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E-learning – the latest trends

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Digital resources

Three main trends can be observed in relation to digital resources:

  1. the growth in the sharing of educational resources,
  2. the growth of e-books, and
  3. the continuing concern on the part of librarians that their resource discovery mechanisms are not being used.

1. Open educational resources

Open educational resources (OERs) are teaching resources which can be re-used and adapted to local situations. They are part of a general movement towards open source software, with the difference that OERs also involve the sharing of content.

They are also another example of the trend towards sustainability in e-learning: if content can be adapted or reused, efficiency savings are created.

OERs are important internationally. They were a major theme at both the ALT-C conference and eLearning Africa 2010. One project described by the former was the JISC/HEA BERLiN project at the University of Nottingham (Stapleton and Beggan, 2010). This saw significant collaboration with OER Africa, with the latter providing advice on sustainability, while African educators were able to borrow resources from UK higher education institutions.

2. E-books

The growth of e-books was predicted as one of the key trends in educational technology (Converge Staff, 2010). One piece of research reported that students valued the portability and flexibility of e-books, but preferred the print version for in-depth study (Nie et al., 2010).

Lack of a common XML format for e-books has inhibited their development, and will need to be agreed (Reynolds, 2010). Digitization offers opportunity to treat content in a different way, and it's also predicted that there will be a move towards disaggregation, into small "learning pieces".

In a year that saw the release of the iPad, it was also predicted that tablet PCs will become the main device for interacting with learning content (Reynolds, 2010). The iProf (see part 6) is one such example.

3. Resource discovery

Librarians have for some time voiced their concerns about the way students prefer Google to their own discovery mechanisms. One study from Middlesex University (Stelmaszewska et al., 2010) claimed students find many university and college systems too complex, time-consuming and cumbersome for their research. Such problems create barriers to access and distract students from critically analysing and evaluating resources, as they resort to approaches with which they are familiar. The report argued the need for better training, support and improved access to resources.


Both mobile learning and learning involving social media are definitely here to stay. In fact, 2009 saw their marriage, which created ever more powerful possibilities for learning.

To continue the anthropomorphic metaphor, 2010 has also seen a birth: the iPad. The iPad was predicted to be a disruptive and transforming technology, yet no one could be quite sure in what way. It does seem, however, that small devices which are still large enough for users to be able to properly view and interact with content are proving highly useful learning tools.

As parts of the world face up to increasing numbers of students in higher education, people look to e-learning for efficiency savings. E-learning is expensive, so it must have its own efficiency savings and be sustainable.

E-learning will also be used to compensate for deficiencies – lack of electricity or broadband access (necessitating a move to mobile networks), and lack of good teachers or professors.

The trends in e-learning tend on the one hand to be the same the world over, but on the other, e-learning means different things in different cultures.

It seems, then, that e-learning will continue to have an important place in higher education pedagogy, working alongside more traditional methods and adapting itself to local needs.

Further resources

The Association of Learning Technologists has provided a series of "What research has to say for practice" guides, covering some of the topics discussed in this article. These are available at http://wiki.alt.ac.uk/index.php/What_research_has_to_say_for_practice.