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Predictions for 2004
e-learning visionaries look to the future

By Lisa Neal / March 2004

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What directions will e-learning take in 2004? Will we still call it e-learning? Will there be more or fewer vendors, products, or—most importantly—jobs? Will subject matter experts develop courses instead of instructional designers? Will we all play games and discover along the way that we learned more than ever before—and had fun in the process? Read on for predictions from some of the most thoughtful and opinionated people in e-learning.

"The most central issues to e-Learning over the next year will be context management (context is queen!), learning integration (with systems, but also with work processes and content), and readiness. Increasingly, organizations will use contextual learning—much as the military does today—to ensure that they are ready to hire/deploy, change business models, respond to competitive threats, and enter new markets. By leveraging web services, learners will increasingly be untethered from the classroom and even the desktop, as learning becomes accessible though mobile devices."—Elliott Masie, President and Founder, The MASIE Center, Saratoga Springs, NY

"In 2004 colleges and universities will finally stop thinking about using information technology (IT) and start thinking seriously about how IT can be used to improve student learning, increase student retention and serve students more cost effectively. IT will be viewed as a vital institutional investment rather than an operating expense." —Carol A. Twigg, Executive Director, Center for Academic Transformation

"I see things coming together that have been operating separately, for example, knowledge management practices integrated with structured learning events such as courses; Web-based technology used in the classroom; formal and informal learning integrated in the same overall activity or course; and learning objects found or created by the learners themselves as the results of learning activities. Should any of these be called "e-learning" Or all of them? We need a new name for these sorts of synergies." —Betty Collis, Shell Professor of Networked Learning, University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands

"2004 will bring a makeover for Training & Development. And, you might not recognize the new look! Three factors will change the face of traditional training and development: increased global competition, outsourcing and smart suites. The most visible of the three, smart suites, will integrate learning at the desktop with an employee's other tools such as e-mail, calendaring, IM, and document management. In this environment informal learning is pumped-up and the line between learning and doing fades." —Margaret Driscoll, IBM Global Services

"We will rediscover individual differences, such as visual processing, as an important instructional variable in the design of instruction. This will not be limited to Web-based learning, but learning and teaching in general. I predict that the education and training communities will begin to seriously use games to teach important skills and knowledge." —Ray Perez, Office of Naval Research

"The looming problems of copyright and patent law will gain widespread attention in 2004. People will come to understand that we are really selling eTeaching and not eLearning (a misunderstanding that contributes greatly to our ongoing problems with ROI). The market may realize that products sold to academia and the corporate world SHOULD be different since they aim at different goals. More people will understand that there is a difference between gaming, game-based learning, and gaming technology. And companies will grow who realize that cultural change MUST accompany an "e" implementation for it to be successful." —Mark Oehlert, Booz Allen Hamilton

"In 2004, information technologies will become even more critical to teaching and learning. Beyond basic literacy, digital literacy (the ability to articulate an information need and navigate electronic resources to find and use the information to satisfy that need) will become the single most important skill for both students and teachers. School library media specialists will play a key role in ensuring digital literacy is achieved within their schools." —Ruth Small, Professor, School of Information Studies, Syracuse University

"There will be a dramatic fall off in the purchase, by K-12 schools, of laptop computers—don't even think about TabletPC's. This year, the lion's share of their purchasing dollars will flow into handheld computers for students. Handhelds are economically compelling and functionally appropriate—and educators are amazingly quickly seeing the logic in that statement." —Cathie Norris, University of North Texas & Elliot Soloway, University of Michigan

"E-learning will replace and/or supplement school learning and e-learning will provide the social learning that forms the basis for a better life. The former will be based on the traditional e-learning system, while the latter will be based on experiences in both the virtual and the real worlds. Hence more use of ubiquitous computing technology will free students from the desktop and let them learn in a real situation with a portable device in hand." —Masaaki Kurosu, Professor, National Institute of Multimedia Education, Japan

"The benefits of learning objects in courseware development will come into scrutiny. Particularly, the much publicized benefit of reusability through learning objects will be questioned, leading the discussion to the ill-defined concept of learning objects, which is convenient for talking about them but of little use for developing real-world courseware." —Kinshuk, Associate Professor and Director, Advanced Learning Technology Research Centre, Massey University, New Zealand

"Learning objects will come to the fore in 2004, but not as cogs in a centrally packaged learning design. Learning objects—or, as some will start calling them, learning resources—will begin to reach their potential outside the mainstream. The demand, and therefore the production, of learning objects will increase dramatically for people who use informal learning—as much as 90 percent of learning, according to some estimates." —Stephen Downes, National Research Council Canada

"Organizations and participants are no longer impressed with 'cool' technology. The delivery methodology has to provide more than cost savings with a pretty interface—the demand will now be for more collaborative and result-oriented technologies. Whether asynchronous or synchronous in nature, online events will become less of a presentation and more performance oriented. To achieve this, one hour stand-alone modules will start to take a secondary role to blended initiatives during which participants will need to be more active and contributive. This is the year true best practices will start to become apparent." —Jennifer Hofmann, President, InSync Training, LLC

"Among ordinary organizations, I see more of the treading water seen in 2003. At the low end of e-learning, PowerPoint (used with Breeze and similar software) will become the most popular authoring tool, enabling subject-matter experts to design e-learning (and creating further employment challenges for instructional designers). At the high end of e-learning, designers are still digesting technological and business developments that proceed at a rate much faster than they can adopt them." —Saul Carliner, Assistant Professor of Educational Technology, Concordia University

"In 2004, applications of e-learning or "collaborative learning" will go well beyond the initial uses for which the technology was originally conceived! We'll see greater adoption in senior levels of organizations for information tracking and reporting to gain insight into organizational capabilities and operational effectiveness. We'll also see greater adoption in higher education to bring activities such as mentoring, office hours, and parent-teacher conferencing to the Internet." —Leon Navickas, Founder, Chairman of the Board and Chief Strategy Officer, Centra Software

"Over the next 12-18 months the end game will finally begin to come into view, as traditional learning structures give way to more powerful performance support integration. Personalized solutions will be seen as driving the bottom line with increased agility and competitive advantage and will attract the attention of the CEO and Board. Finally, third-world nations will begin to comprehend their own `leapfrog' advantage inherent in national taxonomies and technology-enhanced on the job training supported by alternative learning models." —Jonathon Levy, Senior Learning Strategist, The Monitor Company Group LP

"A woman twirled proudly in front of me. "," she crowed. She did it online. Same was true for a friend contemplating a trip to Singapore. `What about SARS?' Could my brother-in-law's career get a pick-me-up via financial planning courses online? He's favorably disposed. In 2004, more individuals will tend to their own needs, including learning, via the Web. In the past, organizations, credentials, and certification were the middlemen. While that will continue, we'll see people pursue their goals online, on their own." —Allison Rossett, Professor of Educational Technology, San Diego State University

"New embryonic forms of online learning communities will emerge that support the dynamic forming and reforming of cliques as well as 'cocktail party' behavior. This will be much friendlier than threaded discussion groups and much less taxing on reading time than blogs. From this will emerge new study groups for students, creative knowledge exchange for teachers and researchers, and new business teaming opportunities." —Richard Larson, Professor of Engineering Systems and Founder and Director, Learning International Networks Consortium (LINC), MIT

"As e-learning professionals in 2004, we must develop more effective evaluation strategies or risk irrelevance. Executives, deans, managers, directors, and, most importantly, learners are demanding "proof" that e-learning increases performance and changes behavior. To answer this demand, we must directly link e-learning objectives to measurable outcomes, metrics, and performance improvements." —Karl M. Kapp, Assistant Director, Institute for Interactive Technologies, Bloomsburg University

"In 2004, the importance of online pedagogy and motivation will be reflected in online instructor training programs, research, and conference keynotes. In addition, open source courseware such as Moodle and the SAKAI Project will attract extensive attention. Finally, the huge growth in online certification programs, associate and master's degrees, and blended learning will continue." —Curt Bonk, Professor, Indiana University, and President, SurveyShare, Inc.

"We see 2004 as a year of polarization as the major virtual classroom providers (Centra, InterWise, LearnLinc, and Elluminate) back off from the Web conferencing market and refine existing and develop new classroom coordination features. We see this being driven by a host of new, more aggressively priced and less robust Web conferencing products entering a market where, currently, 80 percent of users use only 20 percent of Web conferencing features." —David Collins, CEO, Internet University

"Rapid e-learning will become a red-hot market and companies will struggle to implement authoring processes for subject-matter experts. Blended Learning will continue to grow. The term `blended learning' will evolve from instructor-led training with e-learning added to a mix of a wide variety of technologies and media. Live e-learning will mature and the market will continue to grow, with companies implementing these systems as part of their corporate infrastructure, not only as training-specific systems." —Josh Bersin, Bersin & Associates

"Universities will now out-innovate corporations in the area of educational content. India will be to traditional e-learning content what Japan was to manufacturing, building more direct channels into U.S., in some cases competing directly with former partners. LCMS will collapse as a distinct concept and segment. Price wars in virtual classrooms will drive ubiquitousness through increasingly non-traditional alliances." —Clark Aldrich, author of Simulations and the Future of Learning

"The convergence of e-learning and knowledge management technologies will continue in a much faster pace. There will be intensive focus on the content and quality of e-learning courses. Attention will be increasingly paid on the role of emotions and affective dimension of learning in e-learning designs. Much more effort will be spent on measuring ROI of e-learning (or figure out practical ways of measuring it) on behalf of organizations that use e-learning as an alternative or supplementary mode of training." —Panagiotis Zaharias, ELTRUN, Athens University of Economics and Business, Greece

"Last year, online colleges became more aggressive and effective at online advertising. As a result, many schools now get thousands of new student inquiries each month. In 2004, as these institutions compete for the same potential students, their focus will shift inward. Those that become most effective at prioritizing their inquiries and converting them to enrollments will thrive at the expense of the rest." —C.J. DeSantis, President,, Inc.

"Consolidation will accelerate because customers are looking for industry-leading solutions from companies that can provide experience, expertise, and financial safety. Learning analytics will become a required component of any software selection; analytics can tie employee performance to business results and allow a company to optimize their training expenses by spending on the right training and by offering training that has the most impact. Integrated suites will become a requirement for organizations seeking a learning and performance solution, including LMS, LCMS, Knowledge Management, Authoring Tools, Virtual Classroom, Performance Management, and Analytics." —Sanjay Dholakia, VP, Marketing and Business Development, Docent, Inc.

"Schools will invest in creating classroom environments that allow for true technology integration. The traditional whiteboard and five computers in the room will be replaced with electronic whiteboards that allow all students to participate wirelessly with the large image. Teachers will create group activities that engage, involve, and instantly assess students and do less slideshow presentations." —Steve Brazier, Executive Vice President, Promethean, Inc.

"The learning industry has been through a period of significant technological innovation and way too much hype. With the recent economic downturn fresh in our minds, in 2004 we'll see learning organizations really searching for, and mastering, the use of proven strategies and technologies for designing, developing, and managing e-learning. The main goal of all this effort being, of course, to improve the quality, usability, and most importantly the effectiveness of the finished product." —David Holcombe, President & CEO, The eLearning Guild

"Instructional design will become learning design, bringing innovation and creativity to online courses much like the best teachers do in the classroom. Online courses will provide layers of information to encourage exploration, use rewards, surprises, and humor to increase engagement and enjoyment, and support peer learning so that students learn together as well as from each other." —Lisa Neal, Editor-in-Chief, eLearn Magazine


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