Cutting Through The Hype: Top Trends in Learning Technologies.

by Geoff Stead

Do you know your MOOCs from your OERs?
Are you BYOD while flipping the classroom?

Have a look at our quick guide to the top trends in Learning Technology. What are they and what should they mean for you. With just enough detail to help you see through the hype – and be able to talk confidently about them.

  • OER – Open Educational Resources
  • Mobile learning
  • Game-based learning
  • Learning analytics
  • MOOC – Massively Open Online Courses
  • Flipped classrooms
  • BYOD – Bring Your Own Device

OER – Open Educational Resources

OER Image

Historically, there has been an uncomfortable relationship between publishers and educators. Who owns the rights to the content used during teaching and training? How much gets paid for the books and resources? Is that profit going to improved content, or happy shareholders.

Enter the OER movement; open educational resources that can be used, modified and shared, for free. Mostly used in the context of traditional education (not much in corporate training). Momentum seems to be moving faster in some countries than others, but many heavyweight backers, funders and institutions are starting to put their money and weight behind the idea that educational resources should be made available, for free.

It is still a fairly disconnected movement, with many different stakeholders, and various definitions of “free” and “open”. But a huge range of very good resources, and publications have already been made available, and in some admirable cases teams of educators are working together to write their own, collaborative text books as open alternatives to commercial ones.

Special mention here should go to Creative Commons, who offer a very simple licensing model, to help users understand exactly how free content can used and reused whilst still respecting the originator of the content.

WorkLearnMobile Verdict: OER is very significant. If you are using government funding to generate new resources, think seriously about making them available to all.

Mobile Learning

Much hyped, only moderately understood. Mobile learning is a term used when mobile devices are woven into a learning, or training scenario. Often, but not always where the learner themselves is mobile. It has found some significant success in areas where traditional training, or learning are not working that well (hard-to-reach learners, travelling employees for example) as well as triggering a rethink about traditional e-learning modules. Mobile is great for instantaneous lookup, and small snack-based learning, but a poor tool for a drawn out e-learning course.
The most important thing to bear in mind is that it isn’t one thing. It is a toolbox of approaches that you pick from as and when needed. So conversations about mobile learning “at high school”, are likely to be massively different from “at college”, and different again from “at work”.

WorkLearnMobile Verdict: M-learning is already making huge impact in niche areas. It will continue to do so,  but don’t assume it replaces face-to-face experience. Think of it more as an enriching and enhancing aspect of training. Be suspicious of vendors promoting shiny equipment, or mega complex systems until you are sure they are supporting real learning.

Game-based Learning


This has been described as the “next big thing” for over 10 years. Two disastrous models, often repeated are:

  • An interesting game, often of first-person adventurer / puzzle-solving variety, with really cheesy 2d content quizzes scattered through it. A fun game ruined by lame learning.
  • A linear e-learning style content course, with series of quizzes and knowledge tests that have been built up into a contest / competition format. The “game” is just proving your content knowledge.

In some instance the latter can work well,  where drill and practise is useful; learning a language or practising math.

Two interesting, and more successful models to look at are:

  • Playing a real game, designed for entertainment, but setting challenges within it that build on learning (Tym Rylands has been doing this for years, with Myst);
  • Doing real learning tasks, but using a badging system to show progress and gains. Mozilla’s Open Badges framework offer good tools for this.

WorkLearnMobile Verdict: Mixing play with learning has always been effective, and will continue to be so. But bad quality resources aren’t  magically improved by adding a quiz at the end, a leader board or some badges. Get the learning right first, then develop your implementation around that.

Learning Analytics

This is using big data for learning. Data management tools can be used in a variety of ways to pull in multiple sources of information about your learners. That data can then be used to understand, in greater depth, what their needs are. Why just look at data from the learning management system (LMS), when you can also find out about sickness records, library access, unpaid fines, club memberships and even what they eat at the cafeteria!

This can work but you need to tread carefully. First, data and statistics need carefully interpretation especially if you start to manipulate them with various tools. Second, you will need a robust system of data protection and an open and clear policy concerning what you will use employee data for, so that information is not used in the wrong circumstances which may leave employees feeling vulnerable.

WorkLearnMobile Verdict: Potentially very powerful, both for supporting learners in new and meaningful ways, and for using what you know about them. It is imperative to resist the urge to exclude failing learners rather than investing in them. The warnings shouldn’t prevent you from engaging with the discourse, but it is important to have an honest and open policy concerning any implementation.

MOOC – The Massively Open Online Course


A MOOC is a web-based course, often free, designed to offer learning to many thousands of students at the same time. Although they have been around since 2008, they have received a lot of attention since 2012 thanks to recent backing from some big colleges (Stanford, Princeton among others) and high-profile start-ups. However, the most recent hype is also slightly skewed to one specific genre of MOOC.

Why is everyone suddenly excited about MOOCs? Several big colleges have started offering free access to their course materials. This is a real-world case of the democratizing of learning as a poor student at an under-resourced school can now access the same content as an MIT graduate. The fast pace of change though hasn’t taken account of some of the unforeseen issues surrounding this broadening of access. Once access to education is opened up and notions of paying for courses is removed, does this then impinge on the perceived quality of the course on offer? Should a non-resident student gain  a degree from the college offering a course? Is distance learning devoid of a pastoral context equivalent  to the full collegiate experience?

The debates surrounding MOOCs have diluted the perception of them, seeing them purely as a distribution channel for pre-recorded mass learning. These ignore the initial premise based on immersive and interactive learning. Many of the most inspired MOOCs are not modelled on a traditional lecture or  classroom based experience at all, but rather built on learner-centered, connectivist ideas, where the students work together, albeit remotely.

To try to distinguish between these, one of the founders of the MOOC movement has suggested renaming them xMOOC and cMOOC.  xMOOCs are modelled on a traditional lecture-based experience, handing over the knowledge, and cMOOCs are collaborative courses, where learners work together to generate their knowledge.

High-profile examples of xMOOCs include:

  • Coursera – the result of an early collaboration with Stanford University;
  • edX – a non-profit collaboration between Harvard University and MIT;
  • udacity – formed after an initial Stanford University Artificial Intelligence (AI) course;
  • FutureLearn – launched by the Open University in the UK.

Examples using a similar model but not offering traditional college-style courses:

Examples of cMOOCs include:

  • MobiMOOC – an annual event focussed on mobile learning;

For the purposes of this discussion we have coined a new term – domainMOOCs. These are MOOCs designed for individual access to teach a specific subject by making the content available for free, to be used in other platforms.

Aligned to these there are also sites trying to offer indexes to all of these courses, which style themselves as “MOOC aggregators“.

WorkLearnMobile Verdict: MOOCs are making an important impact on open, shared learning. If you get cornered by a college professor with strong opinions about MOOCs destroying higher education, bear in mind that (s)he may have his/her head stuck in one specific debate (xMOOC vs traditional university degree) and be missing the big picture.

Flipped Classrooms

If so much information is available online, and quality time with your teacher is hard to find … why waste the time you DO have together by sitting quietly in your chair, and listening to a lecture. Far better, perhaps, to watch the lecture recorded before you come into class, and then spend the face-to-face time discussing it, asking questions, doing activities. This is the idea behind the flipped classroom, and it has some great success stories around it.

WorkLearnMobile verdict: A simple, yet effective reminder that face-to-face time is valuable, and ought to be used to help understanding, rather than just a broadcast of the facts.


Bring Your Own Devices refers to initiatives to allow students / employees to use their own, personal devices at work, or at school, as an official part of their day. There are a wide range of views about this, though in most scenarios it is a useful and empowering approach. In colleges, the main concerns are about classroom management, and fairness of access. In the workplace, concerns range from privacy of personal data, to security of corporate data.

WorkLearnMobile verdict: BYOD is here to stay. Organizations need to adapt their policies to support them, and minimize the risks, rather than resisting the use of personal devices, which puts them into an arms-race to provide equivalent devices, and access themselves.


For some reason that nobody in the tech world can fathom, very few kids today are really learning to become coders, or hackers. Rather their use of IT tends to focus on using pre-made software packages (PowerPoint, MSOffice, etc). This is despite the awesome work done by people like Seymour Paper over 30 years’ ago encouraging kids to build and create with computers, rather than just operate them. The past few years have seen a strong revival in this area, with multiple initiatives sprigning up around the world encouraging kids to code, Google “coding for kids” for a fantastic selection.

WorkLearnMobile verdict: If we truly want our kids to be in control of technology (and not the other way around), support your local coding for kids initiative!
(Having said that, I still haven’t managed to enlighten my teenage daughter. Maybe doing the same work as your dad will never be cool, whatever it is!)

I hope you enjoyed our round-up of the latest trends in learning technology, and found enough here to help you discern what really matters when faced with decisions about learning and technology.

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