New tips reveal how to maximize online, blended learning using the technology available

elearning-design-trends Online and blended learning, or eLearning, is becoming par-for-the-course in everything from company professional development to campuses across the country. But trying to ascertain how to implement eLearning can be a nightmare, thanks to a glut of information and hard-to-find current studies.

However, thanks to new, broad data about major trends and design best practices from innovative tech think-tanks and industry veterans, learning how to effectively design and implement eLearning has been broken-down into easily digestible chunks for anyone interested in taking those first eLearning steps.

And though every course, university mission, and class aptitude is different, understanding why online and blended learning has become so popular, and which trends are likely to continue or evolve in the future, is a good way to ensure the vision for eLearning is on the right track.

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According to SHIFT’s disruptive eLearning blog, there are six eLearning trends that are critical for implementation now to stay relevant in the future.

“Technology is changing, and will continue to change, the way we communicate with learners, the way we design courses, how we learn and teach,” said SHIFT. Therefore, eLearning has to adapt and find new ways to meet changing times, the blog continues. Simply incorporating different tools to current eLearning strategy isn’t enough, as faculty, IT and curriculum designers must understand and embrace the meaning and the implications of these changes in the eLearning development process. “This is not an easy task because it not only means they have to change what they do, but how they think.”

According to SHIFT, to get from “here” to “there” faculty have to first understand where the “there” actually is. This list represents the “newest and most important “rules” for eLearning today:”

1. Online learning is social.

Modern learners are primarily active, used to constant interaction, in one form or another. Therefore, suggests SHIFT, leveraging interaction and collaboration in eLearning programs allows students to think, explore and offer input on the subject matter. Environments that make effective use of communication technologies to connect learners in meaningful ways and include relevant and authentic learning activities are the most likely to succeed, shows a Herrington, Reeves, & Oliver study in 2010.

“So, if you are one of those eLearning professionals still dumping a bunch of content on your learners, stop. Though content is vital in order to be successful, eLearning courses must promote the sharing knowledge, experiences, and opinions. There are plenty of resources at the disposal of such programs including discussion boards, telecommunication tools such as email and chatrooms, social collaboration tools and blogs.”

For those interested in the most-used apps by eLearning professionals, Aurion Learning has created a list of 10 apps all eLearning professionals “need to have.” Apps include [many more can be found in Aurion’s list]:

  • MindNode: A mind-mapping tool that allows users to record and organize ideas into an intuitive visual format. As you input information, it will begin to arrange itself so that you can focus on the content instead of the layout. Featured by Apple as an “App Store Best.”
  • GotoMeeting: The GoToMeeting app allows users to attend meetings and connect with colleagues or clients anytime, anywhere; and has screen-sharing capabilities that enable viewing colleagues’ presentations and reports.
  • Trello: An organizational tool that allows management of a to-do list, break down of bulky projects into simple steps, and serves as a focal point for organizing the division and completion of tasks on a group project.
  • Instruction Design Guru: A reference and performance support app designed by eLearning Guru Connie Malamad.

2. Focusing on the learner is not an option, but a “must.”

Learner-centered courses, as opposed to content-centric models, focus on teaching students in ways that they are inclined to learn, explains SHIFT. “These courses encourage learners to acquire knowledge effectively and eliminate the all-too-common rigid instructional designs that require the students to adapt to program.”

Learner-centered courses also feature content created with the students’ perspectives in mind, which only serves to increase learners’ motivation.

3. “Active learning” will only get more important.

Passive learning, or teaching by just delivering content to students, is quickly being replaced with active learning in eLearning. Active learning, which involves interaction and social engagement, allows students to become involved in their learning, relate the content to their own experiences, and apply it to their daily lives.

“Course developers misinterpret the rule of active learning more than any of the other rules for eLearning, believing that such learning occurs when students show signs of visible activity” explains SHIFT. “In fact, active learning can be hidden from the instructor’s view and visual learning may be passive. Consequently, a better indicator of active learning is students questioning content and developing their own interpretations. Learners may write about information, relate it to their personal experiences, or apply it to their daily lives.”

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4. Make it digestible.

Today’s learners “often struggle to maintain a long attention span and people are impatient for immediate gratification,” says SHIFT. This year, Rapid Learning Institute found that 90 percent of professionals who access eLearning courses consider short-form eLearning to be of either high or medium priority.

Bite-size content can mean anything from tutorial videos that last for no longer than 10 minutes to short modules, and involves covering only the essentials in short modules that learners can access whenever they have the time.

“Short sentences, captivating photos, infographics, and quotes are all ideal ways to convey a message quickly,” reveals SHIFT. “eLearning developers should also switch between these different types of content to keep learners interested.

5. It’s all about non-linear.

According to the Guardian, the average attention span online is about eight seconds, and may be due to hypertext, which encourages a non-linear way of reading—people can simply point to or click on a link without even finishing a paragraph. That’s why learners hardly stay on a page and jump around instead.

“Today, learners spend time on browsing and scanning, keyword spotting, one-time reading, non-linear reading, and reading more selectively, while less time is spent on in-depth reading, and concentrated reading, “explains SHIFT. “So if you are still designing linear eLearning courses, stop. Learning in life situations is a non-linear process — such learning occurs at random intervals when one’s attention is captured by the need or desire to increase knowledge.”

6. Increase the visuals.

According to SHIFT, graphic interfaces made up of photos, illustrations, charts, maps, diagrams, and videos are gradually replacing text-based courses. For instance, students are supposedly able to process images 60,000 times faster than text.

For those interested in more specifics of eLearning design, including effective visual design, coherence, and ‘Principles of Good Design’ by Dieter Ram, SHIFT has a great infographic here.

SHIFTS’s eLearning trends infographic:

eLearning Future: 6 eLearning Trends Infographic
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

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