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Symbiosis: The New Paradigm in Online Education and Training

The EvoLLLution | Symbiosis: The New Paradigm in Online Education and Training
Transformation and growth in online learning and training is no longer being driven by new technology launches and the promise of possibility. Instead, the focus is on fit within a larger strategic offering and tweaking to ensure effectiveness.

“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” ~ W. Edwards Deming

In the quote above, Deming could have been speaking directly to the online learning community. The most striking changes seem to be the blending of assessment technologies with learning, making the structure of some online classes very similar to training courses designed for professional development. Outcomes have again become mainstream and online learning is increasingly being tied to productivity and performance. Of course the elephant in the room is government compliance. Gainful employment and state authorization took up funds and planning over the past few years.

This changed the focus for online education, since monitoring virtual populations and measuring performance and productivity took on new meaning. A new presidential administration means a new focus, early signs suggest completion, innovation and employment outcomes will be the focus, which suggests we could see a blending of online training and education programs.

Reflecting back on that Deming quote again, we find that what Deming was really suggesting is a necessary dynamic in organizations that provides the basis for sustainability. We could reframe Deming by saying continuous learning/training is a critical part of organizational survival. Continuous improvement, although process focused, is also about learning, innovation and creation (creating, after all, is a type of learning).

A cursory scan of the news makes clear that college closures—unheard of in the past—are now becoming relatively common. Colleges that fail to change cease to exist, as do training organizations that resist change. Of course, compliance issues closed ITT, Corinthian and other for-profits, but it has not just been for-profit schools closing. Colleges and universities across the United States have closed for a variety of reasons, including fear of additional compliance requirements, inability to meet the demands of a changing student demographic and/or inability to improve operational effectiveness or efficiency.

To innovate, learning is needed. To improve productivity, training is needed. To design training and learning, feedback on learning and process is needed. What we find is a circle of related events. Learning, training and innovating all become less distinguishable. In some circles, we call this double loop learning, while in others this model is not easily codified.

Online learning was predicated on using technology to mediate education and training—to bridge gaps caused by location or lack of resources. But the most striking changes in online learning and training are, at this point, not so much driven by the introduction of new technologies as the improvement of existing technology. Consider conference systems: at one time we were amazed with what we could do with Adobe Connect and never really paid much mind to the issues. Now we judge web conferencing by service, quality of connection and cost—the simple “possibility” is no longer enough.

Creating predictive learning maps to adjust for learners’ abilities to grasp new knowledge based on an individual skill set—rather than building learning for the masses—is what we call adaptive learning. We no longer debate the benefits. Rather we evaluate how this can become more effective.

Online learning increased the need for instructional designers with knowledge in using technology to build more effective assessments, creating performance-based learning objectives and understanding what constitutes an effective learning experience. Rubrics have always been a useful tool, automating rubrics to grade assignments upon submission provides immediate feedback to students, the usefulness based on the quality of the rubric design. Online learning has become a production process, regardless of design method, the design of instruction for online has definitive timelines and deliverables, instruction becomes facilitation and assessment is planned as part of the design. Alignment is crucial to designing an effective online class.

New online learning technologies focus on learning object repositories, which curate content for measurable and more effective delivery. We no longer need to discuss whether a video conference would be possible, but instead our discussions explore whether it fits with an effective learning design. We look at the effectiveness of a learning object and how the content is curated with those learning objects, do they need updated, is there an advanced way of presenting.

We are seeing more fluidity in LMS design. Canvas and LoudCloud provide course room designs that are fluid and transition logically building a seamless learning experience for students. A new trend in learning technology is the attention and the ability to add a design factor to all things: the LMS, assessment, presentation, content, conference, assignment, delivery and predictive analytics. There is little distinguishable difference in a LMS for training or what we have commonly used for education. Training has gained from education the advances in LMS design, education has gained from training the usefulness of effectively measuring learning against well designed outcomes.

Technology should never drive education. Technology is a means of delivery, a tool for measuring, and an enhancement to content and provides endless opportunities for connecting to available resources anywhere in the world. The new trends show that regardless of how electronic or digital we have become, as people, we still want to connect to people, we need a personal connection. Technology, whether streaming, chatting, Instagramming, social media of any variety, LMS’s features like WikiPages, journals, and the like are all trying to get to that personal connection.

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