, the private sector exploded with innovative options for every kind of learner.
Now, many schools and businesses are returning face-to-face. But the world of online learning has been permanently transformed.
As educators, both in schools and businesses, adapt their approach to online or hybrid models, we can expect to see even more advances in online learning. Here are the main online learning trends to look out for and how you can leverage them for your own online course.
Innovations in the virtual classroom
From elementary schools, to cooking classes, to worker training courses, the pandemic meant most classes moved online.
For a lot of educators, this was a sudden and difficult change. But moving to the virtual classroom also pushed innovations in video conferencing technology, as well as innovations to the way we interact with that technology.
Replicating face-to-face learning
On a basic level, teachers and trainers needed a way to replicate in-person activities as much as possible. To do this, many educators figured out how to use video conferencing features to their advantage.
Some used screen sharing with audio and graphics to present complex information. Others used features like breakout rooms for group activities. Educators are a creative bunch, and they found ways around remote learning to create high-quality virtual classrooms.
Virtual learning brings added value
As time has gone on, virtual classrooms are no longer seen as poor attempts at replicating face-to-face learning. In fact, creative approaches to teaching and innovations in virtual learning technology mean virtual classrooms now have many benefits over the traditional in-person class.
This is especially true in the corporate learning and training space. When they are no longer bound by location, companies are able to bring in new, top-quality trainers that would otherwise have been out of reach.
In turn, employees can expect an interactive learning experience that goes far beyond just listening to someone speak on a video conferencing screen.
For example, collaborative virtual whiteboards are one of many online learning trends that let teachers and students add writing, drawings, images, links, and videos to a shared whiteboard to create real-time, highly visual creations that aid learning.
The role of video in the classroom
Beyond video conferencing, instructors of online courses are finding other innovative ways to communicate information to their students. Video content is one more key to the future of online learning.
Training videos and on-demand learning
Creating a short training video is an ideal way to let students see processes, experiments, or activities when they can’t be there in person. For busy adults trying to fit training and continuing education into their workdays, video is also a flexible way to consume learning content on-demand.
Many people also remember complex concepts better when they watch a video, compared to reading a text. Video gives instructors another tool to reach all types of learners.
Explainers and video feedback
Video content doesn’t just have to be for learning new topics, either.
Instructors can share videos that explain procedures for submitting work or finding resources.They can create simple videos that act as course navigation guides.
Even assignment feedback works well as a video. In fact, it can be a much more personal way to give feedback, compared to an email or written message.
Student video projects
Teachers aren’t the only ones creating video content. Students and trainees are also creating videos as part of their learning experience.
From interviews with industry experts to video essays and animated informative videos, encouraging students to create videos as a course component offers a new skill set. It also encourages learners to engage with their course content in an innovative and creative way.
Omnichannel is a phrase familiar to marketers and those in ecommerce. It means using multiple channels to deliver content, such as a sales campaign that is seamless for users on mobile, laptop, speaking over the phone, or visiting a physical store.
Educators are taking a leaf from the marketer’s playbook to consider how learning can also be omnichannel.
One of the essential parts of omnichannel learning is making sure content is accessible and coherent on laptops, tablets, and mobile devices alike.
Mobile learning, or m-learning, is an online learning trend that acknowledges the classroom — like the office — is no longer chained to a desktop computer.
One study found that 48.08% of students find mobile learning (or m-learning) “very useful” and almost all of the respondents found it at least “moderately” useful.
Learners need a seamless way to interact with course content, take part in activities such as quizzes and polls, and communicate with instructors and each other on any device, including their mobile phones.
Without the benefits of the physical classroom, many learners may feel like they’re being taught at, rather than actively engaging with their courses. Teachers and trainers are turning to interactive content to help solve this problem.
Collaborative whiteboards and interactive quizzes
Collaborative online whiteboards, like the example featured earlier, are one example of the trend for interactive content in online learning.
Online quizzes are another popular form of interactive content used by teachers at all levels. Whether you’re teaching fifth-grade math or a workplace safety course, interactive quizzes are a great way for learners to test and refresh their knowledge.
This type of interactive content is also an opportunity for microlearning — teaching bitesize amounts of information in easily digestible formats.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
In many sectors, including education, Internet of Things (IoT) technology has transformed the shift from in-person to online interactions. The IoT refers to physical objects, often embedded with physical sensors or other processing software, that connect to the internet and each other, and share data based on how they’re physically interacted with.
A “smart furnace” that can be turned up or down through an app on your mobile phone is one example of an IoT device.
IoT tech in the classroom
In the classroom, IoT tech can take over for pens, pencils, and paper, allowing students to physically engage with content in real time.
Interactive displays and whiteboards, devices that scan printed content directly to online documents, and even toys that teach young learners how to code are all trending IoT technologies we can expect to see in classrooms.
Remote worker training and IoT
When it comes to workplace training, IoT is also poised to make a big impact. Workplace automation journalist David Roe suggests IoT technology can gather information on specific problems remote employees encounter during their workdays.
If an employer notices trends that suggest a gap in employee knowledge, they can design specific trainings around those knowledge gaps.
One of the biggest online learning trends we can expect to see in the next few years is AI-driven learning.
The global market for AI in education is expected to grow to $3.68billion by 2023. We’re familiar with some ways AI is already being used. For example, closed-captioning tech has made it easier to provide written text for online courses, making this type of learning more accessible.
There are some uses of AI in education most people are less familiar with, though.
Virtual learning assistants
Virtual learning assistants could become a big part of the future of online learning. One of the first uses of a virtual learning assistant is to answer common questions. Teachers and trainers are used to getting questions about information that’s easily found in the course handbook. But a virtual learning assistant, functioning like a chatbot, could access this information and respond to students instantaneously.
Virtual learning assistants can save time for instructors in other ways, too. They can quiz them, automatically grade assignments, and even set tests that will reveal individual knowledge gaps amongst students and report back to instructors.
Some types of virtual learning assistants are even smarter. They can set assignments, track student progress and learning habits, and provide personalized reports and suggestions for teachers.
Outside of online learning trends, AI has already made a big impact in the commercial world, with tools like robotic process automation (RPA) helping companies automate repetitive, daily tasks. It’s no surprise that AI is also improving online education.
AI-driven reporting helps teachers provide each student with the style and level of teaching they need. For example, students can be given an assignment, during which the virtual learning assistant tracks their mouse movements as well as the time it takes them to complete each portion of the assignment.
This information can be gathered into a report that helps instructors understand how each student handled the assignment.
Virtual reality (VR) is also transforming online learning environments. Simulation-based technology is an exciting online learning trend that gives learners the opportunity to access physical classrooms, such as labs, without needing to be there in person.
VR and experiential learning
VR provides a computer-generated, 3D, simulated environment that users can move around in and interact with. These tools improve engagement by giving students experiential learning.
Medical students can practice surgical procedures, companies can design courses that safely expose workers to simulated disasters, or classes can be taken on virtual field trips to museums and countries around the world.
This technology is popular with students, too, with one report finding that 97% of students would like to study on a VR course.
An accessible learning environment through VR
VR education solutions also make learning more accessible for students with disabilities.
Students with physical disabilities can experience the world virtually in ways they cannot do in their everyday life. Neurodivergent students, such as those with autism or social anxiety, may find virtual social experiences easier than in-person interactions.
This is already being implemented by the VOISS project which helps students develop social skills in a safe, controlled, simulated environment.
Use online learning trends to create your own course
Whether you’re a traditional educator or a trainer creating a course for employees, there’s a lot we can all learn from the recent trends in online learning. If you’re creating your own online course soon, here are some tips:
1. Pick a reliable platform
There are plenty of online learning platforms out there, such as Udemy, Skillshare, Coursera, Blackboard, and Google Classroom. Before you start your online course, find the best platform for your needs.
Consider what content you’ll be uploading, how accessible the platform is, and how you can integrate it with other online learning or workplace tools you might already be using.
2. Create introductory video content
Short and helpful videos are a popular online learning trend, and they are a great way to introduce students to a course.
An intro video, a course navigation video, and walkthrough videos for other essential information are all useful video content that students can return to again and again. Be sure to pair the videos with transcripts so students don’t always need to watch the entire video to find one bit of information.
3. Set clear outcomes
What will your students get from this course? What skills will they have when they complete it? You should have clear answers to these questions and they should be communicated to students from the outset.
This is also important if you’re selling an online course and individuals and businesses will want to know exactly what they’re paying for.
4. Promote your course with an ambassador program
Marketing your online course is essential.
Ambassador programs could work wonders here. These involve partnering with students or fellow educators who act as ambassadors for your course, help you promote it, and collaborate with you during your advertising campaigns.
Even if you’re designing a mandatory workplace training course, ambassadors can help set the tone and create buy-in so your attendees are more enthusiastic and engaged by the time they arrive.
5. Make all course information accessible
Responding to student inquiries about when the next assignment is due or what reading is required before next week can be time-consuming and frustrating for instructors.
Make an accessible, mobile-friendly course guide with an FAQ section. The AI-driven learning tools mentioned above can help here, too. Is it worth creating a chatbot that can answer student questions?
6. Start with icebreakers
Online courses unfortunately mean students can’t meet each other face-to-face and it’s harder to establish bonds of friendship during the course.
Students want to know that their instructor and their peers are humans. Starting an online course with icebreaker games and activities will help everyone get to know each other.
7. Cultivate an online community
Even with icebreakers, getting students to talk to each other and make the most of being part of a community is difficult. There are a number of ways you can encourage students to cultivate a community, getting to know one another and paving the way for more open, honest classroom discussions.
Members area: Create a member’s area or forum on your online course platform Social media group: Encourage a student-led social media group Informal messaging channels: Set up a dedicated channel on Slack or another platform.
You can also use event management software to create and run virtual events for students to socialize online.
8. Create a content library
Online learning platforms often allow you to upload content, from text-based files to videos and images. Creating a content library will help you share useful content with students in one easy-to-navigate online space.
Ideally, this content library, along with other course content, should be fully accessible in the cloud so that students can access it wherever they are and from any device.
9. Use collaborative and interactive tools
Collaborative whiteboards, online quizzes, and real-time document annotations are a handful of the online learning trends being used in virtual environments.
An online course shouldn’t simply be a collection of lectures delivered online. Students want to collaborate with each other and interact with the content. For a truly engaging course that students will retain information from, make the most of tools that encourage active engagement and collaboration.
The future is now
The future of online education is exciting for teachers and students alike. With developments in collaborative and interactive learning tools, AI, and VR, online learning is becoming a more engaging, effective, and accessible way to learn.
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About the author
Tammy Wood has been involved with SEO for two decades. Her current role is Director of Technical SEO for Automation Anywhere, an intelligent technology automation ecosystem. While not chasing keywords Tammy enjoys reading, buying shoes and writing articles about both RPA and SEO.