In today’s fast paced world where everything is done on the go, pre-packaged education that allows students to learn what they need when they want doesn’t sound that unrealistic. In fact, as ICT technologies continue to converge and digital content producers churn out online learning material in abundance, mobile universities may well be the reality for students of the future. And while you may think medical students discussing anatomy over a 3-D projection of a floating head while they are each stationed on a different planet is a phenomenon from the pages of a science-fiction story, it may be the reality of a not too distant future, especially when you look at some of the trends that are impacting education today.

The truth about M-Learning

Experts have been forecasting a shift toward Mobile Learning, which enables learning via mobile devices, since the beginning of the 21st century. However, despite the popularity of smartphones and portable devices including mobile music players, e-readers and tablets, m-learning has not yet been able to achieve its full potential.

While smartphones instigated the M-Learning movement as early as 2002, it is the less expensive and more accessible data packages offered by service providers today and the “App” marketplaces (Apple, Android, Microsoft, and Blackberry) with their open source and open for development attitudes that are FINALLY making mobile learning a reality.

In fact, just as smartphones, tablets and tablets have become a staple of modern vocabulary, 2012 marked the first time that more people accessed the Internet via smartphones and tablets than desktop or laptop computers. In K-12 and Higher Education, tablet market penetration had already reached 20% by 2012. And with the prediction that the global mobile education market will be worth $70 billion by 2020 and initiatives such as the US Department of Education’s National Education Technology Plan which provides a detailed blueprint on how schools can improve learning through technology including by leveraging mobile devices, M-Learning is guaranteed to continue to gain momentum well into the future.

Socializing without being Social

In years gone by, talking during class was a taboo that many a student ended up in the corner for. Today however, social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest and StumbleUpon are being used to encourage student participation as well as provide one-on-one support by innovative instructors across the globe.

The Rise of Digital Content

Since early 2005, Gartner has consistently predicted that digital content would be the fastest growing segment of the education market. And sure enough, from 2005-2010 the digital content industry has seen significant growth. It is also predicted that 10% of the market will be open textbooks and/or free digital content by the end of 2014 and 25% of the textbook market in Higher Education will be digital by 2015.

No longer restricted to traditional publishers, educational content is now being developed and provided to schools by independent consultants, such as the creators of Study Island, K-12, and the Global Grid for Learning (GGfL), as well as by learning institutions themselves who are employing the use of automated capture and publishing devices to stream lectures to their students. Instructors who have traditionally supplemented class work with lecture notes are also using digital tools to create content that better engages their students and offers a more customized approach to the lessons they want to teach than standard textbooks alone.

This change in dynamics has forced a paradigm shift that is pushing traditional publishers to think outside the box and create content that better caters to their learners’ needs.

The Final Frontier

All of these trends combined are moving us towards an educational future that enables formal learning to take place without being restricted by the bricks and mortar of schoolyards or university campuses, and where teachers and students are equal contributors to the learning process.

Hanny Alshazly is the Regional Director for the MEA @ Desire2Learn

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