Digital trends have continued to disrupt and differentiate business in recent years. They have been particularly relevant in learning and in elearning—providing both challenges and opportunities. The following are five digital trends which dominate discussion at this point in time.
Increasing digitisation of business has made it possible to shift from engagement in online environments to personalisation of online contact at scale. Early examples of this were targeted marketing based on a user’s browsing history; however, with the explosion of social media, we have seen exponentially more personalisation of content, context and medium. In the online environment, our audience is conditioned to receiving only what they seek, highly customised to their individual learning preferences, and either direct from recognised experts or from people in their own networks.
Much traditional elearning is still serving up pre-prepared content in generic contexts and in predictable modular mediums, that is elearning courses for the masses. However, our learners are not seeking machine-to-people experiences—they are seeking people-to-people experiences. Our challenge now is to provide online environments (such as portals or live online connections) where learners can seek and receive the personal learning experiences they desire, and form their own meaningful and personal learning networks.
Digitisation has also elevated democratisation – the availability of information to all. And this availability has led to open participation in learning at a massive scale globally (e.g. the rise of MOOCs).
Here we see the challenge of instructional design not to sift, sort and select information, but to source, curate and open channels, allowing the flow of information between people to direct learning. Accessibility to technology, including convenient hardware such as tablets, facilitates learning. Providing channels for informal learning (e.g. collaboration platforms) also increases the opportunities to democratise learning.
Trust and transparency
Nearly every subject area is open to debate and subject to change. The immediacy of an online search presents us with more sources, viewpoints and choices than we could possibly need. As humans, we rely on our judgment about authenticity and highly value an expert voice in digital environments over static impersonal information.
In designing learning experiences in online environments, we need to allow expert voices to emerge and give the learner the freedom of choice. In order to learn, we engage our highest faculties of judgment, trust and decision-making. Encouraging engagement in debate within a learning program will exercise a learner’s judgment, increase trust and enrich the learning that occurs.
In this era of data overload, the reference to Big Data that indicates we have no problem finding and accessing data. Our challenge, however, is how to make sense of such data and to select what is relevant at the right time and for the right purpose.
As learning professionals, part of our role is to guide and direct learners to relevant information and learning experiences at the right time for them. We need to focus on helping learners find their individualised learning pathways and channels. Essentially, this is a re-focus on learning-how-to-learn, this time in digital environments. Curation is one of the recently prolific ways in which leaders in the learning field have provided learning pathways for others.
Digital proficiency has become a strong cultural value, not only among the younger generations. The ability to navigate confidently and learn through online channels is expected in our society, and valued highly where it is well developed.
This means there is real value in teaching for digital proficiency at the same time as delivering right-time relevant content. In the design of online learning experiences, we need to take the learner on a pathway of becoming more digitally proficient, and better yet if this is executed unobtrusively and subconsciously. In the best examples, online applications for learning are simple to use yet encourage exploration (e.g. online games).