12 Trends Disrupting the Market for Lifelong Learning

Google Trends shows BIG growth in MOOC interest this year.

With a new year right around the corner, it seems like a good time to reflect on some of the trends that have been gaining steam throughout the past year (or more, in some cases). Here are a dozen that have really gotten my attention. (I have not actually attempted to rank these – the numbers are just there for the sake of numbering.)


1. MOOCs

MIT and Harvard are doing it. Cool start-ups like Udacity and Coursera are doing it. Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are making headlines across the higher education world and beyond For many associations, MOOCs may represent both a way to effectively serve their broader market and to attract new members. (Ellen Behrens posted a good piece on MOOCs a while back and Audrey Watters has done a nice round up on all the attention MOOCs have been getting in one of her posts about top 10 ed-tech trends of 2012.)

2. Virtual Conferences

We’re seeing both interest in and adoption of virtual conferences rise in the association sector. We’re also seeing for profits adopt them as a business model – listen in on my interview with Mike Stelzner at Social Media Examiner, for example. Place-based conferences aren’t likely to go away, but virtual conferences are too attractive from a cost, convenience, and logistics standpoint not to grow dramatically.

3. Flipped Classroom

The idea of the “flipped” classroom is that core content can be reviewed and digested outside of the classroom. Class time (or Webinar time, or conference session time) can then be used for deeper discussion, collaborative learning, etc. Most of the buzz around the flipped classroom has been in the K-12 sector, but it is an idea that clear has implications for conferences, seminars, Webinars, and other popular forms of learning delivery in the lifelong learning market. (E-learning Industry recently did a post to address the question What is a Flipped Classroom?)

4. Neuroscience

Over the past couple of decades we’ve learned more about how the human brain works than we ever knew before. Naturally, this knowledge is impacting how we think about teaching and learning. While there is plenty of misinformation, misinterpretation, and misapplication of neuroscience principles at this point, it seems inevitable that education providers will have to be fully up to speed on how the human mind works and what that means for delivering great learning experiences.

5. Social Learning

Social learning is not a new concept, but clearly the widespread use of social media has had an impact on social learning opportunities. I’d say we’ve reached the “You’re soaking in it” point – people are employing a range of social connections and tools to support their learning without even thinking about it. Organizations increasingly have to think about how they can maintain a meaningful presence within their customers or members’ personal learning networks (PLNs). They also have an opportunity to help people think much more consciously and effectively about how to leverage social learning. (One of the best all around resources on social learning is Marcia Conner and Tony Bingham’s book, The New Social Learning.)

6. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

In their pockets, in their bags, attached to their hip, on their nightstands – your learners are taking advantage of a variety of devices in a variety of places to connect with peers, search, watch videos, listen to podcasts, and even take courses and assessments. If you have not put some serious thought – and preferably some action into how the device revolution will impact your education business, better get to it.

7. Open Education

I’ve already mentioned one form of open education above – MOOCs – but the trend is much broader than massive courses, and it was building steam long before it started making headlines over the past year. (Check out this Mission to Learn post on open education from way back in 2007, for example.) “Open” in the pure sense doesn’t just mean free – it means allowing for changing content, adding to it, and re-distributing. Used wisely, it can be a powerful tool for spreading knowledge and creating real educational impact in your market. (Jeff Hurt recently did a good post on the possibilities for open education in the association world.)

8. Content Marketing

Even more than open education, the concept of content marketing has really shaken up the market for learning and knowledge. The whole idea behind content marketing is that you give away valuable content in order to attract prospects to paid offerings. Guess what, the vast majority of content marketing is educational content marketing. Teaching Sells, as Brian Clark and the folks at Copyblogger have so concisely put it. If you aren’t using teaching as part of your selling, you probably aren’t selling as much as you could be. (I recommend Copyblogger’s free tutorial on content marketing.)

9. Alternative Credentialing

Degrees have traditionally been the standard of higher educations and certification the standard of continuing education. Certificates, however, are playing a larger and larger role, and with the emergence of standards-based certificate programs, you can expect the growth to continue. At the same time, badges – perhaps best exemplified by Mozilla’s Open Badges project – are getting some traction as a form of validation that makes tremendous sense in our open, social, informal learning world.

10. DIY/Self-Directed Learning

You might also label this one “The Empowered Learner.” Many of the trends already noted have created an environment in which learners have a huge number of exciting options when it comes to engaging in lifelong learning. At the same time, it can be overwhelming and confusing out there. As I have argued before, the average adult is not necessarily prepared to be an effective lifelong learner in this environment. We need curators. We need filters. We need great algorithms (like, for example, the one behind one of my favorite tools, Zite.) We need them now.

11. Self-Publishing

By publishing, I don’t just mean books – though certainly the world of traditional book publishing seems on the brink of collapse. Rather, I mean all the possibilities for creating and distributing content that are available these days – from WordPress to CreateSpace to YouTube to Twitter to iTunes to …well, you name it. The opportunities for these new tools create for entrepreneurial subject matter experts, ambitious curators, and pretty much anyone else interested in teaching and facilitating learning are tremendous. Combine this with the DIY phenomenon and the playing field is fundamentally altered. (As an aside, I happen to think that podcasts as a form of publishing are about to enjoy a big second wave of popularity.)

12. Big Data

How could I do a trend post without using that already over-used phrase? Tired as we all will likely become of hearing it 2013, it is nonetheless extremely important. Collectively, we are creating a HUGE amount of data as we travel the InterWeb each day. On one end of the spectrum, organizations are increasingly in a position (whether they realize it yet or not) to mine that data and find out more about what is popular, what might be coming next, and perhaps most important, what is actually having impact. (Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera, discusses some of the possibilities in this video.) On the individual learner side, tools that help you manipulate, navigate, and focus the data will lead to increasingly targeted, high value learning experiences. I see signs of this already, for example, in a tool like Zite. Expect more in this vein in the near future.

One Megatrend to Rule Them All

Okay, I said 12 in my headline, but really I need to make this a baker’s dozen with what I see as the One MegaTrend to Rule Them All when it comes to lifelong learning. I’ll sum it up as….

Life Long, Life Wide

We’re living longer and longer. We live in the context of a global learning economy that requires us to constantly update, retool, rethink, and relearn. At the same time, we don’t march through our lifelong learning as if it is a narrow, straight shot curriculum. We are touched by learning broadly throughout our daily lives – through any number of informal interactions with other people, through our own focused, self-directed efforts, and yes, by the formal experiences that we associate with traditional education.

Everything I have mentioned above makes this truer than ever. Learning happens in myriad ways through and throughout our lives. The smartest learning businesses recognize this and make sure they the provide experiences and content that evolve with the learner. They are making sure they build a platform (think in terms of political platform, not just technology platform) that enables them to connect with learners in many different ways through many different channels – formally, informally, paid, free, online, offline. By doing this, they become a trusted source of learning lifelong and life-wide.

For more information, contact: www.eFOURlearning.com

Originally published by Jeff Cobb – Tagoras


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