Tech consultancy Technavio says the twin technologies, plus simulation, which replicates aspects of the real world online, have the potential to significantly impact the growth of edtech through to 2020.
“The e-learning market in the US is growing rapidly due to changes in the education sector, such as the introduction of education technology and online content to the curriculum,” said Jhansi Mary, a lead analyst from Technavio.
“Innovations by vendors have led to the use of more advanced technologies such as simulations, cloud-based solutions, and AR in the education system.”
AR will be one of the most disruptive forces in e-learning. The more complex cousin of virtual reality, AR works by layering an interactive image directly on top of the physical reality, like the wildly popular Pokémon GO mobile game.
Educators can use this to build a “4D” learning experience with complete immersion. The world’s elite and best-funded schools are already exploring such technologies, according to several contacted by BusinessBecause.
MIT’s Sloan School of Management, for instance, has trialled Google’s Cardboard and Samsung’s Gear virtual reality devices in executive education courses. “The next generation of VR — that’s going to replace the traditional notion of sitting in front of a computer,” said Peter Hirst, MIT Sloan associate dean for exec education.
But because AR apps can be accessed from mobile devices and tablets, the barrier to entry is lower. “It does not require any additional infrastructure or devices,” said Technavio’s Jhansi. As such, AR apps are expected to in future be more widely used in higher education. Providers are already popping up. Daqri, for example, has introduced several free online apps, while Aurasma, launched by HP-owned tech company Autonomy, allows users to create their own AR experiences.
While AR and VR can require costly head-mounted displays, simulations can be run from desktop computers. This freedom to interact with a learning environment is crucial for students, notes Technavio, and can aid the holistic development of learners. In a simulated environment, students are free to experiment, make mistakes, and even communicate better with one another, according to Fernando Contreras, associate director for extended learning at Stanford University’s business school.
Stanford’s executive students can upload avatars to an online world — this gives them the opportunity to interact with each other more naturally than video-conferencing, said Fernando.
Learning from peers is critical to successful business education and simulation can help replicate the on-campus experience. Fernando said: “We want to make sure our participants are forming the community. And that’s as critical as the specific content of the learning.”
Most simulation learning content, pioneered by the likes of iCivics, Explorer Learning and Molecular Workbench, is user-friendly and cost effective. Increasingly, the need to reduce costs is one reason for the growth in edtech. Cloud computing, for example, helps to reduce operational complexities by ensuring proper data management and mobility.
Educators are shifting aspects of e-learning, such as content creation, online classroom management, and data extraction to cloud providers including Oracle, Docebo, and Expertus.
Big data in particular is poised to have a monumental impact on online learning. By crunching data — from mouse clicks and time spent on tasks to evaluating how students respond to assessments — universities and digital providers hope to shed light on how learners access information and master material.
Simon Nelson, CEO of FutureLearn, an online learning company, said: “The potential of online learning to deliver more effective learning experiences that are better targeted, I think, are huge.”