Tuesday, January 06, 2009

2009 - the year of consumer e-learning

We should all be aware by now that making any attempt to predict the future is a fruitless task, if our goals are to accurately anticipate what's going to happen. If, on the other hand, the goal is to have something somewhat amusing to look back upon and produce a wry smile 12 months from now, then I'm all for predictions. So here is my contribution to the Learning Circuits Big Question for January.

In fact, I'm going to make just one, as I believe it ties together a number of threads that other commentators have already: 2009 will see a rise in consumer e-learning.

The focus in the e-learning industry tends to be either academic applications or use in the corporate sphere - take for example the UK industry awards that are almost exclusively pitched at corporate development.

Part of the problem is the invisibility of the industry to outsiders. In the June 2008 edition of e.learning age I wrote about a company based out of Japan that have developed a really good model of language learning based around podcasting, and enthusiatically taken up by a global audience of linguaphiles. A great example of a web business, it is built around a large amount of free content - the podcasts - and a range of paid-for services that extend the usefulness of the audio. When I spoke to the head of the company, Peter Galante, and suggested that what they had developed, actually based upon a customized Wordpress blog, was a sophisticated LMS, he shrugged, not understanding the term. He was, however, keen to see how he could pitch his system to corporations as a great way of improving internal communication and learning.

Such examples are not rare. Wikipedia may just be another useful fall back story for no news days - 'Wikipedia full of lies' being the general tone - but for many of us the idea of a welcomed and fully supported wiki on the company intranet, making the most of peer-to-peer, bottom-up learning is all to often a dream. Yet Wikipedia is precisely the place that a majority of web-users now start any quest for new knowledge.

It's hardly a revelation that the likes of the Nintendo DS have opened channels to users that have previously been off-limits to technology, but with mobile telecoms finally reaching the point where we have very powerful - and crucially usable - computers literally in the palm of our hands, the reality of being able to fit e-learning around our daily lives gets ever closer. With always on 'net connectivity ('living in the cloud') meaning we aren't even reliant on having to synch devices - everything is always connected to online repositories - such technologies take a step closer to transcending that very label and just becoming 'stuff' around us. Indeed, for most of the people who read this post, and most likely their children, that's already happened, but the next step is to take our cousins, parents, aunties and even grandparents with us.

So why will this take off this year? Precisely because there is this confluence of themes that others have been supporting and engaging with - mobile technology, cloud computing, ever easier to use devices, openness to gaming - coinciding with the ongoing spate of "unpredictable moments of opportunity" that is the net result of global turmoil that will be the steady background hum for 2009. With so many people likely to need to increase their individual competitiveness in the coming year, we'll all be looking for ways to get or maintain that edge. e-Learning may have its moment to shine.
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