What Learning Technologies Can We Expect in 2016?

With digital, communications, and associated technologies continuing to evolve, the year ahead promises to take learning technology to new levels. With that in mind, let’s have a look at some likely developments, and how the discussion on learning technologies is likely to take shape in 2016.

Augmented Reality

Expect a huge shift from clunky cardboard headsets, as the augmented reality sector continues to improve. Innovative projects begun in the latter part of 2015 promise a move beyond simple annotations floating above objects in a learner’s field of vision, and a step closer to the true immersive experience that this technology is potentially capable of delivering.

Back in October 2015, Magic Leap (an augmented reality company funded by Google) released a video on YouTube showing 3-dimensional objects generated by its visualisation technology, and placed in a standard office setting. The video showed a small robot, dancing beneath a desk, and an entire solar system, floating above the office floor, as shown (briefly, don’t worry) below.

The Magic Leap system is still being kept largely under wraps, but it’s believed to create its virtual worlds using techniques similar to the Hololens system being developed by Microsoft. With over $540 million in funding, and a CEO Rony Abovitz who’s no great lover of stereoscope headsets, Magic Leap promises to deliver an experience based on digital fields of light which are naturally attuned to a learner’s brainwave patterns and physiology. A bold claim, and one worth watching out for.

Google is also rolling out what it calls Project Tango – an augmented reality package capable of producing detailed 3D maps of the world. It began in March 2014, and has since evolved to a development kit now available for retail purchase in the UK (price around £256).

Project Tango’s development kit consists of a tablet device fitted with a 4-megapixel wide-angle camera, infra-red meter, and an infra-red camera for depth perception. GPS tracking, a gyroscope, accelerometer and barometer complete its mapping tool-kit.

These tools can be used to quickly generate a 3-dimensional model of a room (it works best indoors), complete with existing furniture. As well as helping sight-impaired people to navigate spaces, it has the potential use as an architectural or engineering tool, and can generate indoor environments for learning and augmented reality games.

Additional 3D elements can be added to a landscape that’s already been scanned – useful for positioning new furniture or fittings. And the software maintains a database of places it’s already mapped or visited, so the relevant scan may be called up, on entering a given space.

It’s early days, so the technology hasn’t drilled down to being able to scan in small objects for detailed study or 3D printing, yet. But NASA has already adopted the system for a proposed scheme using Tango to develop robotic assistants for its space missions.

The Evolving LMS

Learning Management Systems (LMSs) are already seeing a shift towards curated content – a trend likely to continue in 2016. At a basic level, there’ll be facilities to capture content and links from the internet. But this is set to extend to the collection of videos shot from learners’ mobile devices, and uploaded to the LMS.

Content sharing between learners is one application, but the feature set is likely to extend, allowing (for example) administrators to edit or add to content uploaded by the learners, and include it as part of the course. Though facilities to do this are thin on the ground at the moment, expect the inclusion of a range of content filters for administrators to sift and edit material, before its publication or review.

Tools for handling mobile video also look set to improve, with soundtracks converting to high-quality HD, better tracking and the splitting of uploaded video files into chapters for easier viewing. This could even extend to a keyword search facility, where learners could enter their target text and have the relevant sequence extracted to the LMS as a sort of map, for navigating a film. And there’s the possibility of automatic transcripts of a video being printed out for learners on demand.

Enhanced Learning Analytics

With improved learning technology comes improved recording – and a corresponding increase in the amount of data generated by learners as they work their way through a course or training exercise. As wearable technologies and the “smart devices” of the growing Internet of Things (IoT) proliferate, this flood of information can only increase.

Making sense of it all is the purpose of learning analytics. At a “little data” level, this may involve simple charts, graphs, and histograms, marking the progress of learners.

When speaking of the vast volumes of “Big Data”, the buzzword is Hadoop – and this scary piece of big software is gradually becoming more user-friendly, with improved graphical interfaces and reporting tools which ordinary mortals can understand. Expect this trend to continue, and perhaps the emergence of some competing systems in the Big Data analytics field.

Talking Tech

On the 3rd and 4th of February 2016, the Learning Technologies Conference is due to take place in London. Its keynote address will be delivered by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, the best-selling author and instructor in the art of leadership.

The Learn Tech meeting has traditionally led the discussion on learning technologies and workplace learning, and also serves as a showcase for some of the latest products and processes in the field.

Ticket information, online booking, and the full conference programme are available on the Learn Tech website.

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