A contemporary E-learning ecosystem

No single educational provider can host the range of technologies necessary to the 21st-century learner without products and services

By Richard Havinga, learning technologist at the University of London Computer Centre

Technology has become crucial in providing a personalised experience for the 21st-century learner. Common uses include completing assessments, embedding videos, directed activities and online discussions. This leads many institutions to see technology as an enabler to provide personalised anytime, anywhere learning. So how can institutions provide a contemporary e-learning ecosystem?

The introduction of educational technology tools can lead to patchy adoption if they are unreliable and are not fit for purpose. Subsequently, many education providers have a complex, educational technology ecosystem, which needs to be nurtured and integrated in order to flourish and support tens of thousands of users across hundreds of devices, in potentially many different countries. At the heart of this ecosystem is the virtual learning environment (VLE), integrating all complementary systems to support the contemporary learner experience.

No single educational provider can develop, host and support the range of technologies necessary to support the 21st-century learner, without products and services. This is supported in current ‘edtech’ trends such as the growing ubiquity of social connectivity, mobile learning, gamification, analytics and integrations. These features are necessary to support learning capacities such as collaborative, active, flipped, blended and personalised learning, to name but a few. This is leading to a growing number of educational institutions opting to outsource parts of their e-learning ecosystem, including VLEs, allowing continued focus on teaching and learning without being largely concerned with the expertise, performance and maintenance of these tools.

When you take away technical management of the technologies, the challenge for technologists is how to ensure resilience and futurity of the tools chosen to do the task, whilst continuing to meet the needs of users. Consequently, many mature technologies are viewed as building blocks that are interchangeable to suit the needs of educational institutions. This ensures future technology developments can be taken advantage of without being reliant on a singular technology in the long term.

However, change of technologies is disruptive in nature, so it is important that the right tools are chosen from the outset with interoperability in mind. Likewise, as analytics and big data are paramount for predictions of retention and attainment, any technology chosen should have the relevant options necessary to expose data to other tools, regardless of whether this is hosted externally or not.

What does the future hold? I think Nancy Kassebaum summed it up when she said, “There can be infinite uses of the computer and of New Age technology, but if teachers themselves are not able to bring it into the classroom and make it work, then it fails.”

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