online learning misconceptions

7 online learning trends for 2016

A look at new tools and opportunities to take online learning in mainstream higher ed to the next level.

Let’s face it: Online education has always been the unhappy stepchild to traditional classroom teaching. It’s generally been seen as a make-do solution to serve students who—whether for reasons of geography or scheduling—were unable to attend class in person. And, more recently, its great claim to fame has been as a cost saver, a scalable way to enroll large numbers of students with minimal financial outlay. Well, the ugly duckling may be about to turn into a swan.

“We’re starting to hear a real desire for online learning to turn the corner and be focused on a mode of instruction that is inherently better than what we have today in traditional education,” said Chris Walsh, CEO of Zaption, a video learning company based in San Francisco. “People are starting to look at new tools and new opportunities to create an instructional experience that is different but hopefully better as well.”

The idea that online learning could actually be better than face-to-face instruction has gained credence in recent years as new technology solutions promise to make the educational experience more personalized and engaging. Has that time finally arrived? Here, eCampus News looks at seven trends that have the potential to remake the world of online learning.


1) Blended Learning Is the Sweet Spot

Ironically, the ideal learning environment may not be online or face-to-face: It might be both together. “We’re definitely seeing a trend over the last three to five years of people moving to these blended, online, hybrid, flipped-classroom models,” said Jennifer Ferralli, math product manager at WebAssign, an online instructional platform that specializes in STEM subjects. “We’re seeing this across the different disciplines, not just in math but also in physics and chemistry. People are trying to find different ways to connect with students to make classroom time more effective and more efficient.”

It’s a trend that has also caught the attention of ProctorU, a company that provides technology to prevent cheating and fraud in online courses. “The blended model especially is exploding,” said Don Kassner, ProctorU’s CEO. “When we first started seven years ago, we were talking to online-only programs. Now most of the programs are blended.”

In the wake of the hype around MOOCs that engulfed online learning in recent years, there is a growing realization that taking a course online requires a level of discipline and drive that many students lack. “A very small minority of people can completely learn online without any kind of motivation—without having somebody tap them on their backs once in a while to say, ‘You’ve done this very well,’ or, ‘Try a little harder,” said Gregor Freund, CEO of Versal, an online platform designed to help faculty with no technical expertise create interactive learning experiences. “Online learning has to become part of an overall learning process that blends classroom learning, remote learning, on-the-job learning—all of these different elements.”

It’s an approach that has really helped students in the School of Education at Gardner-Webb University, which utilizes Teachscape Learn, a professional development platform designed specifically for teachers. “Flipping the classroom has really changed my game,” said Kelly Taylor, assistant professor and chair of middle grades education. “Students now come in with a background about the concepts we’re studying, instead of my having to spend some of the class period laying the foundation.”

(Next page: Trends 2-4)

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