Pressure continues to increase on education budgets around the globe. Yet despite this fact, the education sector is continuing to increase its investment in technology related to learning. Ed tech funding jumped 55 percent in 2014 with no signs of slowing down, according to CB Insights. A report from Global Industry Analysts (GIA) predicts that the global e-learning market will reach $107 billion in 2015, propelled by technological advancements and demand for additional skills.
With that in mind, here are five top trends in ed tech to keep on your radar screen in 2015 and beyond:
Online corporate learning. The Clayton Christensen Institute predicts growing momentum for online corporate learning initiatives. Just how big will it get? Keeping in mind GIA's $107B estimate for this year, the corporate e-learning market is expected to increase about 13 percent annually until 2017, according to Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. This is because an increasing number of companies are realizing that there's great value in furthering their employees' knowledge in ways that are flexible, cost-effective, and tailored to each individual's needs.
In contrast to the academic Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that are still struggling to find the best path to a reliable revenue stream, businesses focused on corporate e-learning have found a business model that works--and works well. Online corporate learning allows employees in every industry and at any level to experience the power of customized training, 24/7, on any device. Unlike with classroom-based training, learners can train on their own time using customized formats. Everyone can move at their own pace, learning what they need to know and exploring their own interests. Though still a relatively young industry, corporate e-learning promises to deliver new models of teaching and a future of exciting breakthroughs.
Skills measurement. In conjunction with the building momentum in online corporate learning, expect to see intensified focus in 2015 on identifying better ways to assess skills and measure individual progress, competency-based learning, and ultimately ROI. The Clayton Christensen Institute notes that when we provide customizable education, it becomes important to ensure that modular learning experiences are blended together in a way that fosters cohesion. To do so requires efficient ways to measure and track student learning to guarantee smooth interchanges between each learning experience.
We've got this as a top priority at Pluralsight via our recent acquisition of Smarterer, which allows us to measure any skill set with as few as 10 questions in under two minutes based on an adaptive algorithm. This allows us to give learners an SAT-like score for any skill, which could provide the foundation for a new industry standard around skills measurement.Other online education companies have started experimenting in this area as well, including Udacity's Nanodegrees program and General Assembly's microcredentials. Any company that offers MOOCs needs to address better skills assessment if they want to survive.
Alternative learning styles. Gone are the days when students have to rely only on text-based--or even video-based--tutorials. While those are still effective, new types of learning styles will continue to emerge in 2015, offering online learners more interactive experiences like writing code directly in the browser, or completing online challenges as part of the learning process. Pluralsight had this trend in sight with our latest acquisition of Code School.
Code School offers a unique approach that relies on an alternative learning style that we believe is more fun, engaging, and effective than just plain videos. With Code School, users watch a short video, then stop and practice what they've learned through a series of interactive coding challenges and assessments--all in the browser--before continuing. As learners progress through the challenges, they earn points and badges, which guide each individual's progress and learning. There's also a mobile app so that users can watch and review videos on-the-go to complement the code challenges and online learning. This is the type of new, interactive learning style that you can expect to see much more of in the education segment.
Online competency-based training. While competency-based training approaches and online learning are nothing new, the blend of the two is creating a revolutionary approach to education. Michelle R. Weise and Clayton M. Christensen write that online competency-based education has "great disruptive potential" because it incorporates not only the right learning model, but the right technologies, customers, and business model. Weise and Christensen go on to explain that providers of online competency-based training "can cost-effectively combine modules of learning into pathways that are agile and adaptable to the changing labor market." They do so by breaking down learning not by courses or even subject matter, but by competencies, thus releasing learning from the constraints of traditional institutions and methods.
How can providers of these technologies create a diversity of stackable programs for a wide range of industries, scale them, and also keep costs down? By fusing modularization with assessments to effectively measure the competencies. Online competency-based learning opportunities--such as those offered by the online degree programs at Western Governors University and Southern New Hampshire University--help students through targeted learning outcomes, customized support, and portable skill sets that employers care about. Expect this trend to highlight the important role of employers to create a value network that helps students connect directly with potential job opportunities.
Flipped-learning tech. Information Week identifies technology for flipped learning as another key ed-tech trend in 2015. A flipped class is a form of blended learning where students watch video lectures outside of class to learn content online, and then do their homework in class with the guidance of teachers in person. This approach helps to engage students outside of the classroom as well as in it.
Harman Singh notes that designers of the online tools and video streaming that are central to this approach must prioritize optimizing them for interactivity. Look for next-generation cloud-based, mobile, and app solutions--with powerful analytics to measure student responses--to replace outdated learning management systems in 2015. Khan Academy is currently leading this type of disruption in the K-12 space.
As the education sector continues to embrace the power and promise of digital learning and the best that ed tech has to offer, I leave you with one caveat: no matter how exciting the new technology, the tool itself must always be secondary to the goal that the student, teacher, or administrator is trying to achieve or the problem they are trying to solve. As Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker point out in their book Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, the most successful designers of education technology will keep the end in mind, rather than pushing tech innovations for technology's own sake.