Published on 2012/10/03

Online Learning Innovation: From the Shadows into the Spotlight

Online learning innovation is becoming increasingly mainstream, and higher education administrators must roll with the change or be left behind.

Online learning innovation. What was once happening around the back roads and experimental corners of the Internet is now coming out of the shadows full force into the spotlight. Open learning, flipped classrooms, mobile devices, gaming, and many other concepts are all over the news. What is the biggest benefit to these ideas?

As online educators, we can finally begin to realize the promise that online learning has flirted with but never quite fully achieved.

So called “anytime, anywhere” learning used to be confined to laptops and desktops. What’s more, you had to sign into a specific website to do any “learning”—and that was if you were one of the few in the world that could afford it.

But now learning is breaking out of these walled gardens. Courses and materials are becoming more accessible, both in terms of cost and location. Rather than just being pocket-sized portals to the same old content, mobile devices are being used by students to interact with the world in new ways. Flipped classrooms are giving students more time to work on actual skills with other students and instructors, instead of just listening to another lecture. Non-traditional students can now participate in courses that were once out of their reach due to time or schedule constraints.

Certainly, there are disadvantages to joining in with these changes. Some of these new ideas, such as mobile technology, cost money to develop. All of them are experimental and will likely take unexpected directions in the future. But the benefits of diversifying educational experiences, of adding valuable pedagogy and andragogy to your courses, and of pulling in more students that would otherwise not be interested in your organization will far outweigh the disadvantages.

Here’s the great thing—none of these ideas work for every situation. You can’t force every course and topic into the same emerging paradigm. You have to experiment, breathe, get a little crazy and messy, and see what works. Sure, there are forces that are trying to clamp down on these ideas and make them controllable (and sterile). They will try, but Pandora’s Box has been opened and online learning will never look the same.

So, will you release the future or try to keep it at bay?

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Readers Comments

Natasha Rubin 2012/10/03 at 9:58 am

This kind of unbridled enthusiasm for any and every new technology that might come into play in online education is irresponsible and potentially disastrous.

Granted, the optimism expressed here is warranted. There are many exciting new innovations happening in the online classroom—increased accessibility and “flipped classroom” techniques among the most important mentioned here—but the need for prudence and control is clear. To control is not to quash an idea (or render it “sterile”, as the author so dramatically put it), but to ensure that it is useable and effective. We have all seen the overeager and misguided use of a new technology, just for the sake of it. “New” doesn’t always mean “improved. Though there is enormous potential in them, advances in technology are not necessarily advances in learning techniques.

    Matt Crosslin 2012/10/03 at 11:42 am

    Hello Natasha. I agree with you – unbridled enthusiasm for any and everything is very dangerous. That is why I definitely stayed away from saying that and only spoke of innovative ideas that show promise. When speaking of forces that control and make things sterile, that is more of a references to different companies that are trying to control these ideas so that they can make money. Please note the words that I used – “none of these ideas work for every situation.” That is hardly a ringing endorsement for “overeager and misguided use of a new technology.” But few people out there are rarely wanting to try ANY of this. There is a lot of fear surrounding new ideas. And any time you bring them up, you immediately get accused of “overeager and misguided use of a new technology” just because it is new. That only adds to the fear.

    Chuck Schwartz 2012/10/03 at 2:52 pm

    Natasha, I couldn’t disagree more. Your intentions are good, but your attitude is not what the online learning community needs in this time of rapid growth and change.

    There is always going to be a “old guard” of those resistant to change, especially when it comes to new technologies, so don’t worry about their interests being represented. The side that really needs our support and momentum is the side of “unbridled enthusiasm”. Matt’s article was a breath of fresh air and his response really shows the caution that is built into the online learning movement. I say, bring it on. Let’s get crazy and messy with online education.

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