We are at the beginning of the year, the time when we usually talk about any type of trends, and, not surprisingly, the world of online learning makes no exception! If usually technological innovations, inseparable from this mode of education, are the ones we often expect with enthusiasm, this time they are not the only ones who advance online learning. Moreover, this year, in terms of technology, we talk more about evolution than revolution, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing!

Here are some trends to watch for in 2019, and what a few members of the KnowledgeOne team have to say about them!

Bored no more!

Boring online courses are definitely not in fashion anymore! Today’s learners, no doubt influenced by the latest advances in technology, video games and Web 2.0, expect online courses to bring them nothing less than a real experience. Instructional designers, on the other hand, want to ensure that training is motivating and engaging from start to finish (see 8 key elements of learner engagement).

Gone are the days when it was enough to give an amusing touch to the course content to make it less arid. Gamified approaches and tools are now chosen and articulated thoughtfully to serve pedagogy (see gamification). Equally, since we now recognize some pedagogical virtues to the act of playing, even for adult learners, it can also be used to develop values and attitudes that are specific to it such as openness to new experiences, curiosity, risk-taking or the ability to learn from failures.

Training that is more human… thanks to neuroscience

If we have long believed that learning was a strictly rational process, we now know that our emotions and our interactions with the social environment greatly influence our cognitive process. To design effective training programs, instructional designers must choose strategies that: promise to affect positively the emotions associated with learning, allow for experimentation and error (!), and foster meaningful interactions between potential participants – learners, trainers, and other stakeholders.

On the issue of emotions, especially those linked to the right to make mistakes and social interactions, neuroscience has shed light on them by confirming the validity of specific approaches or uncovering new knowledge (see The importance of emotions in learning, Neurosciences: learning in 4 steps and Does a sense of community matter in online training?). Note that 2019 will mark the launch of the world’s most powerful MRI machine, one that will produce images of our gray matter 100 times more accurate than what we have been able to obtain until now. The next discoveries of neuroscience on the functioning of the brain are highly likely to influence the world of education. To be continued…

Towards more inclusion

The 2019 online training is focused on the learner. More than ever, it wants to be inclusive on both form and substance. It thus becomes more than necessary that it meets the principles of universal or inclusive design. As defined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Article 2), this strategy refers to “the design of products, environments, programmes and services to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”(see Universal Design – 3 Best Practices for Learning).

It needs to be known that the Universal Design for learning is based on the latest research, not only on learning but also on how the brain works.

Jihan Rabah, Vice President of Research and Analysis

When applied to learning, universal design, or Universal Design for Learning (UDL), is more than reaching diverse groups of students, as explained by Jihan Rabah, Vice President of Research and Analysis: “It needs to be known that the Universal Design for learning is based on the latest research, not only on learning but also on how the brain works. It is an approach that allows, within a universal and inclusive framework, to better define the mechanisms involved in effective learning and teaching.” Noting that the primary goal of educators is to get every student to achieve the maximum in their academic career, Rabah adds that “now when online learning is present in institutions of higher education, it becomes all the more imperative to adopt the UDL principles.” However, this implementation should not be done without rigorous upstream evaluation: “Educational institutions need to ask themselves if they really intend to respect the application of the UDL. If so, they have an interest in establishing a clear action plan for instructional designers. It is essential that the courses they design later pave the way for learning and teaching that is truly more effective and democratic.”

It should be noted that some technological advances are helping to improve the accessibility of online learning. One great example is probably that of the nanocomputer which, for 50 dollars on average, allows – among other things! – to follow an online course with or without an Internet connection, from anywhere or almost anywhere on the globe (see Hardware on a Budget: The Advent of Nanocomputers). This hyper-performing and versatile credit card-sized computer is conquering the planet, as Nicolas Labonté, Quality Control and Research Specialist, observes: “Its adoption has increased dramatically since the beginning of the decade, and is the case in almost all the regions of the world.” While it has not yet entered some less affluent countries, it has all the assets to achieve this: “In addition to representing an alternative to the traditional computer, it can be designed to work with solar energy,” says Labonté. Let’s hope that in 2019 it will manage to reach more communities for which it could make a significant impact.

The maturity and availability of [nanocomputers] have reached such a level that brands and models are now better known than the product category.

Nicolas Labonté, Quality Control and Research Specialist

Interestingly, by first looking for the term nanocomputers on Google Trends, Labonté came across a chart indicating a decline in the popularity of the term after 2004-2005. “I was speechless, mostly because I know the craze for this new technology is still very strong. Therefore, I decided to compare the popularity of the term nanocomputers with that of the term Raspberry Pi … and I got my explanation!” (See Diagrams 1 and 2)

 Diagram 1
Diagram 2

It is safe to assume that the enthusiasm for the Raspberry Pi model has almost transformed its tasty name in the equivalent for nanocomputer. “The maturity and availability of this technology have reached such a level that brands and models are now better known than the product category. The same phenomenon occurred when, for consumers, the portable player became the Walkman.” This shows that the general public has “adopted” the brand and considers the technology useful,” concludes Labonté.

The society is more and more inclusive and open to the world, and this phenomenon is reflected in the way we write the content of training programs.

Jeanne Letarte, Translator and Project Coordinator

Finally, let’s mention that a change is also taking place on the “substance,” as Jeanne Letarte, Translator and Project Coordinator, notes: “The society is more and more inclusive and open to the world, and this phenomenon is reflected in the way we write the content of training programs. We are translating more courses in both official languages, and we are trying to be as neutral as possible by using a non-gendered form. I also perceive a movement of openness and inclusion in the fact that we adjust the presentation of the content according to the characteristics and needs of very distinct audiences. We try to touch people individually. We must therefore avoid generalities, while keeping in mind that we want to address a wide audience, so that everyone can recognize themselves.

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

The motto of our French cousins could well become one of online learning in 2019 as autonomy, inclusion and egalitarian relations, as well as collaboration, are emerging as cardinal values. Since it integrates social networks and web applications facilitating exchanges between participants, this mode of learning is no longer one that fosters solitude. While studies have confirmed that the social dimension plays a significant role in learning and engagement (see Does a sense of community matter in online training?), state-of-the-art tools for online learning allow it to serve as a catalyst for collaboration. Promoting horizontal (learner-learner) relationships that are also educationally productive is definitely trendy!

It is also in the sense of collaboration that evolves the learner-trainer relationships, that online learning becomes more “egalitarian.” In this context, the trainer becomes a “facilitator of knowledge construction,” as Denis Cristol explains it. Within this dynamic, the learners are seen as the main actors – autonomous and responsible – of their “learning project”: it is them who build their knowledge by resorting, if necessary, to the instructor’s help (see Self-training 101). Without saying that the classic model of the teacher who “preaches” his knowledge to a rather passive audience has no place in online learning, we see emerge a desire to rethink the relationship between learners and trainers by moving away from a hierarchical model (see 3 Historical Models of the Teacher… and Lessons to Learn).

At the same time, the definition of the work of the elearning trainer should be better defined, especially in regards to the role of the other actors in the education sector, the skills that it requires, etc. Moreover, teachers in the traditional education system should also – hopefully – get better guidance to integrate elearning into their reality.

The students’ employability has become an important preoccupation for universities which seem to steer on some level towards workplace-friendly credentials, like micro credentials and nano degrees.

Manasvini Narayana, Learning Research Analyst

Lastly, let us mention that online learning is part of a small revolution that is taking place in the offer of educational institutions. As Learning Research Analyst, Manasvini Narayana explains, “The students’ employability has become an important preoccupation for universities which seem to steer on some level towards workplace-friendly credentials, like micro credentials and nano degrees. Both universities and industry players are offering programs that are quick and specific. Some are also beginning to incorporate blockchain technology, which among other things allows employers to verify the certification of potential candidates, their validity, and easily sort them.” The blockchain is a technology for storing and transmitting information, transparent and secure – a kind of database – free of institutional control. Although some issues remain to be debated, this decentralized security system that has been developed to support cryptocurrency transactions is beginning to lend itself to other uses, such as guaranteeing the authenticity of diplomas.

The innovative company is a “learning” one

The workplace is changing, either if we think about the massive expected retirements and the many ongoing and future business transfers (see Business transfers in Quebec: a major challenge), about the sectors that are struggling to attract a new generation, the advances of the artificial intelligence (AI) which promise major commotions (see Will a robot replace your job?) or about the young workers, more “flighty”, and who come with a new work culture and demands.

To survive in such a context, companies must innovate, and innovation is not just about technology. In fact, the dramatic evolution of the latter urges us to refocus on our capabilities with which the machines cannot compete. Thus, as the fourth industrial revolution unfolds before our eyes – that of artificial intelligence, robotization and the Internet of Things – it is the truly the human qualities of workers and employers that are becoming increasingly more popular (see Top 10 crucial competencies for 2020).

They need to get on board if they want to “win the recruiting war,” as Anand Parsan, Vice President of Compensation Consulting Services at Morneau Shepell, puts it, speaking about the 2019 HR priorities in an article by Olivier Schmouker. The age when the employee was comfortable with a simple relationship of subordination with the employer has come to an end. To convince today’s workforce – educated, self-reliant, proactive, and seeking to advance and flourish in their professional lives – companies must innovate in human resources management. According to Parsan, learning and advancement opportunities as well as coaching and mentoring are among the elements most likely to be part of the “winning strategies for succeeding in the recruiting war in 2019.”

With the lack of labor force and the demands of the new generations, training programs are a great benefit for retaining employees, and to attract the best talent within a company.

Victoria Della Porta, Vice President Business Development

Victoria Della Porta, Vice President Business Development, agrees: “With the lack of labor force and the demands of the new generations, training programs are a great benefit for retaining employees, and to attract the best talent within a company. Nevertheless, it is still mandatory that these programs are engaging and on the cutting edge, both in terms of technology and pedagogy.”

I would go so far as to say that recognizing informal learning and making the most of it will be the next step in the democratization of education. Games and simulations or virtual reality devices are ideal for this type of intuitive learning.

Antonia Tripa, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Innovation

The workplace environment witnesses another form of learning that starts to be better recognized, and it is where online learning can greatly be of benefit: informal learning (see Informal Learning 101). Antonia Tripa, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Innovation, an increased interest in the potential of these “unconscious” learning instances that can be done anywhere and at any time. “I would go so far as to say that recognizing informal learning and making the most of it will be the next step in the democratization of education. Games and simulations or virtual reality devices are ideal for this type of intuitive learning. As designers of online training, we try to make the design more intuitive so that the user learns almost without realizing it!” The least obvious aspect of this type of learning is probably putting in place effective evaluation methods. In this regard, Tripa believes that elearning has a significant asset, which will be reinforced with the integration of artificial intelligence (AI): “The increasingly sophisticated collection and analysis of data on the behaviors and the results of the learners will definitely help us to evaluate the acquisition of learning better.”

Whether it is to optimize the skills of its workforce or to become an attractive employer, the company that wants to be innovative in 2019 has every interest in becoming a “learning organization.” To do this, it must both develop and promote a true learning culture, in addition to optimizing the transmission of all relevant knowledge about its places; physical and virtual (see Do your employees know how to learn?).

Technologies in evolutionary mode

On the technologies side, it would be more accurate to speak of evolution than of revolution. Now that many learning technologies have been “exposed” to large-scale reality testing, we are more focused on their strengths and weaknesses, and therefore better positioned to improve them.

Mobile-based training must be custom-designed for this medium. It is important to choose the technology according to the learning strategy and not the opposite. That is where we are currently, and all the designers should have already this reflex.

Ping Ng, Content Designer

It is no longer appropriate to opt for a technology simply because it is attractive or new. In this regard we spontaneously think of virtual reality (VR) which, rightly, fascinates, but which must be used judiciously, as emphasized by Ping Ng, Content Designer: “Opting for virtual reality only to follow the flow is not a good idea. This technology has great potential, it will continue to gain ground, to develop, but it still faces some technical challenges.”

Nevertheless, as Nicolas Labonté, Quality Control, and Research Specialist, explains, things are moving in the direction of VR: “The last Consumer Electronic Show saw the release of new virtual reality headsets that can be used wirelessly with a mobile device or computer and provide superior image and comfort. Taking into account that the price of these kinds of products decreases with time, we can look forward to more users experiencing virtual reality in the near future.”

Compared to VR, augmented reality (AR) benefits of the fact that it is already more affordable and has been used for some years on our mobile devices (phone and tablet). Nothing should slow down its progress in 2019.

Mobile learning is unquestionably one of the major trends of the day. Although it achieves almost an ultimate status in flexibility, quite a few design principles have to be respected for this media actually to serve learning. “It’s not enough to change the layout of a training program to force it back into our small screens; we risk losing efficiency,” warns Ping Ng. “Mobile-based training must be custom-designed for this medium. It is important to choose the technology according to the learning strategy and not the opposite. That is where we are currently, and all the designers should have already this reflex.”

Micro-learning (see 4 reasons to opt for micro-learning) is another essential trend which, like mobile learning – with which it is perfectly aligned – should be better understood and applied in 2019. This is because many mistakenly think that it simply consists of splitting an online training program into several short modules. This approach, based on repetition and participation, has its own foundation and purpose. It is used to inform on a specific subject and aims a precise result (behavior, competence, etc.).

In the next two years, we should see the potential for adaptive learning multiply as we increasingly combine it with artificial intelligence.

Nishan Joomun, Vice President IT and Development

Finally, let us specify that the technology adapts itself to better serve the trends in pedagogy. Learning Management Systems (LMS), which were – not so long ago – mostly focused on the needs of evaluation and administrators’ control, are now better suited to serve the needs of learners as well. They allow, for example, to use a wider variety of web applications in training and facilitate learner initiatives. Nishan Joomun, Vice President IT and Development, confirms this move: “Learning Management Systems have been integrating adaptive learning for about three years now. This technology allows, thanks to an algorithm, to present to the learners the content that corresponds best to their interests or their knowledge level. The big advantage is that it reinforces the learner’s motivation and commitment to learning. In the next two years, we should see the potential for adaptive learning multiply as we increasingly combine it with artificial intelligence.” (See Intelligent Adaptive Learning: Everyone’s Training!)

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From these trends, it can be inferred that online learning is becoming increasingly focused on the needs of learners, better adapted to them and that technology is also evolving in this direction. In fact, technology seems to lose the spotlight slowly in favor of the learning experience it makes possible…

What do you think? What trends do you see in online training for 2019?

“Technology seems to lose the spotlight slowly in favor of the learning experience it makes possible…”

Catherine Meilleur

Author:
Catherine Meilleur

Creative Content Writer @KnowledgeOne. Questioner of questions. Hyperflexible stubborn. Contemplative yogi.