Mapping out the future of virtual learning

By Susan C. Aldridge, Ph.D. and Marci Powell

Have you ever wondered how the virtual learning experience might be greatly improved if it was more like, let’s say, shopping on Amazon or finding all of the information you need through a simple Google search?  For us at Drexel University Online, it’s become a question well worth contemplating, at a time when technology is dramatically transforming the way we live, work and yes, learn.

In fact, we have spent two years researching pockets of digital learning innovation worldwide – a project that not only served as the impetus for our website, Virtually Inspired, but has also provided us with plenty of food for thought around how we might re-imagine the virtual classroom of the future.  And based on what our research uncovered, we began to envision a next generation learning environment that, like Amazon and Google, functions within the context of a digital ecosystem.

As we imagine it, this ecosystem will be contextual and adaptive, role-based and self-organizing, to provide convenient and continuous virtual access to active and authentic, customized and self-directed learning across time, space, and multiple spheres of influence.  It will also enable educators to streamline and integrate all of the digital systems and tools, apps and content their students must have to succeed into a single platform, with a consistent user interface and secure sign-on, designed for self-service, interconnectivity, and innovative use of technology.

Under this scenario, learning will no longer be confined only to the online classroom; but will aggregate and capture both formal and informal knowledge-building opportunities that support connected lifelong learning on-demand.  Likewise, the virtual learning ecosystem will deliver personalized, just-in-time content and support, based on the user’s role, needs, and preferences, empowering students to engage with a robust virtual community of learners, while building a social learning network that can be leveraged in and out of the classroom.

Equally important, the virtual classroom of the future will incorporate technology for its experiential value as a robust learning enhancement, rather than its transactional value as an expedient to education access and delivery.  Consequently, it will optimize the many evidence-based, digital learning tools and applications at our disposal – from virtual and augmented reality, to gamification, robotic telepresence and artificial intelligence – that empower students to connect, construct and apply new knowledge.

Of course, we know that for busy educators, it’s always helpful to have something more concrete to use in plumbing the depths of any vision that requires both a broad shift in mindset and significant investments of time and money.  So, in the spirit of collaboration, we have partnered with ICDE to share “The Online Classroom of the Future” – a whitepaper you may download here.  We hope that the ideas and resources it provides will inspire all of you to join the conversation, both within and beyond your own institutions, as we create the next generation of virtual learning.



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