The Past, Present and Future of Instructional Technology
Sorel Reisman
JUN 12, 2014 01:02 AM
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This blog is a continuation of Parts 1 and 2 of the articles that I wrote that appeared in the April and June issues of Computer Magazine – "The Past, Present and Future of Instructional Technology."  It is also a derivation of the keynote address I made at the 2014 Didamatica Conference in April, 2014 in Naples Italy.

When I started talking and thinking about the evolution of instructional technology, I recognized that eLearning over the decades has been used by Fortune 500 companies; these companies have always seen eLearning as a practical way to train and reeducate their employees.  In fact, I think that it's likely that future developments in LMS evolution are likely to be driven by companies who will continue to seek cost effective ways to provide employee training.

While MOOCs have attracted a lot of attention to date, most of MOOC activity has focused on university or continuing education programs, -- but in some ways MOOCs are unsuitable for industry needs.  For example, so long as MOOCs or any university course for that matter is offered on a scheduled and synchronous basis they will not meet the needs of most employees.  That's because you have to take these courses at fixed and scheduled times during the week. While this kind of situation is customary for university courses, and it's OK for people who are retired and free to attend scheduled MOOCs, it's not so easy for employees to adjust their workday to attend such courses.  Because of this, many companies offer their employees self-paced eLearning courses that they can sign up to when they have free time.  Such offerings are often found in libraries of eLearning courses such as those developed by IEEE and the Computer Society, and that are available for their members.  

There are also companies such as SkillSoft that license libraries of courses to companies for employee training.  The IEEE Computer Society develops its own eLearning courses too, but it also subscribes to the SkillSoft courses – and provides all of these to CS members as part of Society membership.  So if you're not a member of the Computer Society, these courses are certainly worth the price of membership.  In fact, I pay the membership for my own technical staff who are required to take courses from this library every year, as part of their personal development program. 

While this is all fine, and these kinds of offering are convenient for employees who can take the time to sit in front of a computer and be taught about the subject that interests them, or the subject necessary to do their work, the LMSs that deliver the courses are the same old LMSs that I talked about earlier.  They are self-paced, but in fact they are only "adaptive" in the sense that a student can usually take as much or as little time as he wants to complete the course. The courses teach, but they aren't very concerned about whether or not the employee is learning.  So how can some of the emerging technologies that I mentioned earlier be more useful for employees in the future?

You might think that in the future, like now, an employee who needs training can set aside time to take courses, but in the future those courses would be administered by our wonderful LMS of the future.  But wouldn't it be better if our LMS of the future, which would be mining smart data from all over the Cloud-based world in real time, could provide the employee with on-the-job instruction or content that the employee needs when and even where he or she is doing their work or is confronted with a problem needing immediate attention?  A kind of just-in-time, online, eTeaching and eLearning experience.  The concept of JIT training isn't new; it's been talked about for years, and it suggests a very different paradigm from our traditional, supply-driven education system, to a demand-driven one.  Instead of instructors or course designers developing and delivering course content, either in traditional ways or via an LMS, -- in a JIT system,  --  information would be provided to the employee just when the employee needs it to solve a problem or complete some kind of task.

But to make this just-in-time scenario really effective, we will need to think beyond the standard laptop or tablet-based eLearning delivery device.  Another emerging technology that can make a difference in our eLearning scenario of the future is wearable computing. 

One way to think about how this might work is to consider an on-the-job employee who is outfitted with wearable computing devices as being similar to a "thing" that is part of the Internet of Things.  In the Internet of Things, the state of a "thing" is determined from sensors in the network, and as a result, the state of the "thing" may be altered by receiving data that alters its state. 

In an Internet of Things scenario applied to Just-in-Time eLearning, the thing would be the employee who has an immediate need for information to do a job.  Wearable sensors, perhaps embedded in the employee's company uniform could ascertain or sense the employee's state of mind, his state of alertness, his general emotional state, and of course his immediate need for information to complete a task.

The kinds of sensors that can do this kind of thing are not science fiction.  An example is a real product from a Kickstarter-funded company called Vigo, that tracks a user's blinking patterns and head movements, and in real time, evaluates the user's state of alertness.  And it only costs $119!

And of course there are lots of similar devices that can track a multitude of biometric functions that can transmit data to either local, mobile or remote devices.  But there's nothing to prevent these kinds of devices from transmitting biometric data, as part of a larger dataset generated in an eLearning session, to our Cloud-based LMS of the future.  And that LMS's decision-making algorithms could use all of those data to make real time decisions on its interaction with the employee or student who is that "thing" in the Internet of Things.

To do this, the LMS would mine Cloud-based semantic web data stores, ascertain what's needed right then and there for the employee to address his problem, and transmit the information to the employee who could immediately use that information to address the task at hand.   Kind of like a sensor-based, automatic, Google-search with customized information delivery necessary for the employee to solve his problem and do his job right then and there.  

So, to sum up, where are we now in all of this conjecturing about the future? We know that eLearning has been around for a long, long time.  We know that the learning theories that eLearning has been built on are still valid, even if they have been ignored by MOOC enthusiasts.  But we also know that MOOCs are not really the salvation for all or maybe even of any of educations woes.  Could it be that the integration of the technologies that I've described, including the wearable ones plugged into the Internet of Things will offer new and different kinds of learning scenarios in the future?

What do you think?  Let me know.


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