Generally speaking, learning is expensive, takes a long time and the results can vary. E-learning has been trying for years now to complement the way we learn to make it more effective and measurable. The result now is that there are a number of tools that help create interactive training courses, standardize the learning process and/or inject informal elements to otherwise formal learning processes. Several e-learning trends can give us a clear view of the future of e-learning and how learning tools will be shaped:
Micro-learning focuses on the design of micro-learning activities through micro-steps in digital media environments, which already is a daily reality for today’s knowledge workers. These activities can be incorporated into a learner’s daily routines. Unlike “traditional” e-learning approaches, micro-learning often tends towards push technology through push media, which reduces the cognitive load on the learners. Therefore, the selection of micro-learning objects and also pace and timing of micro-learning activities are of importance for didactical designs. Micro-learning is an important paradigm shift that avoids the need to have separate learning sessions since the learning process is embedded in the daily routine of the end-user. It is also perfectly suited for mobile devices where long courses can be overkill.
Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context to engage users and solve problems.
Personalized Learning is the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum and learning environments to meet the needs and aspirations of individual learners. Personalization is broader than just individualization or differentiation in that it affords the learner a degree of choice about what is learned, when it is learned and how it is learned. This may not indicate unlimited choice since learners will still have targets to be met. However, it may provide learners the opportunity to learn in ways that suit their individual learning styles and multiple intelligences.
The distant future of eLearning: Automatic learning
In a well-known scene from the movie The Matrix, Neo lies down in a high-tech dentist’s chair and straps on a wild array of electrodes, downloading a series of martial arts training programs into his brain. Afterward, he opens his eyes and speaks the words geeks have been quoting ever since: “I know Kung Fu.”
This type of automatic learning might sound like a dystopian future for many but it is where we are heading. And despite the ethical questions that may arise, the benefits could be substantial at multiple levels if used properly. Here’s how it works: you pick a task that requires high performance from your visual cortex such as catching a ball. Then you go find someone who’s a pro at catching a ball, place them in an fMRI machine and record what’s going on in their brain whilst they visualize catching a ball. Then you’ve got your ball-catching program, and you’re ready to learn. Next step: put yourself into the fMRI machine, and rig it to induce that pro-ball-catching imagery that you recorded earlier in your brain using neurofeedback. You don’t even have to be paying attention while this is going on. Your brain, though, becomes familiar with that pattern – which is essentially what learning is: the brain becoming familiar with new patterns.
Research has shown that this fMRI pattern playback can cause long-lasting improvement in tasks that require visual performance. In theory, a type of automated learning is a potential outcome and what e-learning in the distant future may look like.