ED 6620 Module Three
Issues and Trends in Educational Computing
Name: Chris Byrne
The future of online learning environments
The advent of online learning or e learning, via the Internet, has given an unprecedented number of individuals, from around the globe, the ability to access information and education (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009). This has brought about a paradigm shift from traditional learning styles to more learner-centered approaches. As Davidson and Goldberg (2009) described, one way to describe this shift is through the lens of participatory learning. They define participatory learning as, “the many ways that learners (of any age) use new technologies to participate in virtual communities where they share ideas, comment on one another’s projects, and plan, design, implement, advance, or simply discuss their practices, goals, and ideas together” (p.12). With the virtual classroom becoming a much more familiar arena where learning can take place it is useful to examine how these environments are structured and where they are headed.
The construction and development of current online learning environments still very closely follows a top down approach to education (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009), despite, as stated by McLoughlin (2003) and Percival and Muirhead (2009), research shows learners need to be given more control over their own learning and are resistant to environments that limit their learning choices. As Prince, Moyer, Scheerer, and Feltner (2011) hypothesize future technologies will have the ability to produce virtual worlds and simulations that will merge our digital and physical environments. With this merger the creation of learning spaces may be one possible outcome (Punie, Cabrera, Bogdanowicz, Zinnbauer, Navajas, 2005). Learning spaces will incorporate learners as co-producers of the learning content rather than simply being consumers of knowledge. Punie and his colleagues define a learning space as , “the place where all these actors [teachers, learners, learning institutions, learning content providers, and also family, friends, colleagues and other peers] meet and interconnect for learning purposes or for sharing experiences”(p.33). Because each learner’s learning space will be under his or her control this supports a learner centered approach (p.34).
With the shift of learning from a behaviorist model to a constructivist model the design of the learning environment must also change. As postulated by Sims (2003), in online education the distance between the learner and the individuals designing the learning content can contribute to breakdowns in communication and the way in which the learning content is viewed (p. 89). The designers of future online learning environments will need to take steps to ensure that new technologies are utilized effectively giving learners the tools required to interact effectively with one another and the learning environment (p.90). The effective utilization of new technologies will not only be necessary but expected. With learners becoming ever more transient new technologies will provide mobile learners with the tools they will require to access learning content (Johnson, Adams, & Cummins, 2012).
The popular expression, “there’s an app for that”, is becoming increasingly more accurate and applicable to not only everyday informal life situations but, in the academic world as well (Johnson et al., 2012). Future online learning environments will have to be accessible from a variety of electronic devices, not just computers. Learners no longer need access to a computer to have access to the Internet and future online learning environments will have to take advantage of mobile applications (apps) that give learners access to learning content, research tools, and other important elements of online learning (p. 7).
Online social media has become quite popular in the personal lives of many people, but its use among students and educators for educational purposes remains low (Chen & Bryer, 2012). Future online learning environments will need to further increase the avenues for social interaction, collaboration, and communication among learners and the incorporation of social media may be one such solution. The level of student interaction in online learning environments, as stated by Hill, Song, and West (2009), is crucial to his or her success. Social media allows users to connect on many different levels via blogs, wikis, media sharing tools, networking platforms, and virtual worlds. If the power of social media can be incorporated into an educational context, either formally or informally, then online learning environments will be able to offer learners new ways to connect and interact, potentially connecting formal and informal learning (pp.88-89). As Chen and Bryer assert, research shows that formal learning comprises only a small portion of the human learning experience so, if informal learning can be incorporated in the educational experience, via social media, there is the possibility that learners will become more engaged in the learning process (p.89).
Emerging technologies continue to blur the line between our digital world and real everyday environments. The development of virtual online communities that use avatars are making online interactions between users increasingly more realistic. Current online learning environments sometimes encounter problems with virtual instruction (Schmidt & Werner, 2007). Blended learning, a combination of face-to-face and online instruction, has been used to improve online learning (p.73). Future online learning environments could use virtual worlds, populated by avatars, as a means of replicating face-to-face interactions between educators and learners. As Johnson and his colleagues explain in The NMC Horizon report, the arrival of gesture based computing, that does away with the need for input from a mouse and keyboard, and relies on motions of the body, facial expressions, and voice recognition, “enables users to learn by doing and facilitates the convergence of a user’s thoughts with their movements” (p.8). Gesture based computing has the potential to reduce barriers to education and make interactions between users and technology easier and more intuitive (p.27).
For online learning environments of the future to be successful they will need to incorporate emergent technologies and strive to attain new levels of social and cognitive interaction currently missing from online learning environments. Social learning contexts offer us perspectives from which online learning environments can be enhanced and improved and with the use of current and future internet technologies online learning will continue to be a viable, if not desirable, form of education (Hill et al., 2009).
21. Chen, B. & Bryer, T. (2012). Investigating instructional strategies for using social media in formal and informal learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. 13(1). pp. 87-104
22. Davidson, C. & Goldberg, D. (2009). The future of learning institutions in a digital age. Cambridge, Massachusetts : The MIT Press.
23. Johnson, L., Adams, S., and Cummins, M. (2012). The NMC Horizon report: 2012 higher education edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.
24. Hill, J., Song, L., West, R. (2009). Social learning theory and web-based learning environments: A review of research and discussion of Implications. American Journal of Distance Education. 23(2). pp. 88-103
25. McLoughlin, Catherine. (2002). Learner support in distance and networked learning environments: Ten dimensions for successful design. Distance Education. 23(2). pp. 149-162.
26. Percival, J. & Muirhead, B. (2009). Prioritizing the implementation of e-learning tools to enhance the post-secondary learning environment. Journal of Distance Education. 23(1). pp. 89-106
27. Prince, K., Moyer, J., Scheerer, L., Feltner, J. (2011). Models for the future of learning. Retreived July 16, 2012, from KnowledgeWorks Web site:
28. Punie, Y., Cabrera, M., Bogadowicz, M., Zinnbauer, D., Navajas, E. (2006). The future of ICT and learning in the knowledge society. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities
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30. Sims, Rod (2003): Promises of interactivity: Aligning learner perceptions and expectations with strategies for flexible and online learning. Distance Education. 24(1). pp. 87-103
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