The Future of Online Learning

Stephen Downes (2008 ) in his posting, The Future of Online Learning: Ten Years On, recounts the changes in the speed of technology and its processing and storage capacity. As well, technology is more customizable by users. He also stated, “computer programs of the future will be function based, that they will address specific needs, launching and manipulating task based applications on an as needed basis”. He gives an example of a student opening a course that then opens the needed software applications.  

Though technology is evolving people will still use familiar tools and only adopt new ones if it saves time or increases productivity. Designers need to consider this and that technology should be invisible. As well, more is needed to learn than just presenting content. Also text is supplemented with audio and video content, and conversations become more synchronized through web conferencing systems and blogs for example.

Also needed is dialogue, which can be supported by online conferencing, and needed not only to advance knowledge but also to develop skills in communicating with technologies. More so, communities are more robust that effectively maintain their own communication versus being controlled.

Other changes needed to improve higher education in light of new technological changes and ways to communicate and learn:

  • Rethink the notions of cohort and introduce networks to organize learners as a middle ground between groups and individuals
  • Base learning on student needs
  • Consider the loose structure of informal learning where people pursue their own objectives through dialogue with others
  • Consider personal learning environment (PLE) that present learners with resources of their interest, aptitude and educational level
  • Rethink time and scheduled classes and credits calculated by class hours to allow more self-pacing
  • The place of education should not be tied to a delivery system online but include learning activities for mobile technology and outside the classroom in the community
  • Enable versus build communities with tools: Communities of practice via the Internet based on topics of interest; peer-based communities for friends to connect; learning communities grown with diverse members
  • The university degree has weight and will remain; however, it might be best “to recognize educational achievement from a wide range of providers, including testing agencies, as constituting part, or even all, of the degree”
  • Copyright laws and digital rights management inhibit the creation of innovation making non-encumbered products and services more attractive
  • Use a variety of tools for asynchronous and synchronous communication, creating content, collaboration, using audio and video, and that is portable versus one stationary learning platforms
  • Determine the cost and benefits of online learning by considering the expenses but also the reuse of content and resources and increased economies of scale


The new model for education is “where education is practiced in the community as a whole, by individuals studying personal curricula at their own pace, guided and assisted by community facilitators, online instructors and experts around the world.”

  • edmusings September 20, 2010, 7:26 am

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