Three Trends That Will Influence Learning and Teaching in 2015

Vector 2015 Happy New Year background

There is no shortage of predictions for the upcoming year of 2015. Micro-credentials, digital wearables and mobile learning are just a few of the many. Yet predictions are notorious for misleading and even wildly inaccurate assurances. But analyzing trends across industries in conjunction with developments within a sector—the education sector in this instance, is far more constructive and strategic than considering stand-alone predictions. There are themes and patterns worthy of educators, administrators and stakeholders investment of time and consideration. This post examines and explores three trends that meet the worthy criteria. The three: 1) Skill-specific education also known as competency-based education (CBE) is expanding to institutions and generating new education technology products and platforms, 2) Social learning facilitated by technology and the acceptance of MOOCs is a new and viable instructional method, and 3) Learning-on-the-go supported not just by mobile devices and internet connectivity, but by the availability of sophisticated applications with few barriers will expand learning to students seeking flexible access to education.

Sources for Trends Affecting Education in 2015
There’ve been several articles and reports written and shared by organizations, education entities and news agencies that highlight trends, developments, and hot topics to watch for in 2015. Not all are specific to education, but reading between the lines there are subtle implications that suggest which potential developments will affect if not change how people learn. The sources chosen for this post are few but solid. A key source and excellent resource for the education community is the NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition Wiki which provides insight into educational technology trends. Its content is used for the annual NMC Horizon Project which uses the Wiki for the panel of experts to exchange ideas and engage in discourse. Another report rich in data is the 2015 Digital Trends Report created by GSW a communications agency working within the health sector. Additional sources include Innovating Pedagogy 2014 published by Open University, EDUCAUSE Review November/December 2014, among others. Collectively these sources and events over the past year (2014) in education provide a window into new developments in teaching and learning to watch for in 2015 .

example of how competency education works

1) Skill-Specific Education
The most significant innovations in education programs of this past year are those that focus on a specific skill set or knowledge area. These programs fall under the banner of micro-credentialing or competency-based education (CBE) and will be more disruptive to traditional education than anything we’ve seen to date. Traditional education in this context is defined as for-credit education measured by instruction time and grading of students work by teacher/instructor/faculty. Outcomes of traditional education typically are credentials in the form of a degree, diploma or certificate and are recognized by employers and institutions. On the other hand, skills education facilitates student’s learning technical skills or knowledge in a specific topic area that is measured by criteria-specific performance. Typically assessment is an observable outcome(s) that demonstrates mastery in the form of an e-portfolio or interactive transcript. Examples are competency-based degree programs such as the one offered at Purdue, or nano-degrees offered by Udacity, mirco-credential programs offered by edX or Coursera, certificates by Alison, and Mozilla’s Open Badges program. 

We can expect more institutions offering competency education programs and employer involvement in skill-specific education this year, as in the example of AT&T giving funds to Udacity and Georgia Tech for development of online programs. We’ll also see companies serving as advisors for curriculum and program development for courses of study at institutions.

Drivers of Skill-Specific Education

  • Pressure on education institutions from Department of Education and/or other government entities to offer more accessible and shorter education pathways (to a credential) to accommodate non-traditional learners. The non-traditional segment is a new and growing market of adult learners with prior skills and experience
  • Expanding non-traditional student population who seek open, flexible learning
  • Skills gap identified by employers
  • High cost associated with higher education

Developments in Skill-Specific Education

  • MOOCs on institution-affiliated platforms focusing on skill specific training in partnership with companies (edX offering Teacher PD)
  • Courses focusing on skills with input from employers who have a hand in developing curriculum, e.g. Nano-degrees (Udacity), and professional courses for a fee — targeting professionals (edX and Coursera)
  • LMS platform providers creating specific platforms that accommodate competency specific learning e.g. Helix LMS (Phil Hill on Helix LMS)
  • Digital badges, e.g. Mozilla Open Badge Project
  • Brandman University’s competency degree program incorporates digital badges for students to demonstrate skills to potential employers
Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 9.45.45 AM
Gaming is just one area of social learning that is being used as pedagogical method. Screen shot of slide 42 from “2015 Digital Trend Report”

2)  Social Learning as a Pedagogical Method
Social learning is not a new concept, but social learning as a method of instruction is. We are beginning to see social learning adopted by education institutions as a method for learning through peer collaboration for instance, and in Human Resources departments as a method for employee training. Also technological advancement in the form of applications—mobile apps that support learners not just through collaboration but by learning core concepts through innovative software design. Gaming too has become more social, as well as learning management platforms (LMSs) which are incorporating features that support and promote interactivity and social connections among students.

The aim [of social learning] is to engage thousands of people in productive discussions and the creation of shared projects, so together they share experience and build on their previous knowledge  — Innovating Pedagogy 2014, The Open University

Drivers of Social Learning

  • Advancements in technology have lowered barriers to learner connectivity
  • MOOCs uncovered a new demographic of learners—non-traditional students with a thirst for knowledge and learning
  • Dissemination of knowledge—learners can now access knowledge through networks rather than institutions
  • Companies seeking alternatives to traditional employee training and development leveraging social platforms and tools
  • Bring your own Device (BYOD) policies in education institutions

Developments in Social Learning

  • Features within Learning Management Platforms that facilitate social interactivity
  • Smart phone applications (apps) that support learning with and from peers and/or tutors, e.g. P2P Chat
  • Businesses using social media platforms for employee learning and development, e.g. Cisco introduces Project Squared a service delivered via an app or the Web that offers an online gathering place for getting work done.

3) Learning-on-the-Go
Mobile devices along with low barriers to connectivity and the choice of hundreds of new apps specific to education puts access to education in the hands of learners making learning-on-the-go a reality. Learning-on-the-go, also known as mobile learning or m-learning is also not new, yet recent advancements in network capabilities and applications makes learning exclusively from a mobile device a reality.

Mobile Learning
Ideas from Mobile Learning

Brandman University for example recently launched a competency based degree on a mobile platform where students have access to 30,000 pages of course material from a tablet or smart phone.  Other education institutions are following suit by making education accessible to students from their mobile device for un-tethered learning— students aren’t bound by a physical institution or even a desktop computer.  Numerous apps for mobile devices also support access to knowledge sources via video tutorials, lessons on topic-specific modules, or to access tutoring support, study resources etc.

Drivers of Learning-on-the-Go

  • Non-traditional students looking for flexible learning that fits their busy schedule
  • Low barriers to owning mobile devices
  • Higher quality applications and infrastructure systems that deliver user-friendly learning options

Developments in Learning-on-the-Go

  • Education institutions offering degree programs fully online with mobile friendly resources
  • Sophisticated applications available for mobile devices that provide quality education options
  • Apps that satisfy a variety of education needs including degree programs, developmental education programs, one-on-one tutoring, academic advising

Though we can’t predict exactly what will happen in 2015, we can make informed decisions and be strategic for the upcoming year. Nothing is certain in the future except change as the saying goes, yet being proactive rather than reactive will put educators in the best position for a successful and effective 2015.

Update: See my 2016 post: Three Trends that Will Influence Learning and Teaching in 2016


Mobile or not? How students watch Video Lectures

Mobile learning in education is a hot topic. What really is mobile learning? In the context of our college’s online program, ‘mobile learning’ means offering our prerecorded lecture videos to students in a mobile friendly format. Though I hesitate to call this mobile learning, I see this format as a way to allow our students to learn ‘anytime and anywhere’.

This week we are analyzing student feedback through the anonymous course surveys we collect at the end of each undergraduate [for credit] course within our online program. One area of focus for this sessions feedback is the prerecorded lecture videos. How do students watch the lectures, i.e. via a mobile device or streaming video? How effective are the lecture videos in delivering content?

Our plan for gathering this data was to determine how students watch the prerecorded video lectures we have for each of our general education classes, and how effective the videos are in delivering the course content (from the student’s perspective).

The purpose of gathering this data was to find out how our students interact with the content – in order that we can be more effective in reaching our students and delivering content that uses a meaningful and relevant medium.

In this post I’ll share what our analysis revealed with respect to our students viewing patterns and in a future post I’ll explore how effective the lecture videos are in communicating course content.

To put this data into context, the majority of our courses have prerecorded lectures, (filmed 3 to 4 years ago) which feature traditional face-to-face class room lectures that have been edited for sound, color contrast etc. Each video is approximately 45 minutes in length. Our more recent model for filming [within the last 2 years] uses shorter videos, 20 minutes on average, and features the lecturer speaking directly to the camera, not within a live class.

Options we offer students for watching
One of our goal’s for 2012 is to meet the needs of students seeking to learn ‘anytime and anywhere’ by offering more convenient lecture delivery formats. About one-third of our courses now provide the student with 4 options to choose from for watching the lectures, (described below), while the remaining courses offer 2 options (streaming and downloadable files).

The Feedback: This question was included in the end of course survey – “Please tell us the most common format you used to watch the video lectures for this course“. The options students could choose from are listed below. I’ve displayed the compiled responses after each, though we’ve included only the results from classes that had all 4 options available [n=48].

  1. I watched the lectures on a computer/laptop without downloading the lecture files. [students need a high-speed Internet connection]  –  48%
  2. I downloaded the lecture files, and then watched them on my computer/laptop. [once downloaded an Internet connection is not required] –  25%
  3. I watched the lectures on a smart phone/tablet device without downloading the lectures. [lectures can be viewed on a web-enabled iPhone or Android device]14.5 %
  4. I downloaded the lecture files, and then watched them on my smart phone/tablet device. – 12.5%

Student Comments: I’ve included a selection of student comments which were gathered from the open-ended question, “Comments about the video lectures (optional).” My own observations are in blue.

  • A lot of the video’s we couldn’t see their presentation and was a weird angle instead of just leaving the camera facing the center…” [quality is important, the critical aspect is a non-distracting setting. See  the article below by EDUCAUSE for helpful video recording tips].
  • Being able to make the lectures portable GREATLY helped me to get my work done with my schedule. Thank you so much for making things so much easier!”
  • The internet where I am for the summer is slow, making it slow for me to stream the videos. The ability to download the videos improved the experience greatly.” [one significant drawback to offering the streaming option only – the student’s bandwidth capabilities. This is the main reason for offering the downloadable format].
  • “The lectures were very brief and didn’t complement the readings that related to the quizzes very well. They seemed to cover random topics that weren’t followed up on. There were some good aspects of the lectures but overall seemed not very beneficial” [this comment illustrates the importance of a well designed course strategy, when the course is not following a cohesive instructional strategy, the course can appear disjointed which may fail to engage students].
  • “It was very helpful to see some notes during the lecture, so I could pose [pause] a minute and write them down.”

The mobile format has great potential for making learning more accessible for students. Though the majority of our online students use the streaming video via desktop/laptop, this format has limitations for students without access to high-speed Internet and adequate bandwidth, which drives the need to provide alternate delivery formats. Our goal is to provide options that will help students learn anytime and anywhere, and by offering these options, and obtaining feedback from students, we can determine what works and doesn’t work for students so we can provide relevant and viable delivery formats. Mobile is a viable choice which our college will continue to explore and research. In a future post I’ll address the effectiveness of video for delivering course content.

Cool and credible Web video: Old Rules, No Rules, or New Rules? EDUCAUSE. Peter J. Fadde and Patricia Sullivan

Read the follow-up post, Are Video Lectures effective in Online Courses