There are now more mobile devices than people on the planet.

In the early 1990s, less than 1 percent of the world was connected to the Internet. Today, it is estimated that as much as 45 percent of the world’s population has Internet access, according to data from Internet Live Stats. This dramatic increase in connectivity, coupled with the availability of affordable mobile devices, is having a significant impact on the e-learning industry. Technology is changing the way the entire world is learning. People can learn anywhere, anytime they want.

Corporations, schools, governments, hospitals, and a host of other institutions are now developing custom e-learning courses. They are substituting physical classrooms for connected virtual environments, which require learners to have only a mobile device and an Internet connection.

Although they still exist, fixed schedules, intimidating textbooks, and mind-numbing lectures are gradually being replaced or complemented by technology-driven e-learning courses. When technology is used correctly in e-learning course design, the result is more learner engagement, accelerated learning, significant time and cost savings, and higher levels of knowledge retention.

However, although there is an abundance of technology at their disposal, some course developers still can’t seem to create the engaging learning experiences that students desire.

Imagine going to a state-of-the-art gym for the first time but not having a clue how to use any of the fancy machines. Your workout won’t be very productive and you’ll waste the money you’ve invested in a premium gym membership. However, with a qualified personal trainer’s guidance, you could learn how to use the machines to sculpt a great body and even have fun in the process.

This is the case with e-learning course development and technology. Technology can be used to support teaching and learning. The technology is there, ready to be used, but course developers first need to be aware of the technology and then understand how they can use it.

Although there are numerous learning technology trends, let’s look at four innovative technologies that developers can use to create richer learning experiences and realize significant improvements in productivity.

Learning by Making With 3-D Printing

Three-dimensional (3-D) printing is the process of making a physical object from a 3-D digital model. This technology can be applied to many subjects, such as science, history, math, and architecture. It has the power to not only change the scope of students’ work, but also how they relate to the information they are learning. It bridges the gap between the digital and physical learning environments. Students can see, touch, and interact with their digital creations in real life. By doing so, they have the opportunity to improve their designs, making them as accurate as possible.

Although 3-D printers can be expensive to buy and maintain, they can lead to significant cost and time savings in the long run. Without a 3-D printer, students would have to build their models by hand, which could be time and resource intensive, depending on the complexity of their designs. Instead of spending entire classes, weeks, or semesters in a workshop building models, students can spend more time designing and refining their designs in a virtual environment. In turn students can push their creativity and build confidence designing on the computer rather than in a workshop.

Mitigating Risk With Virtual Reality

Although virtual reality (VR) technology has been around for decades, only recently have we seen it emerge as a tool in e-learning course design. It offers developers an opportunity to create more engaging, realistic learning experiences that cannot be replicated by textbooks, videos, and other types of media.

In the past, VR’s relatively high cost in relation to other tools limited its use in training. Although it is still quite pricey, rapid improvements in smartphone technology, such as high-resolution screens and reliable motion sensors, have helped bring down the cost and allow for more mainstream use.

One of the most effect ways VR technology is being applied to e-learning is to teach high-risk tasks in the form of simulations. Learners can immerse themselves in the digital experience by practicing simulated tasks that are considered dangerous in the real world without the risk of injury. As a result, fear of failure is minimized, allowing learners to be more creative in their approach to handling high-pressure situations. They are free to try, fail, and try again.

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Consider firefighter rescue training. Trainees must learn to enter a burning building to rescue the people trapped inside. They could read theories in textbooks, watch instructional videos, and role-play. However, VR gives them a more realistic platform where they can practice evacuations. If the building were to collapse while they were still inside, the simulation would end. However, they would be able to learn from their errors and repeat the simulation until they completed it successfully.

Increasing Accessibility With Multidevice Responsive Design

Have you ever visited a website on your desktop, then revisited it on your mobile device only to have a horrible browsing experience? Chances are the website was not designed to be mobile friendly. In technical web terms, the website wasn’t responsive.

In recent years, we’ve seen mobile Internet usage surpass desktop usage. People aren’t just sitting at a desk in front of a computer; they are browsing, shopping, booking tickets, and learning on their cell phones and tablets. Many people don’t even see the need to own a desktop computer anymore.

Responsive design is the practice of designing content that facilitates an optimized user experience across multiple devices, including desktops, phones, tablets, and other handheld devices. Content is organized in a fluid grid layout that adjusts to the width of the device being used.

If you can design your courses to be device agnostic, or compatible across multiple mobile devices, you will also amplify one of the benefits of e-learning: accessibility. Your learners will have more access to your course from anywhere, at any time, and from multiple devices.

The use of responsive e-learning authoring tools is essential. They give you the power to design your course so that all of its elements automatically adjust to the device being used. Buttons, menus, images, videos, and font sizes fit the dimensions of the learner’s browser, allowing for the best possible content experience. Designing a responsive course should no longer be a nice-to-have feature; it should be a requirement.

Stability, Security, and Scalability: Cloud Storage and E-Learning

Interactive e-learning courses rely heavily on multimedia. Although when designing e-learning courses we aim to optimize the size of images, videos, and other file formats, it still requires a lot of storage space. If these files are being stored on a local server, performance issues can arise in terms of speed, security, and stability as file counts continually increase.

Cloud storage is a service that allows data to be backed up, maintained, and managed remotely. Files are stored online so that users can access them from any location once they have an Internet connection. Storing your course and its files in the cloud frees up local server space and improves the overall course performance and learner experience. In addition, cloud storage provides automatic backup and recovery of information.

Cloud storage is yet another technology that facilitates location-independent learning. Courses and files can be accessed and updated remotely from multiple devices. A student can take a course from his iPad on a beach in Bali while his classmate completes and uploads her midterm essay from an airport in New York. Neither of them needs to be in a classroom.

The four technologies discussed in this article all contribute to one common goal: increasing the effectiveness of e-learning courses. They facilitate greater learner engagement, information retention, and access to learning. As these technologies become more sophisticated and robust, the industry can expect to see dramatic improvements in how e-learning courses are designed and applied across a variety of industries.

Is there an emerging technology not highlighted in this article that you think e-learning course developers can use to create more effective courses? Please let us know in the Comments section.