One of the definitions of eLearning is: “The use of technology in learning and education.”

Indeed, new technological advancements have shaped what eLearning can and cannot do for decades. There has been a multitude of catchphrases describing new developments (marked in bold below), some of which are still used today, others that have been forgotten. Let’s start with a quick trip down memory lane.

Distance or correspondence learning meant distribution of print material to students, usually by mail. Cameras and TV made it possible for educators to record lessons and share them with hundreds or thousands of students. The rise of personal computers meant that new exciting functionality and interactivity could be added. This was called Computer Based Training. CD-ROM brought realistic video to the desktop and enabled providers to put massive amounts of content on one disc that was then duplicated and sold many times. Then, the web would replace CDs and it was no longer needed to purchase anything in a shop (Online Learning). Just register online and start learning! Webcams and introduction of advanced course creation software lowered the cost of creating courses. Near the end of the 20th century the term eLearning was used for the first time. In mid-2002, Blended Learning became popular and indicated a trend that eLearning could be used together with real-life classes. In the mid-2000s, eLearning 2.0 added Web 2.0 functionality to courses, such as social media, Wikis and messaging. Teachers started to use Skype, other messaging software and webcams to interact with students.

More recently, smartphones and tablets set students free and let them study whenever and wherever they chose (m-learning). Now, this trend is pushed even further with liberation of education via initiatives like TED and massively-open online courses (MOOCs), the most popular ones being: Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity and Codecademy. Millions have enrolled in these free online courses.

According to Education Sector Factbook 2012 from GSV Advisors eLearning is slated to grow at an average of 23% in the years 2012-17. What new technologies will drive this growth?

  1. First, new devices will make learning more convenient than ever. Mobile phones, laptops, tablets and eBook readers have been steadily rising in popularity in recent years replacing desktop computers as the default way of accessing content. It is a given that in coming years they will become even smarter and more powerful and as a result – eLearning will continue to shift its focus in their direction. So far, courses were expected to run on mobile devices, hopefully as well as they did on desktop computers. In the future, they will take advantage of all functionality that they offer (GPS, accelerometers, NFC, cameras, etc.) to make eLearning even more exciting… and will hopefully also run on desktops.
  2. Second, cloud model of distribution will replace one-time downloads and installs of course materials. As learners use mobile devices more and more, providers of eLearning will offer courses or even just single modules as packets to be purchased and downloaded when needed. Why buy and install a large course when you can access learning on demand?
  3. Third, eLearning will reach more and more distant parts of the world. Long time ago, nobody thought of translating courses into other languages. They were made in English or another language and served only users in one market. Then, companies realized that that you can save by re-using the same course in different territories. That trend was driven by big multinationals with offices around the world who actually wanted their training to be uniform and not created locally. But there is another trend too: eLearning as the best answer to education shortages in the developing world. Examples of this are Microsoft’s Afrika Academy – an educational initiative which includes both online and offline learning and Intel’s SKOOL program. They bring cheap education to the masses in remote areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America in languages that go far beyond FIGS and CJK.

This is of course exciting news for localization providers!