2) Video Is King

The image of online learners slogging through text-heavy course materials on their computers is rapidly going the way of the abacus. In place of text is a growing emphasis on video as an instructional medium. “Video is now at the center of almost all learning experiences,” said Walsh. “Universities, at every single level, are trying to tap into video, because it’s a very powerful tool.”

Indeed, without the ability to use video, the flipped classroom may not even be feasible. “Students are much more visual now,” said Kelly of her trainees, who watch Teachscape Learn videos of other teachers in action in the classroom. “Instead of wading through text that they have a hard time understanding, they can now see a teaching concept in action: They hear the teachers talking about the decisions they make, and why they’re using the practices they’re using. It’s just been so much more powerful.”

From lecture capture recordings to supplementary videos provided by textbook publishers, the role of video is growing in every area of academic life. At Gardner-Webb, for example, trainees film themselves teaching from day one as a way to reflect on their performances as well as to provide faculty and peers an opportunity to offer critiques.

Increasingly, though, faculty are also turning to outside sources—as well as colleagues—for videos that can complement their teaching efforts. “A solid majority of our customers are using YouTube video,” said Walsh. “There’s more content on YouTube today than in all of broadcast history combined, a lot of which is high-quality video that can be used in almost any learning context.”


3) Interactivity, Not Talking Heads

As valuable as watching video can be, it’s still a passive activity not very different from sitting in a lecture hall listening to a professor. For online learning to be successful, say many educators, it needs to be interactive and engaging.

Adding value to video lies at the heart of the concept behind Zaption, a video-enhancement platform that allows students and faculty to augment videos with 11 different interactive components including graphics, quizzes, comment fields, and photos. There’s even a telestrator: Students can now emulate commentator John Madden, who once drew on the TV screen to illustrate football plays, by marking up videos on the Zaption platform.

“You need to turn that learning experience into an active learning experience,” said Walsh. “Students are more engaged by having additional elements, especially multiple questions at strategic points in a video. It makes students actually want to watch to the end.”

The need for more interactivity in online courses is what prompted Freund to found Versal. “The typical online course really doesn’t work for me,” he explained. “It’s really a talking head with maybe a blackboard behind the professor and some quizzes. I have to touch things. I have to play with things. It has to be interactive for me to work.”

Freund’s answer is an instructional platform that uses mini JavaScript apps called gadgets that faculty can drag-and-drop into a course to turn their materials into interactive exercises and assessments. Among the customizable gadgets are interactive simulations, timelines, flash cards, and diagrams.

“A lot of the infrastructure and content of online learning is really geared toward students at the very elite universities—the Harvards and Stanfords of this world,” said Freund. “But, like me, a lot of students can’t listen to an hour-and-a-half lecture without falling asleep.”


4) Mobile Is a Must

Working adults and other non-traditional students now represent the majority of students in the United States, so colleges and universities cannot assume that their learners will do all their work at home or in the library. For students with families and jobs, life simply isn’t that predictable. This fact, combined with the reality that younger students consume everything except food through their mobile devices, makes the need for a mobile solution an imperative in online education.

“Mobile is the uber trend that you hear from everybody,” said Walsh. “Students are on the go, especially higher-ed students, and they have their mobile devices wherever they are. No longer can you have just an iOS app, you must also have Android. You have to have a native look, as well as a mobile web solution.”

It’s a view shared by Kelly at Gardner-Webb. “Mobile is very important—it’s what they’re used to and what students in this day and age expect,” she said. “Giving them content when they’re ready to access it, in a way that they’re most familiar with, is the best way to meet their needs.”

(Next page: Trends 5-7)

Add your opinion to the discussion.