What the future holds for e-learning

Despite the fact that the term e-learning was coined in 1999, the roots of machine-based teaching can actually be traced backed decades before then. Ever since, more and more interpretations have offered to provide learners with the ultimate in education and instruction.

But that doesn’t mean to say we have reached the pinnacle of e-learning. Although psychologists have used science to prove that e-learning techniques such as spaced repetition and gamification are much more effective at long-term memory retention than traditional training methods, you never know when new or novel innovations could transform knowledge acquisition yet again.

So, how far has e-learning come since its inception and what does the future have in store for this teaching technique?

The history of e-learning

Similar to e-learning, distance courses were in existence as early as the 1840s when Isaac Pitman taught students about symbolic writing via long-distance correspondence. However, it wasn’t until 1924 that Ohio State University professor Sidney Pressey invented a self-testing machine known as “Automatic Teacher,” which to all intents and purposes failed.

Fast forward 30 years and students at Harvard University were invited to follow a set of instructions on the “Teaching Machine” created by professor and pioneer BF Skinner. He also developed a more advanced system in 1960, the same year the first fully-fledged computer-based training program was developed, known as PLATO: Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operation. It featured learning drills and even the ability to skip questions.

In the 1970s, the British Open University made plans to embrace the e-learning principle with its long-distance courses. Around this time, the computer mouse as well as the GUI was invented, while personal computers followed soon after.

Before long, virtual learning environments began to thrive and educational institutions were able to deliver teaching to people unable to attend in person due to geographical or time constraints. Corporate training providers picked up on this too and the 21st century’s digital landscape meant that employees could access e-learning materials on virtually any device, in any place, and at any time.

The future of e-learning

Today you could argue that e-learning has evolved just as much since the term was coined as it did from Isaac Pitman’s first long-distance courses. Thanks to rapid advancements in technology, e-learning has had to adapt to the ever-changing digital preferences of modern-day learners.

Therefore, it is safe to assume that e-learning will continue to adjust its offering in order to remain relevant to learners and effective at teaching new information. But how will it do this?

Cloud-based learning

We live in a world that is one big marketplace, where companies have customers all over the globe. Therefore, several organisations have members of staff in multiple locations too, which calls for a unified training solution. Rather than installing e-learning programs on separate computers, businesses want a platform where employees can access content wherever they may be.

“There is an increasing demand for inexpensive, high-quality, global training,” says Jeffrey Roth of Topyx. “Currently, business is transitioning from costly in-person training routines to eLearning programs.

“In the coming years, any stigmas attached to online learning will be abolished. Instead, cloud-based technology will streamline corporate training procedures and open doors to customised learning options for small and medium sized businesses.”

Bring Your Own Device

There is no reason why e-learning should be confined to the walls of your workplace. Some employees might learn more effectively at home on their laptops, while others prefer to acquire knowledge during lunch on their smartphones. Therefore, organisations must adjust to Bring Your Own Device trends when it comes to e-learning.

“Learners at colleges and in the work place are becoming smarter about the way they learn, so organisations need to continually develop e-learning content to keep ahead of market trends,” notes Jane Scott Paul of AAT.

“Like it or not, people of all ages are bringing their own devices into the work and learning environment and this will only continue to become more common moving forward.”


The transition from e-learning to m-learning or mobile learning is not just a future prediction, it’s happening right now. A recent benchmark study by Towards Maturity found that 71 per cent of organisations now deploy mobile devices for learning.

“Tablets are growing exponentially and soon they may become the preferred choice for e-learning,” notes Rob Caul of Kallidus. “With the proliferation of smartphones too, HTML5 and responsive design are growing rapidly in popularity, enabling learners to access learning content at their point of need, using the device of their choice.”

“As we move towards the new paradigm of learning anytime, anywhere, on any device, one of the biggest challenges for L&D departments is finding the best way to ensure learning content can be viewed across any device or platform.”

Online video

Video is quickly becoming the most admired content medium online, as they are now easy and quick to produce yet grab the audience’s attention and keep viewers interested in what you have to say. The success of TED Talks and similar platforms only goes to show just how significant video could be for e-learning.

“I reckon we’ll see an even greater use of video in the workplace,” believes Clive Shepherd of Fastrack Consulting. “Learners like it and it’s much easier to produce than it ever was. [Video] is more engaging, more versatile and less impersonal.

“It can be used to trigger interaction, both individual and group – and can be blended with more reflective materials such as web articles, blogs and PDFs.”

Informal learning

If employees want to learn a new piece of information, they no longer need to wait for a training course to roll around. They can go online and find the answer almost immediately. For this reason, e-learning needs to facilitate informal learning in the future too.

“With the easy availability of new social media tools, individuals are already managing their informal learning,” notes Rajesh Thambala of ValueLabs.

“This trend is only likely to catch up more in the future as the users increasingly search for and access learning resources freely available on the web, such as, podcasts, videos, and blogs, whenever needed.”

Do you have any predictions on what the future holds for e-learning? Let us know by commenting below.

Written by: Persia Shahkarami

Persia is passionate about helping organizations improve employee engagement across their professional development initiatives.
Published: 7 Jan, 2016