Dr. Suzanne Kearns, University of Western Ontario, examines the four main instructional technology trends that are influencing training.

When it comes to technology in the classroom, instructors may fall into one of two camps: 1) those who fight technology and are frustrated that learners are continually distracted by their devices, or 2) those who view technology as a tool which has the possibility to enhance learning. Whether you fall into the first or the second camp, the goal of teaching remains the same: produce the most effective and engaging learning experience while remaining cost-effective for your organization.

With this in mind, the goal of this article is to countdown four instructional technology trends that are impacting classrooms in a variety of industries and describe how you might use these tools in your teaching.

#4 Trend – ‘Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s)’

Those who consider themselves ‘gamers’ are likely familiar with the concept of Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs). MMOGs have been around for many years, allowing thousands of players to control online digital avatars within a massive virtual world. Within the last two years, this concept has moved to University teaching with the creation of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). MOOCs are free online university courses that are designed for an unlimited number of participants. MOOCs have become very popular in a very short amount of time with hundreds of courses popping up from many universities, including Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

In the midst of all this hype, not all MOOCs have been successful. On average, only 2% of people who sign up for a MOOC actually complete the course. Many students complain that the style of the course, which often consists of video-recorded lectures, does not work well for online learning. Others question the usefulness of this type of course in industries like aviation which require certification of learning for regulatory purposes. It is difficult to verify the identity of learners during assessments to prevent cheating.

Takeaway Points

The important point to consider is that the next generation of learners is accustomed to the open sharing of information. Within your organization, is it feasible to offer some free knowledge online (through an organizational blog, e-learning courses, or webcasts)? This may be done as a public service, for self-promotion, or just to encourage the next generation of aviation professionals to join our great industry. 

#3 Trend – Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

When many of us were students, wireless communication referred to passing notes to others in the class. Likewise, the biggest distraction probably was falling into a daydream while staring out a window. The classroom environment has changed dramatically and learners are now facing weapons of mass distraction on their web-enabled devices. This is not an issue that is limited to the next generation – as it is common to see both younger and older generations distracted by their technology in a classroom.

So what can be done? As instructors, we need to recognize that our learners are only 1-click away from a massive amount of information. Rather than fight against this technology, it is possible to design learning activities that use these devices to accomplish training objectives.

Takeaway Points

There are several ways to incorporate web-devices into your teaching. One method is the use of WiFi clickers, which allow instructors to post questions on the board and students submit their response using their devices. There are a variety of free and subscription-based clicker systems on the market. This allows for a more interactive classroom as instructors can continually see how well learners understand the content. Another way to use technology is to give learners cases or problems and ask them to search out the answer on their own, using their devices. This type of learning activity mimics the way a person is likely to answer a question in the real-world, and thus is likely to develop competency.

#2 Trend – ‘Not All e-Learning is Equal’

E-Learning is no longer a new idea. Computer-based training has been around for a few decades now and many of the questions we once pondered, such as what makes e-learning effective, have been answered through research. For example, we know that people learn more and can pay attention longer if e-learning incorporates both words and pictures, uses a voiceover with a conversational tone, uses avatar (coach) characters, and is organized into short chunks.

There is also a lot of data surrounding how long it takes to develop and build e-learning courses. Based on this data, we categorize different ‘levels’ of e-learning based on the amount of interactive exercises and how long it takes to build. In the next table, the development hours refer to how many hours it takes to build one completed hour of training. For example, it takes an average of 40 hours to build one hour of instructor-led classroom training while it takes an average of 80 hours to build one hour of Level 1 e-learning. See Figure 1

E-Learning “Levels” Development Hours Average Cost for 1 Hour of Courseware Characteristics
Classroom 40:1 $6,000 Instructor-led training
1 80:1 $10,000 Text, simple graphics, simple videos, quiz questions, resembles a website
2 180:1 $18,500 Level 1 + 30% interactive exercises, large use of media, voice-overs, complex assessments
3 490:1 $50,000 Simulation or game-based, avatar-led, custom interactions
4 800+:1 $100,000+ Adaptive/personalizede-learning that customizes course content and difficulty to individual learners

Level 4 e-learning refers to data-driven adaptive e-learning. Perhaps the easiest way to understand this is to recall your last shopping experience online. When you completed your purchase, did the platform make “suggestions” about other items you may be interested in based on your purchasing history? This customization is something that is moving into aviation e-learning. Adaptive e-learning will eliminate the need for people to sit through hours of courseware that is not relevant to them (or that they have already mastered). Instead, the platform tracks each learner’s successes and failures and provides them with just the content that they need when they need it. Although adaptive platforms have yet to be fully integrated into aviation training, they are beginning to gain a foothold in training in other industries and are likely to play a big role in the future of aviation training.

Takeaway Points

How can you maximize the quality and effectiveness of e-learning within your organization? Review your existing courseware and look to see if it uses good media principles (avatars, voice-overs, words and pictures, etc.). If not, small changes could result in big improvements. Also, when possible, choose higher-level e-learning courses as they present a better value. For example, a Level 3 course sold for $5,000 is a better value than a Level 1 course sold for $4,500 as it will probably result in better learning. To identify higher levels of e-learning, look for a higher number of interesting interactive exercises and simulations.

#1 Trend – ‘Train Smarter - Not Harder’

Many training managers face the decision of whether to teach a subject in a classroom or online. The reality is that this is a trick question. We know that the best learning outcomes are achieved with a blended approach that uses both e-learning and classroom training for what each is best at teaching. For example:

  1. Computer-based pre-training can be completed before a learner visits the training center so that they arrive with a predictable level of knowledge
  1. Classroom training allows expert instructors to explain difficult concepts and answer questions – as well as simulator activities
  1. At-home practice using e-tutors or desktop simulators reinforces training concepts following classroom training
  1. Group problem solving in the classroom, with people from different employee groups, ie pilots, flight attendants, and maintenance, allows learners to practice applying ‘book-smarts’ to real world problems
  1. After training is complete, extension of what has been learned throughout the year through short weekly or bi-weekly courses can reduce forgetting or distribute information on current events or incidents (such as 5-7 minute e-learning snap-courses or electronic newsletters) .
This blended approach has been shown to result in a 12% lower failure rate, 45% increase in enrollment, and a 31% cost savings per learner compared to a traditional training approach with primarily face-to-face instruction. (See Figure 2. Note – the blue represents training center/face-to-face instruction while the white bars are electronic/independent activities)

Takeaway Points

How can you apply a “smarter” training strategy in your organization? Perhaps starting with the replacement of some classroom training with online courses (or, if you have a smaller budget, with assigned readings and an online quiz that learners must pass before coming to training). Incorporating group critical thinking/problem solving exercises is a good way to enhance the quality of training. Lastly, after learners leave training, reduce forgetting by refreshing content throughout the year.

Overall, it is important to remember that technology should not drive teaching. Technology should be used only when it helps an instructor and organization accomplish instructional objectives. With that in mind, there are an ever increasing number of options for instructors to creatively use technology and extend their teaching capabilities beyond the four walls of a classroom.