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With the rapid advances in technology, it’s easy for people to think that the role of a teacher or educator is going to be replaced in the future. However, it’s already been proven that simply having a learner sit alone watching an online course for hours on end is not optimal, and that completion rates for online learning with no human interaction are extremely low. How then, can technology be used alongside traditional learning to enhance and improve a student’s learning experience?

Many people agree the traditional style of teaching is be grossly outdated. The idea of a single educator standing in front of 30 learners and delivering content at a pace that’s suitable for all 30 seems not only unlikely but impossible. Different learners grasp different concepts better than their peers and the way that humans take in information differs greatly from one person to the next. In this 30 student classroom environment, even the very best teacher will only be able to deliver the content that connects with the class at an average or median level. Students that are battling with the content (ie. below the average) are going to be left behind, while students that already have a grasp on the material are likely to be bored, listening to content that they already understand.

The way that students learn has changed dramatically since the introduction of the internet. Fast connections, smart devices, and video streaming mean more and more learners look for the information that they need online. People search the internet to learning anything from how to boil an egg to how to make a potato cannon. (Yes that’s a real thing and, they look like great fun).

One indicator that demonstrates this exponential growth, is the total size of the e-learning market.  In 2015 the online learning market was worth around $165 billion, by 2025 it is projected to be worth $325 billion.

Let’s start by looking at online learning in more detail:

Advantages of online learning over traditional education:

  • Immediate access. Using technology like ‘video on demand’, someone looking to learn a new skill is able to access a wide array of learning material, almost instantly online.
  • Instant feedback. As a learner engages with learning material they receive immediate feedback letting them know if they’ve correctly understood what they’ve learnt. The lead time of a facilitator marking a test or examination is no longer required.
  • Content on demand. Unlike traditional learning or even ‘one on one’ tuition, online content allows a student access to learning material at any time that suits them.
  • Different mediums. Various and constantly developing technology give learners various mediums to learn the subject material from video and audio to the more progressive AI (artificial intelligence) and gamification.
  • Customized learning speed. As opposed to the 30-student, single paced learning classroom environment mentioned above, online learning allows a student to progress through learning material at their own pace. If they struggle with a section they can spend longer on the material until they grasp it. If they understand the material they move on when they feel ready.
  • Personalized learning path. As learning technology improves, it can begin to create a personalized learning path for a student. The content that is sent to each learner differs according to their various strengths and weaknesses.
  • Reduced cost to deliver. With the cost of hardware and data coming down, it becomes more cost efficient and possible to deliver high-quality education to more and more people around the world.
  • Potential global classrooms. As e-learning platforms build in social components it becomes possible for students to engage with other learners and educators globally around topics that they’re studying.
  • Improvements through data. More and more students create more and more data and this data can be continually analysed to improve the learning experience for all the learners. The data can start to reveal learning patterns of how similar students improved in certain topics and adjust the content for new students struggling with the same topics.

Perceived disadvantages of online learning:

  • Lack of social interaction. As mentioned an e-learning path without interaction with a facilitator or other students show low rates of course completion. To overcome this, many of the most successful online learning platforms now have real time engagement and accountability with other learners on the same path. Students can access this network of fellow learners and teachers for ideas, study groups or to ask questions about the content.
  • No real time adjustments, by a real teacher. As data is analysed in real time and machine learning improves, a student’s learning path can be adjusted in real time as the learner interacts with the content. If Student-A shows competency in an area, her learning path can adjust so that she spend less time on that content which she has learnt and understood. Student-B, might be less proficient with the same content and could be shown more examples and given more explanation to work on until he’s been assessed to have properly understood the material.
  • People learn differently / older generations are scared of technology. Actually, the number of people whose moms are on Facebook and are progressing to Instagram and Pinterest is exploding! Platform designers and device manufacturers have made engaging with technology easier and easier and older generations are starting to see the power and value of this technology on how they learn and access information.
  • You can’t ask real questions. Siri wasn’t great when she started and Google voice search still thinks pizza sounds like peace ear, but machine learning and natural conversation algorithms are already around. In 2014 we had the first machine that passed the Turing Test, a test established over 60 years ago, where an evaluator is not able to distinguish whether an interaction that he has is with a machine or another real human! Look out, Siri is about to get a whole lot smarter!

Finding an optimal learning solution

Clearly both the traditional, as well as tech-enabled learning environments have their advantages, and many online platforms have identified these and offer a solution that incorporates the best of both and offer a true blended learning environment. This can be achieved by giving students access to online course material to work through on their own while still being accountable to a peer group and facilitator for their work. Some learning could be structured so that students engage with one another and the work is completed in groups and the learners meet online to go through material and complete assignments.

Early identifiers of how to take traditional learning and blend it with current and future technology will not only have the edge of other educators in their market but will also be able to scale while at the same time offering learners a more effective and flexible learning experience.


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