Lessons Learned from Three Recent Ed Tech Trends

Remember when MOOCs were the wave of the future? What about setting up a classroom or campus on Second Life? Perhaps, you made a huge investment in gamification? The reality is that like all other aspects of education, trends come and go in online learning. That’s why knowing when to buy in and to what extent is important. But first, a short history of predictions, outcomes and lessons learned.

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Second Life

In 2007, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported, “Chances are you have at least second-hand knowledge about Second Life, a virtual-reality world created by Linden Lab, in which avatars (digital characters) lease “islands” for real-life purposes — to sell products, conduct classes, do research, hold conferences, and even recruit for admissions.” Only three years later, the Chronicle reported, “The virtual world has not lived up to the hype that peaked in 2007, when just about every day brought a new announcement from a college entering Second Life. Today, disenchanted with commercial virtual worlds but still convinced of their educational value, a few colleges have started to build their own, where they have more control.” In 2016, in a retrospective on Second Life, the Chronicle reflected, “Do  you remember Second Life? Ten years ago, it was one of the hottest tech buzzwords.”

Lesson learned: Second Life was a cool place for computer geeks to hang out and teach classes as they crossdressed as falcons and lizards, but let’s face it, it was conceptually challenging for anyone not interested in immersive gaming environments. In addition, a lot of corners of Second Life were hardly the sort of corners anyone wants or needs on a university campus. What did we learn? While mixing play and education may sometimes be appropriate, don’t expect it to be widely embraced, especially if it takes a conceptual leap to join.

MOOCs

In 2012, the Chronicle of Higher Education announced the MOOC arrival as follows: “Advocates of MOOCs have big ambitions, and that makes some college leaders nervous. They’re especially worried about having to compete with free courses from some of the world’s most exclusive universities. Of course, we still don’t know how much the courses will change the education landscape, and there are plenty of skeptics.” Did MOOCs have the staying power predicted? Last week, Udacity, once a leader in MOOCs, announced that MOOCs are dead. But are they? In fact, MOOCs continue to flourish in many context, albeit perhaps not as once predicted. The real problem may be Udacity’s failure to monetize its product.

Lesson learned: Don’t believe all the hype. MOOCs have transformed education but perhaps, not on the scale once anticipated. Indeed, this may simply be the case of a new model of education taking off too quickly (before anyone had a chance to establish best practices). Now some companies and subscribers are paying the price.

Key Take Aways from recent Ed Tech Trends

  • New is Not Always Better: Books remains a great learning tool in some context. On the flip side, many new trends in education and training will likely prove short-lived. Don’t be seduced by every latest trend and remember blended learning is also a great option.
  • Let Other People Pilot New Products:  Depending on the size of your organization, investing in new technologies for training early on may or may not be in your best interest. Over time, best practices develop and the cost of the technologies comes down. While there is much to be gained from jumping on board at the onset, the start up cost for hardware and software is typically a cost that only large organizations (e.g., tier-one research universities or large technology companies) can afford to absorb.
  • Find the Right Tool for Your Organization: A final and important consideration is that not every new trend in technology will meet every education and training need. Be selective and choose the tools that are best for your organization.
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