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Sinead Lawton, MSc Applied eLearning.

Module – Trends in eLearning, Weekly Reflections

Week 1

A myriad of factors drive trends in elearning in Higher Education such as changing

conceptualisations of its role, the increased marketisation of higher education, learner-centred
pedagogy and the pressure to cater for generation of digital natives. Many of these factors are
also true for work-based learning and continuous professional development (CPD). As
student expectations and requirements are changing, developments in technology that enable
new approaches to teaching, learning and assessment continue. Students are seeking flexible
learning opportunities, technology-rich environments and programmes that are skill based
and prepare them for the workforce. The opportunities afforded by technology and the impact
it can have on teaching and training practice must be carefully deliberated, however. Just
because we can use a new technology doesn’t always mean that we should. It will be
important to critically evaluate the efficacy of both new technologies and pedagogical
approaches over the course of this module to ensure that I am using the most appropriate
tools to positively impact on learner knowledge and understanding.

When considering trends in elearning, I will also need to reflect on the difference between
‘trends’ and ‘predictions’. Often those things widely predicted to be ‘the next big thing’ do
not turn out to be so as, in reality, they either do not meet the needs of the user (in this
instance, the educator or the learner) or do not offer the effective results that were
predicted. Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Technology in Education effectively illustrates this by
charting the rise, fall and plateau of trends in technology. The Hype Cycle for 2016 is shown

Sinead Lawton, MSc Applied eLearning. Module – Trends in eLearning, Weekly Reflections

To get an overview of emerging trends, this week I looked at the NMC Horizon report
(Adams Becker et al., 2017), which examines trends and technology developments that are
predicted to drive educational change in higher education institutions. One of the key trends
identified that will potentially impact on my professional practice is the concept of adaptive
learning technologies, which will become increasingly relevant as people face greater time
pressures. Supporting students to move through a learning path according to their individual
abilities has the potential to accelerate their performance, empower active learning and
increase learner confidence.

A particularly interesting challenge mentioned in the 2017 Horizon report is the integration of
formal and informal learning. The number of online learning resources available through
sources such as YouTube and increases daily and students are best placed to
decide themselves what is most relevant for their specific needs to enhance their skills,
maximise knowledge and access just-in-time performance support. The challenge for higher
education institutions and professional learning teams is to successfully integrate informal
learning into the curriculum while the challenge for learners is gaining recognition for
informal learning from employers.

It has been interesting also this week to look back at the updates on trends predicted in
previous Horizon reports and identify those issues tagged as upcoming trends that are now

Sinead Lawton, MSc Applied eLearning. Module – Trends in eLearning, Weekly Reflections

either mainstream, e.g. students as creators in 2014 (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada &
Freeman, 2014) and collaborative learning in 2012 (Johnson et al. 2013a), or are still being
discussed as trends for the future – blending formal and informal learning was first identified
as a trend back in 2013 (Johnson et al., 2013b).

Week 2

Having chosen learning analytics for my end of module presentation I was very interested in
this week’s class on the subject. However, I have come away with more questions than
answers after the session as we considered significant questions relating to the gathering of
data – What do we do with it? Do we need it? What are we looking for? This final question
seems to get to the heart of learning analytics – it is essential when thinking about learning
analytics to first be clear on what the questions we are trying to answer.

The benefits to both students and institutions of data collection and analysis, in terms of both
big data for institutional benefit and that analysed with a view to improve teaching and
learning, is readily acknowledged in the literature (National Forum for the Enhancement and
Learning in Higher Education, 2017a and 2017b; Sclater, Peasgood & Mullan, 2016; Slade
& Prinsloo, 2013). There are just as many challenges to consider, however. Ethical concerns
around consent and privacy of information are becoming increasingly significant as more and
more data is collected about each and every action a person takes, both on and offline. This
has led to two seemingly contradictory outcomes. On the one hand, with every App we
download on our phones first asking for permission to access our images, location and more,
individuals seem to have become more blasé about issues of data collection, clicking ‘agree’
with barely a glance. On the other hand, news about breaches of data protection is becoming
more and more prevalent and data protection guidelines are constantly under scrutiny.

Giving students the opportunity to be active agents in deciding what data they allow to be
used and how would seem to address a number of ethical concerns around learning analytics.
The Open University (2014), for example, has a useful set of Frequently Asked Questions for
students on the ethical use of student data for learning analytics while Welsh and Mckinny
(2015) have developed a set of governing principles and commitments around transparency
and informed consent in an effort to explicitly address the key features and practices of data

Sinead Lawton, MSc Applied eLearning. Module – Trends in eLearning, Weekly Reflections

collection, storage and use. However, with people being constantly asked for consent to
access data and the majority of people freely giving this consent, even to social media sites
they know stores and shares even the seemingly insignificant data, can we believe that
students will actively read all of the terms and conditions that apply and can this consent,
therefore, be truly deemed ‘informed’? As I consider how to use learning analytics effectively
in my own professional practice to improve educational content and pedagogical approaches,
I am increasingly aware of the obligation to follow best practice in the management of the

Week 3

This week we considered professional practices on social media and how we network with
others online. It is undeniable that using social media for professional practice can be
beneficial in many ways from building connections, networking and collaboration to
information sharing and sharing of practice. However, there are many reasons why we do not
make ourselves more visible online – concerns about being judged and criticised, about
others knowing more or having opinions that carry more weight, about misrepresenting
ourselves. In a world where the smallest grammatical error can leave us open to a flurry of
abuse, only the thick-skinned survive.

So, the question we must ask ourselves is, does it matter if we opt out of the social web or do
we need to participate in a multimodal culture? During class we considered ways to improve
our digital presence using the Four Steps to Improving your Online Presence by Goodier and
Czerniewicz (2014) (shown below) but it is important that, as discussed for learning
analytics, we first question ourselves as to what we hope to achieve. We also need to learn
how to be digitally responsible and consider our strategy around our online social practices.

Sinead Lawton, MSc Applied eLearning. Module – Trends in eLearning, Weekly Reflections

By following numerous people on Twitter related to my professional practice of education

and publishing, I frequently come across reports and research studies that I would otherwise
have missed and I use this platform as a tool for information and learning. Most of my own
Twitter posts, however, relate to professional activities or resources produced by the
organisation I work for so, in one sense, I am in just acting as a marketing tool for this
organisation. I also often feel under pressure to become a marketing tool for myself, carefully
cultivating a professional brand that I wish to present to the world. While this might raise my
profile, it can also mean that I am afraid to express views and opinions that don’t align with
the common viewpoint or don’t align with those of my professional organisation.

It is not only in our own use of social media that the boundaries of personal and professional
use are blurred. By introducing learning in a digital social environment with students,
learners can be encouraged to connect the subject matter with their everyday lives and have
“an opportunity to learn from peers, practice communicating about their knowledge, and
create learning communities” (Trowbridge, Waterbury & Sudbury, 2017, p.4). The mediums
offered by social media such as video, podcasts, games and simulations can allow students
different ways of learning than those found in traditional classroom activities. “Social
technologies can provide new opportunities to engage learners and many educators are
discovering impactful strategies for using them in face-to-face, blended and online
classrooms” (Seaman & Tinti-Kane, 2013, p.21). However, we first need to consider the
wishes of our students and respect these. There may be students in the class who do not want

Sinead Lawton, MSc Applied eLearning. Module – Trends in eLearning, Weekly Reflections

to engage with social media or at least want to keep a tight rein on their own social media
accounts and/or digital footprint, and might be resistant to carrying out the tasks assigned on
a public online platform. As educators we must consider, therefore, is it intrusive to ask our
students to introduce formal learning into their digital social spaces?

Having considered what can be gained by participating on digital social platforms in a real
way through networking, collaborations and sharing of information I do intend to increase my
online presence. The hope is that as I consciously do this, I will gain in confidence to express
my own opinions and enter the debate.

Week 4

Learning and development in the corporate sector has been growing in importance year on
year as the global economy began to recover, as seen in the Deloitte Human Capital Trends
Reports (Schwartz, Collins, Stockton, Wagner & Walsh, 2017). Employees need to
continually be learning news skills and, as a result, expect to have learning content available
to them at all times. Both professional employees and higher education students now demand
learning that is easy to access, relevant, downloadable and flexible, and that they have choice
in how, when and where they learn. The question must be asked then, is the role of the
educator now one of curation of learning material to address competencies required rather
than one of creating new educational content?

We considered adaptive learning technology this week and the potential it has to increase
persistence and achievement in education. Indeed, it has been promoted as a tool that has the
potential to transform higher education by improving the overall quality of the educational
experience. The 2016 NMC Horizon Report–Higher Education Edition, proclaimed that “the
increasing focus on customizing instruction to meet students’ unique needs is driving the
development of new technologies” (Johnson et al. 2016, p. 28) and predicted the adoption
time for adaptive learning to be one year or less. However, this has not proved to be the case.

One of the challenges for both corporations and higher education institutions is the huge
financial outlay that adaptive learning systems require to be put in place, not to mention the
draw on resources of academic staff and IT staff. For example, for corporate organisations,

Sinead Lawton, MSc Applied eLearning. Module – Trends in eLearning, Weekly Reflections

there are often numerous legacy IT systems in place that do not always talk to one another.
Furthermore, effective instructional design of adaptive learning modules is extremely
important to ensure that learners do not become confused or frustrated.

Adaptive learning does, however, have great potential for my own professional practice. The
diversity in experience among cohorts of learners on the early childhood care and education
courses I develop is vast, ranging from those who have just completed secondary education to
adult learners with years of experience in the field. By providing learners with immediate
assistance, resources specific to their learning needs that address gaps in knowledge, and
relevant feedback, technology-based adaptive learning systems can add value to their learning
experience by presenting information in understandable and engaging ways that are situated
in relevant and meaningful contexts personalised to the learner.

Improving students’ learning achievements may also lead to an increase in the student’s
belief in their own abilities, which should compound their eventual success. A lack of
confidence is particularly prevalent among the adult learners in my professional practice who
are often returning to education after a significant break, some of whom have had previous
negative experiences of formal education.

Early evaluations of adaptive learning systems have yielded positive results, leading to
students acquiring knowledge and problem-solving skills that are vital in a complex world
driven by digital resources and communication tools (Liu, McKelroy, Corliss & Carrigan,
2017) so this is definitely a trend to watch.

Week 5

For the final class we presented on our chosen elearning trends for peer feedback. This was a
great opportunity to both learn about the different trends that I haven’t yet had time to fully
examine and get fresh perspectives on those I have read about throughout this course. It was
also a chance to discuss the pros and cons of the software that my peers used for their
presentations and see the results.

Sinead Lawton, MSc Applied eLearning. Module – Trends in eLearning, Weekly Reflections

The software used to create the presentations included Powtoon, Videoscribe, Moovly and
Filmora. No matter what programme was used, however, we all experienced similar
challenges, for example, getting clear audio and syncing sound and visuals. I chose to use
Videoscribe as I had not used a whiteboard animation software before and welcomed the
chance to master a new tool. Although my initial progress was slow, I eventually found it to
be an intuitive and valuable tool and intend to use it to develop some short ‘learning to learn’
videos for internal training on my organisation’s LMS. There are some downsides to
Videoscribe, however. For example, as users can only upload one complete audio file I will
need to find another tool to edit the final audio before adding to my presentation. After
discussing with peers I intend to explore Audacity to solve this problem.

The presentations piqued my interest in some topics that I haven’t had a chance to fully
explore yet and hear new perspectives as well as facts and statistics about issues I have
already read about such as MOOCs. For example, while I was aware that the demographics
of online course (MOOC) analytics show that the great majority of learners are highly
qualified professionals, and not, as originally envisaged, the global community of
disadvantaged learners with no access to education, I wasn’t previously aware that there is a
2:1 ratio of males to females undertaking MOOCs. It was interesting also to have the chance
to discuss the benefits, for example for informal learning, and challenges such as the
difficulties in aligning MOOCs with formal learning. Other topics I knew a little about I
hadn’t previously considered in terms of how it impacts on educations, for example 3D

Several presentations made me question the ‘why’ of some trends, such as Artificial
Intelligence and the Internet of Things. We may have already determined the ‘what’ and the
‘how’ it will be produced and used but, as technology becomes more advanced, it is equally
important to stop and ask ourselves: Why are we creating this? Will people want to use it?
Just because we can create the technology doesn’t necessarily mean it serves a valid function.

Overall, this has been a great module to get me thinking about what is possible in elearning,
the potential of certain elearning trends and the impacts they might have on education,
including both benefits and challenges.

Sinead Lawton, MSc Applied eLearning. Module – Trends in eLearning, Weekly Reflections


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Gartner. (2016) Hype Cycle for Education,
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Sinead Lawton, MSc Applied eLearning. Module – Trends in eLearning, Weekly Reflections

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