Ten Trends 2012


Virtual Learning

“Education is a fundamental human right and essential for the exercise of all other human rights” (UNESCO, Education)

Something exciting is happening in the world of learning. Experiences that were restricted to a timeslot on a timetable, to four walls of a classroom or lecture hall, or simply too expensive to achieve, can now happen more easily, more regularly, and more flexibly. It won’t have escaped your notice that the world of virtual learning is on the rise. Like all paradigm shifts, it brings challenges and steep curves, but the learning opportunities for us all, even for whole geographical areas previously cut off from such opportunities, should make us all sit up, take notice and start planning.

What is virtual learning?

If you are accessing learning experiences, courses, resources and activities, asynchronously or in real-time, using online technologies, then you are learning virtually. It ranges from formalized, academic online courses for qualifications, to informal education for your own interest. Increasingly, the lines are blurring between formal and informal, academic courses and open resources. Here’s a glimpse of the global picture:

…while, here in New Zealand and Australia, we have:

  • the Ministry’s Virtual Learning Network that brokers courses for schools to extend the range of learning areas on offer.
  • the VLN Groups and other blended online communities offering informal professional learning
  • Virtual field trips with LEARNZ

What is clear is that virtual learning now provides access to education for many who, in the past, would have been too isolated, too deprived, or too disenfranchised to benefit.

What’s driving the rise in virtual learning?

There are several, largely technological, drivers behind the rise of virtual learning:

  • the access to ‘web 2.0’, easily-manipulated, user-driven software, that allows anyone to create, share, create and consume content;
  • increased access to online technologies through cheaper tools, such as mobile phones
  • wider access to broadband, and improved connectivity

In addition, the economic downturn, and an increasing demand for personalised, flexible experiences, are also credited as spurring on the demand for virtual learning.

So, what’s the impact?

Schools and colleges are embracing the educational benefits of having shared, online learning environments:

And, increasingly, motivated learners are seizing the opportunities offered by social media to build personal learning networks, share different perspectives, and open the doors to their classrooms.

What should I be thinking about?

With increased flexibility, demand for personalised learning, and improved access, we might now ask ourselves how we can:

  • blend online and face-to-face learning activities so our learners can personalise their own pathways?
  • be knowledge creators but also knowledge curators, aggregating and leveraging existing digital resources?
  • develop what we know about online education so we can design effective learning?

Dig deeper?

What are your views?