E-Learning is Becoming More Social: Here’s How it’s Happening

In March of 1999, the movie “The Matrix” was released. In addition to revolutionizing the way cinema was made, as with most sci-fi movies, it introduced new concepts of where technology could eventually take us. One of the most interesting scenes in the movie shows Neo learning Kung Fu, by having the knowledge uploaded directly to his brain.

While the e-Learning industry continues to move forward by leaps and bounds, the instantaneous nature of this type of learning is still beyond us, so the biggest hurdle continues to be keeping people engaged. One major issue with some of our current e-Learning solutions is that they can be solitary endeavors.

Since 1959, when the first computer learning system was set up at the University of Illinois, the face of e-Learning has changed a lot. Advances in computing power and graphics abilities, not to mention the large-scale adoption of the Internet, have dramatically changed how e-Learning is conducted. Nevertheless, the fact remains: it’s something that is undertaken alone.

Humans are, on an evolutionary level, social creatures. Over millions of years, we’ve adapted, realizing that, when we work together to accomplish something, the chances of accomplishing it increase. This evolutionary need has further expanded, to be a more digital need. In 2008, 24% of Americans had a social media profile. In the past 10 years, that number has increased to 81%.

This uptake in social media activity has not gone unnoticed in the E-learning industry. Industry experts agree that taking a social slant with E-learning will be on of the top trends in the near future. How will it become more social though?

Socializing in a Virtual Classroom

Shortly after Neo had his martial arts upload in “The Matrix”, he needs to test those abilities, by meeting Morpheus in a virtual dojo, to show what he has learned. Despite the incredible advances we’ve made in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), this is still beyond us.

Even though virtual dojos of Matrix acclaim may be beyond us, virtual classrooms are already in use. While these have classically been a way of gathering different media tools for students to access, they have also grown to incorporate the social aspect of learning together.

Students have forums set up, within the classroom environment, allowing them to work together towards specific learning goals. This system is already widely used. Applications like Blackboard are already in use at many universities and technical colleges, acting as their online class platforms.

Future virtual classrooms may look very different. Once again, we can look to science fiction to see what the future may hold. In Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel “Ready Player One”, he describes entire virtual schools rendered in a virtual environment, the Oasis. Users wear special glasses that draw information directly on their eye line, and they wear haptic gloves and suits that mirror the physical sensations they would experience in reality.

While this scenario seems far-fetched, it is not far off. Companies like Nearpod have already created a virtual experience for the classroom that allows teachers to take students to explore mountains, jungles, and other environments, normally inhospitable or inaccessible for classrooms.

Social Gamification of e-Learning

Perhaps even more than being social creatures, humans are competitive. When Neo joins Morpheus in the virtual dojo, he doesn’t only want to show him what he knows; he wants to fight and defeat him. In “Ready Player One”, the users of the Oasis are galvanized to compete in a competition to find keys and unlock doors.

Reality is no different. Since the first social games prompted us to invite our friends, we’ve been doing so in spades. 48% of people play social games right now, and that number continues to increase.

As we see e-Learning implement more and more aspects of social gaming into available platforms, our competitive nature will be further encouraged, by allowing us to share our achievements to our social media feeds as well as any incorporated forums. Social games also allow us to collaborate with other players, working together to solve certain aspects of the games.

The best versions of e-Learning will combine both of these social needs. We’ll form groups or classes within a game, then work to take down other classes or achieve certain goals before them. If the game platform grows enough, we may even see a time when a game achievement could make it onto our resumes.

While nothing we have now beats the concept of instantly uploading kung fu moves and beating our friends with it—or entering a fully immersive digital landscape, moldable to any situation—we are moving forward. From the Plato I almost 50 years ago, we’ve moved on significantly, and we now have access to classrooms on our phones, not to mention augmented reality in our classrooms.

Soon enough, we’ll be able to play games with our friends, as we further our understanding of formerly difficult concepts. Until the day we can strap on a headset and learn about the gravitational differences on Mars, by playing a pickup game on the red planet with our friends, this technology will suffice, to meet both e-Learning and social needs.

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