“Innovations by vendors have led to the use of more advanced technologies such as simulations, cloud-based solutions, and AR,” says Jhansi Mary, lead analyst at Technavio, the consultancy.
1. AI and robotics
At the forefront of the innovation wave is artificial intelligence, which has already permeated social media, stock picking and even transport. Advocates say AI can be applied in education through the tracking of students, to predict and optimize learning and performance. The most advanced forms of deep learning could even support content delivery.
By assessing information, from mouse clicks to time spent on tasks, AI is already transforming the way students learn online. Oliver Cameron, VP of engineering and product at online learning business Udacity, says: “Rather than waiting for an end of semester survey to uncover an issue or inefficiency, instructors can continuously help students make data-driven improvements year-round.”
Now, London Business School is exploring potential tie-ups with AI start-ups, although talks are at a “very early stage”, says Tony Sheehan, associate dean for digital learning.
Nonetheless he adds: “The blend of AI with online learning delivery is a very exciting area.”
2. Virtual and augmented reality
The sci-fi technologies emerged in the 1950s to much avail but ultimately failed to make it from the big screen into our lives. VR and AR are however now being hyped as revolutionary teaching tools, as tech companies like Facebook-owned Oculus Rift and Magic Leap, and Samsung, Microsoft and Google, pour investment into the sector.
“The next generation of VR — that’s going to replace the traditional notion of sitting in front of a computer,” says Peter Hirst, associate dean at MIT Sloan, which has trialled Google’s Cardboard and Samsung’s Gear virtual reality devices.
Educators can use this technology to build a “4D” learning experience with complete immersion in any location around the world. The simulation can also help make online courses more interactive, facilitating better discourse between students and faculty.
The high cost of some VR headsets have held most universities back from large-scale roll-outs. But because AR apps can be accessed from mobile devices and tablets, the barrier to entry is lower. Expect more universities to explore this nascent area.
3. Cloud computing
Educators are increasingly shifting aspects of e-learning, such as content creation, online classroom management, and data extraction to cloud providers including Oracle, Docebo, and Expertus.
The advantage here is the clever extraction of data, which Mike Feerick, CEO and founder of online learning company ALISON, says has huge potential to improve learning. By crunching student data — from mouse clicks and time spent on tasks to evaluating how students respond to assessments — universities and digital providers hope to shed light on how learners access information and master material.
With data analytics, educators can also tailor learning to students’ individual needs. This could enable the makers online learning programs to create unique pathways.
There remain big concerns however around data security and privacy. Students have in some cases shown displeasure at their moves being tracked by course instructors. Schools will need to overcome this “Big Brother” factor if they are to take advantage of cloud computing.