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This summer I attended the 2010 Distance Teaching and Learning Conference in Madison, Wisconsin. Some very interesting topics came up in the facilitated Think Tanks, and I wanted to share some of the predictions that were developed from these active group discussions regarding where eLearning will go in the next ten years.

Opinions from educational leaders attending this conference lean towards unprecedented interconnectedness of global audiences, better methods for incorporating blended learning techniques, the rise of custom degrees, and a movement away from static textbooks as a primary source of learning content.  Open universities in Asia, for example, have over a ½ million students enrolled. This global influence will have an impact on the actions of eLearning leaders in the USA, i.e. globalization will impact all educational programs including professional development efforts.

Of course, many of these predictions are relative to one’s perspective, be it teacher, student, or management, but they all share one common idea: eLearning is going to play a major part in providing degree education and professional development in the future, especially with the advancements in mobile technology, the increasing ubiquitous nature of bandwidth, and the emerging acceptance of “anywhere, anytime” learning.

Technologies like the iPad, Android tablets and, of course smart phones, are creating what looks to be a bright future for eLearning, in general. Not only do these technologies allow for stronger opportunities for peer to peer learning (social learning) and better access to content, it also allows instructors to nudge learning along with calendar and assignment alerts.  This increase in social networking will become a spearhead for increased collaboration and sharing, and also provide a way to bring together different sources of content and educational experiences in one single point of contact.

The psychological effect:  people’s understanding that their education is an ongoing, lifelong continuous process, will be greatly enhanced. Formal and informal learning experiences will merge and the differences blurred.

Below you will find a table that summarizes the different opportunities and challenges that were predicted to arise in the next ten years by the participants in the conference Think Tanks and by me.

Opportunities Challenges
Learner
  1. Bridging informal and formal education
  2. Movement between schools to obtain courses needed for custom degrees
  3. Increase in shared knowledge among students and learners
  4. Networking and learning from each other
  5. Resumes will include informal and formal learning experiences acquired via the Internet
  1. Developing standards to gauge education and competency from multiple sources
  2. Providing an authoritative, reliable source for information (e.g. not just Wikipedia)
  3. Physical and psychological distance from other learners and instructors.
  4. Quality measures for informal and formal professional development attained on the Internet.

K-12 Instruction

  1. Reducing barriers to funding, certification, credit and accreditation
  2. Increase access to quality education for all students
  3. Open “course” concept to new blends of delivery and teaching
  4. Providing for more game-based learning experiences and techniques for a variety of learning styles
  5. Using new technology in the classroom
  1. Defining online and blended education
  2. Development of technical infrastructure, internet access and equipment
  3. Maintaining the custodial function of school
  4. Acquiring funding for bold Internet delivered experiences for the classroom
  5. Allowing use of new technology in the classroom

Corporate Training

  1. Just-in-time learning
  2. Greater access to information
  3. Peer coaching
  4. Cloud training
  5. Ability to reach those previously unreachable
  1. Intellectual property rights
  2. Resistance to using open content
  3. Peer review of resources
  4. Unknown impact of open universities
  5. Technical challenges related to size of offerings and rapidly changing technology

Content

  1. Tools allowing for easier collaboration and interaction
  2. Richer media experience (videos and simulations)
  3. Content repositories & Learning Object distribution and searchability  
  4. Movement away from static textbooks as primary resource
  1. Growing tension between standard core content and differentiation of content
  2. Where will content for curriculum come from?
  3. What part will student-generated content play?
  4. More copyright issues

Learning Environment

  1. Customized learning spaces, i.e. personal learning environments (PLEs)
  2. Customization of content presentation and access
  3. eReaders and eBooks providing better and more interactive content (just in time)
  4. Changing paradigm of “bounded courses” to unbounded courses where learning is a continuous process that can occur anywhere and at any time
  1. Determining fit and purpose of new tools and pedagogical approaches
  2. Standards for smart phones/mobile apps
  3. Issues with accreditation, privacy and copyrights
  4. Universal access to technology, equipment, and the internet

Faculty

  1. More involvement and collaboration with online and distance learning initiatives
  2. More part-time faculty teaching for several institutions
  3. Faculty practices and entrepreneurs
  4. Changing role of faculty and PD instructors
  1. What will the primary role of faculty be?
  2. Faculty segmentation into master teachers, mentors, researchers, tutors, etc.
  3. Changing of promotion and tenure to accommodate different roles
  4. Changing pay structure

Administration & Management

  1. Continued growth of open education with some program stabilization
  2. Improved learner focus
  3. Increased blending/blurring of traditional on-campus with online options
  4. More collaboration with other administrators to influence policy makers
  1. Managing and maintaining growth
  2. How to blend on and off campus learner programs
  3. Regulatory and accreditation issues
  4. Student accountability issues (plagiarism/doctoring)
  5. Improving faculty/ instructor readiness

International Perspectives

  1. Providing access to education even to remote, rural, and developing areas
  2. Promote intercultural mixing and diversity through education
  3. Improving educational access in segregated societies
  4. Sharing resources and co-producing content to reduce cost
  5. Serve new growing customer groups
  6. Informal learning, sharing own learning with others via internet (e.g. blogs, wiki)
  1. Technological infrastructure of societies
  2. Understanding of different people and places
  3. Eliminating the “we and they” thinking
  4. Illiterate audiences
  5. International/cultural conflicts
  6. Developing culturally aware curricula
  7. Differences in cost of education and fees
  8. Selecting suitable types of content delivery
  9. Re-figuring content for different learner communities