I answered this question, What is the newest innovation in online learning? on Quora.
The actual biggest innovation in online learning isn’t an innovation, it’s the ACCEPTANCE of online learning. Any numbers of studies have been published that show online learning can be as effective as in the classroom, and hybrid classroom/online models can be more powerful than just the classroom. The unimpressive reality is that much of what is called “online learning” is just a course delivered online through a relatively mundane Learning Management System (ala Blackboard, eCollege.) It’s taken so long for this to be accepted, that this acceptance is the primary driver in the market of innovation right now.
There’s one other preface – the INTERNET is the innovation that matters, no matter the product or content. It gets information and capabilities into the hands of people. We’re all just waiting around for the right products to come along to make it easier than reading the entire Internet.
So, let’s take for granted an ACCEPTANCE of online learning, and that with the Internet nearly anything is possible. There’s a number of really amazing things that are happening:
There are a handful of companies, the most hyped being 2tor, that are taking schools online and doing all the marketing and program development, providing the software and the human resources, and taking an enormous margin off the top. The biggest online k12 school is Florida Virtual, but it’s a state run school.
- Networks of peer-to-peer learning. My favorite example is the kids on YouTube teaching each other music and songs, and the little cooking shows on YouTube have helped me bigtime. In terms of products, Skillshare just jumped in and is making some noise (on top of EduFire and TeachStreet having moderate success on a similar concept.)
- Supplementary materials and tools, some of them crowd-sourced. Having trouble learning something, don’t worry! There’s help in abundance. From on demand tutors (TutorCloud), to resources provided by students for free (Quizlet), to paid notes and answers taken by the smarter kids in the class (Cramster and Notehall are being integrated into Chegg.) Having trouble knowing which college to go to? Acceptly to the rescue, or need help choosing courses? MyEDU is there for you. There are so many of these it’s impossible to keep up.
- Products that emphasize relationships and sharing. Our Schools App (by Inigral) is an example of a product exclusively focused on this aspect (we avoid learning altogether now), but Instructure and GoingOn are just rethought LMS type things. MentorMob and StudentMentor are just tools to meet people to help you, they’re not trying to teach you anything.
It’s not just about the content, it’s about the relationships.
Adaptive learning engines are intelligent programs that start to understand what you know and don’t know, what types of content and modalities (look it up) you respond to. They serve content that’s more and more specific to you, building on what you know and repeating what you have trouble with. I honestly have yet to see a really good one, but it’s in the zeitgeist and all the publishers are taking their shot building one. Hearsay puts Grockit and Knewton in the battle royale, with my preference for Grockit for their approach to Massively Multiplayer Online Social Learning Games or whatever they call it. Our investor, Founders Fund, backed Knewton, suggesting there’s something there that’s about to blow up.
Interactive Content and Textbooks
Kno and Inkling have the early lead, but the idea of the textbook is dead already, even though there’s still $14 Billion in textbook purchases. Textbooks will not be textbooks, videos will not be videos, lectures will not be lectures. It will all be learning content (or objects), and it will all be interactive and multimedia. It will blow your mind and make you wonder how the hell you ever sat down and read a course reader and think your kids are getting spoonfed learning fruity pebbles instead of the dull pine bark we had to chew when we were growing up.
Some learning platforms now actually try to optimize for the way your brain learns. It’s not just content adapting to your style, it’s actually chunked and formatted to increase the probability of understanding and retention. My favorites here are Memrise and LiveMocha, with LiveMocha being focused on foreign language learning (and really just iterating off the work of RosettaStone).
All education technology products are increasingly being gamified a little to a lot. uBoost is a company that gamifies the process of school altogether, and Creative Commons just released open source badges. Expect more silly points and badges and contests, everywhere.
Massively Open Online Courses
Superprofessors are the way of the future, and so are their big, hairy, online courses. The intro to Artificial Intelligence course at Stanford has been put online, and over a hundred thousand people registered and over 30 thousand turned in the first assignment. Ummm… What? No one knows what to do with this, but there’s a there there. A big there.
Supporting Schools and Teachers
There are all sorts of tools emerging that support school as we know it. MasteryConnect, ClassDojo, Goalbook, Engrade, and Learnboost are all doing great things in K12. Coursekit and Piazzza just launched for HigherEd. Logrado helps college counselors and academic advisors communicate with their constituents. There are so many of these your head will spin.
Alternatives to the idea of School as we know it.
Things like Western Governors University and UniversityNow! are popping up as degree granting online programs, and they are presenting the idea that you don’t need to go to school at all. As a matter of fact, all those silly buildings and professors and courses are just things that have inflated the price. University of the People and P2P University are pushing here, but not to the success we would hope. And the idea of UnCollege, catching on like an Occupy movement, is that you don’t even need to be enrolled into a degree program, you can just do everything DIY. If everyone has a degree than the degree itself becomes meaningless, and there aren’t any jobs waiting for you anyway so you might as well go make your future yourself (with all these cool online learning tools) instead of sit back and party for $25K a year.
Standard Online Degree Programs
(Note, I purposefully avoided big online brands of school. It’s because other than circumventing the cost model of going to school, I don’t think they do anything all that innovative except for process financial aid. They still underpay adjunct professors and have classes with small class numbers, on technology that’s generally not proprietary or cool. I have yet to see anything I would call “innovative” from a product or technology perspective from these big players. If they have a problem with me saying that, they can call me and I’ll tell them where they can innovate and do better.)