Online learning may have existed prior to the global 2019 pandemic, but its use will continue long after a sense of normalcy has returned. The Fifth Industrial Revolution - one which would be spurred by automation and mass digitization - was already on the horizon; the need for remote interaction caused by the pandemic only accelerated our digital progression.
The last almost-two-years has seen online learning rise to an all-time high and instructional designers are in great demand.The additional attention has it’s advantages. We are beginning to see innovations in the virtual learning design and online learning platforms look set to remain part of our lives as a part of our learning process daily.
Developing Soft Skills Using Online Learning
Three major trends are poised to define a successful new year of teaching and learning: soft skills development, the use of AI (artificial intelligence) technology, and connectivism.
Gashimov & Pestova confirm that ‘soft skills’ are crucial for the successful implementation of effective online learning and education. These are skills that support the learners in operationalising what they have learnt. These will continue to dominate the horizon, with the need exacerbated by organisational volatility and the leadership crisis.
According to Tsey et al., ‘hard skills’ i.e. industry or role-dependent skills, utilised by workers or learners in their specific, individual courses remain critical, which is no surprise.
The authors use the examples of “intuition, creativity, passion, responsibility and kindness, courage, and self-awareness” as soft skills which are needed to maximise an individual’s professional, academic or social learning experience. This list can be expanded to include general problem solving skills and overall confidence when it comes to learning and applying newly learnt skills. Online learning and training programs must therefore take caution to not become transfixed on the communication of ‘hard’, measurable skills in isolation. The interpersonal bridge to application is critical.
The online learning experience should be tailored to being a holistic experience: one which is not solely concerned with their learner’s academic performance, but also their holistic growth as a human being who must one day apply their ‘hard skills’ in the real world. Online learning currently excels at fostering ‘hard skills’ - learning trends of the future will revolve around how effectively an online learning platform is able to support the ‘soft skills’ which are traditionally communicated during real-time interpersonal interaction.
The Expanding Role of AI Development in Online Learning
Artificial intelligence (AI) technology has been a hallmark of science fiction for decades. Thankfully, the depiction of AI systems in popular media tends to overplay certain aspects of how this technology could negatively impact society. As the future surely arrives, AI will play a much larger role in several aspects of our lives, ranging from education to web development and employee training trends.
AI research and development have allowed for its integration into corporate training and online coaching. When many people think of AI, they picture an artificial system which is sentient and eventually self-serving. While we may not yet have reached that point of technological advancement, such a strong AI is not required to reinforce the online learning experience.
Narrow AI application would be sufficient in supplying learning resources which are, on the whole, unavailable to most remote learners. Rather than imagining a supremely intelligent machine, online learning practitioners and coaches can envisage using even rudimentary AI processes to fill in some of the gaps left by a lack of face-to-face, synchronous interaction.
Hobson and Shea point to the example of a chatbot which was used to answer students’ online questions. A chatbot is a piece of AI software which can identify common phrases or questions and issue an automated reply from a bank of pre-programmed answers or suggestions.
Gashimov & Pestova further expound on how AI benefits online learning, without needing a self-aware operating system or a neural network capable of transferring big data problems at lightspeed. Instead, the authors agree that the future of AI in learning will be judged by the efficiency of intelligent tutoring systems and virtual learning environments. To this, myQuest implements a system of Smart Automated Communication - automated messages and push messages based on student progress allow for experiences which are close to 1-on-1 interaction in a virtual schooling environment.
Using the same basic principle which underlie chatbots, these methods of utilising AI would see computer programmes take on some of the more time consuming coaching tasks which could easily be automated. In this vein, myQuest’s signature ‘AFT’ model and corresponding app automate aspects of the learning process to encourage the development of positive habits. Through Action, Feedback, and Triggers, the ‘AFT’ model takes the online learning experience to the next level through a seamless interaction of useful AI tools.
Connectivism in an Online Learning World
Zuhadi and Dobson propose that ‘connectivism’ will define the post-COVID era of online learning. ‘Connectivism’ refers to efforts made by the instructor to engage the learner on several fronts using different technological mediums, thereby creating an interactive network which the learner can easily access.
‘Connectivism’ is a layered take on online learning, with each strata addressing the various needs of the student which may arise at times when a human instructor is not present. Crucially, ‘connectivism’ will establish the all-important engagement of the learner which is easily lost in more linear online approaches.
In its present form, despite screaming “engagement”, online learning strategies frequently lead to a culture of passive learning. It is all too easy for students in an online learning environment to become detached passengers on the learning experience, instead of becoming absorbed and making the learning their own.
For this reason, Zuhadi and Dobson propose that the online learning trends of the future should question how to adapt to a new paradigm of learning, rather than attempting to transpose learning techniques of the past onto the shifting needs of the future. ‘Connectivism’ in the online learning space seeks to use every available technological tool to improve the learning experience.
Online Learning in 2022 and Beyond
The Fifth Industrial Revolution looms and the need for training and education to keep up with the skills and knowledge demand will accelerate. The flexibility online learning has shown during the global pandemic is a strong indicator that the lessons learned in the last two years are simply the beginning of a new age of learning theory and the application of new constructivist thinking in online learning.
As technology improves and AI software becomes more accessible, the world of learning will transform further. 2022 is therefore the perfect year to begin embracing this inevitable future, one which will require a renewed focus on soft skills development and connectivism in learning. myQuest can enable this journey and allows you to provide a state of the art experience for your learners. It's worth investing in an online platform like this that does the tech for you, so you can stay ahead of the curve.
Written by Kirsten Garbini