Published on 2013/03/25

Technologies That Will Revolutionize Online Learning

Technologies that will Revolutionize Online Learning
Colleges and universities can improve across the board in 10 years’ time by taking advantage of cloud technologies that are emerging on the market today.

I am really excited about the rapid growth of new technologies and the open source movement. They permit us to overcome budget and time constraints that, in the past, made offering the level of richness and interactivity enabled by these tools impossible. New technology has the potential to radically change postsecondary classrooms 10 years from now — but only if educators use their imagination, step out of their comfort zone and take a risk today.

Sadly, change in education comes slowly. Today’s students are calling for greater flexibility and personalized learning paths. Using emerging technology to digitize handouts, PowerPoint presentations, tests and lectures and then uploading them into a learning management system is replicating the old paradigm of learning. In this model, students attend de-contextualized courses that are devoid of any real-world complexity. Technology is not about replicating a model that is no longer viable, but about facilitating new, better ways to do things. Being able to learn anywhere, anytime, rather than seat time, becomes the motivation for technology integration.

New technology and the exponential growth of information are creating alternative paths to learning. Credentialing routes such as prior learning assessments, badges, the College-Level Examination Program, Brainbench and others could soon make current higher education approaches less attractive and irrelevant to learners’ needs. Why incur debt to attend school when the return on investment is low relative to your needs and goals? Why not use one of a growing number of workplace-suitable alternatives?

Most knowledge is acquired informally from others, or from self-directed learning, rather than through courses. The world itself is a school full of infinite resources and experiences. Cloud services, augmented reality, big data, learning networks and discourse communities can facilitate learning in the workflow rather than as a single event at a particular place and time. In 10 years, there will be few reasons students and instructors need to share the same physical space, at the same time, in order to learn, interact, collaborate, create, give feedback and engage with experts. Ubiquitous mobile technologies will literally put that world into the hand of every student and teacher. To understand the power of these tools for changing education, we need to play and experiment. Here are two technologies you can try today:

Cloud Computing

We are on the cusp of cloud computing (or networked services) in the educational sphere. Cloud computing simply means documents and data are not physically stored on your own device. They are stored on servers that can be accessed by all of your devices and platforms (iPad, Android, laptop, desktop, etc.)

Apple’s iCloud Photo Stream allows instant image sharing to multiple devices and platforms. A nice feature for families and educators is the ability to add comments and have a private discussion around any image — with no additional effort or cost. To get started, simply activate iCloud on all of your Apple devices and tick the box for shared photo streams.

Blogs encourage learners to reflect, communicate, write and critically analyze information while building a resource for others to follow. WordPress is a fantastic tool; however, its use has proved to be somewhat intimidating for many teachers. Less intimidating is another cloud application called Evernote.

Evernote provides access to all of your documents from many different devices. Its uses are limited only by your imagination! As a class resource, it is an example of how new technology can make the development of a class blog as easy as creating an email address. Any teacher or student given the unique Evernote email address can email items directly to the shared “blog.”

With cloud applications such as Evernote, we can build in conversations, connectivity and collaboration, and create a real sense of community in our courses. Notebooks can be shared between users, offered as RSS feeds and remain available forever. All students can contribute expertise, reflections, links, images, webpages, documents, media and files to shared Evernote spaces. All posts, images and documents can be shared, searched and tagged. More importantly, student participation can continue long after graduation. Imagine starting a course and having access to professional minds and different points of view from all of those who went before you and who are now in the workplace.

Evernote is just the beginning. In 10 years, schools will regularly use cloud applications to facilitate learning beyond the classroom. Get started with the cloud by trying Evernote, which is free. After a simple sign-up, you will be ready to start your own class blog today.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR) adds a digital layer on top of real-world objects. It can be used by instructors to provide additional information about what the student is seeing and facilitate situation-based problem solving. In 10 years AR will routinely be used to enhance digital books and magazines. Currently, magazines, textbooks and schools are experimenting with AR, and you can too.

An easy-to-use (and free) application called Aurasma makes it simple to add a 3D heart to your anatomy images, include a video message on your student information letter, add hidden clues to a mock crime/hospital scene, add context-specific instructional information to a power tool and otherwise bring in-class learning guides to life. See it in use and then create your own Auras and experience firsthand what it can do for learning.


Information growth and change are happening faster than traditional methods of instruction can keep up with. We have no idea what jobs we are preparing our students to do or what tools they will use to do that work 10 years from now. However, by understanding the factors that characterize and motivate learning, and using new technologies to incorporate some of those factors into course design and development, colleges may be able to stay relevant, increase retention rates, reduce failure and meet students’ demands for greater flexibility and personalized learning paths.

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Readers Comments

Bill Wright 2013/03/25 at 9:38 am

The technologies you discuss sound very promising. I would like some more information on how they have been applied in the classroom and what effect they have had. I’m having trouble picturing how to design a course with an online component that takes advantage of a program such as Evernote. Any advice on how to maximize its potential, or what to avoid?

    Frank Gowen 2013/03/26 at 3:09 am

    Perhaps I can be of some help. I discovered Evernote about a year ago and introduced it in one of my courses for the first time this year. (And in case you think I’m some sort of ‘tech wiz,’ I should note that I’m in my 24th year of teaching and that my 20-year-old daughter introduced me to Evernote.)

    I think of Evernote as a scrapbook, where students can post pictures, documents or web content that is related to the course and share this with their peers. For example, if one of them sees a newspaper article about a topic we’ve discussed in class as he or she is surfing the internet, the student might post an excerpt from it on Evernote. It is similar to sharing on social media platforms, but instead of posting the article to Facebook, my student is posting to a shared platform that’s dedicated to my course. What I appreciate about this is that it encourages my students to always be thinking about my course as they’re using the internet in their daily lives.

    This article does a great job of highlighting user-friendly software that even the most technologically-challenged among us could pick up.

Jill Campbell 2013/04/01 at 12:10 pm

Bill and Frank thank you for taking the time to read my article leave your thoughtful comments.

As Frank mentioned Evernote can be great as a class scrapbook, or for a brainstorming session. There are many uses of Evernote but another idea that is easy to try – use it as assessment *for* learning -rather than assessment *of* learning. Here is how it might work.

Keep your grading rubric in Evernote. Before a student starts their presentation, copy the rubric into a new note. During their presentation complete the rubric and add encouraging and guiding comments. These can be text, audio (brief recording of their voice during the presentation to illustrate a point), or an image (a snapshot taken during the presentation to show body language) -whatever is most helpful for learning.

When the presentation is over do a quick scan for typos and then email their assessment to them. It will be available as soon as they sit back down!

The immediate feedback of this approach facilitates greater learning since their performance is still fresh in their mind. Plus not only will your feedback be of higher quality, it will save you time that you would normally spend grading later!

What way do others use Evernote in the classroom?

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