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Top ten predictions for online learning in 2013

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As the distance learning industry booms, what can we expect from 2013?

Contact North Research Associate and online learning specialist, Dr. Tony Bates, has released his fourth annual predictions for how online learning will change in 2013 based on the Canadian education industry.

According to Bates, online learning will experience a shift and move into mainstream programs as the growth of hybrid learning -- to accommodate new technologies -- takes root in the education industry. Due to this, it is possible that academic institutions will give distance-based online learning methods more of a priority within their long-term strategies.

"In online learning, the only thing you can really be certain of is uncertainty," says Bates. "A major multinational player like Apple, Google or Facebook could jump into the online learning market and, in partnership with some elite universities, take a major share of the for-credit online market."

All in all, the researcher believes that 2013 will prove to be a "transformative" year for online learning worldwide; but what are his predictions?

1. From the periphery to the center. When online learning began to take off in 1995, it remained very much on the periphery of accepted learning practices, and is still yet to achieve the same worth as traditional classroom education. However, Bates says that in 2013, online learning will move from being a "sidebar" to becoming central to an institution's operation.

2. Hybrid learning. Instead of relying on massive open online courses (MOOCs) to push the drive from periphery to center, hybrid learning methods may be the primary reason online learning becomes a priority of colleges and universities. Hybrid learning, a mix of online and campus-based teaching in order to improve educational quality and boost productivity, will potentially lead to full redesigns of courses.

However, it may be that academic institutions will initially use hybrid learning as a form of "crude pedagogy" through video recording and flipped classes, but this will improve over time.

3. A strategic institutional approach to online and flexible learning. The researcher expects to see online learning increasingly appear as strategic initiatives within institutional plans. This trend will be driven by a number of factors in 2013, including political pressure and financial considerations.

However, bureaucracy is likely to get in the way, and so institutions may find this year a struggle when it comes down to implementing new learning methods.

4. Outsourcing. In correlation with the above trends, Bates believes that some online learning systems and resources will be outsourced rather than created in-house. A number of outsourced elements in online learning include marketing, course design, technical support and learning management systems.

5. The evolution of MOOCs: the trough of disillusionment? Massive open online courses, such as EdX, are expected to keep rolling out over 2013, but the current business models may come under increased scrutiny. The researcher expects MOOCs to downsize and become more in-tune with college education over time.

6. Open text books. Stating that "from a tiny seed a forest grows," Bates believes the inclusion of free, open learning resources will become an important factor in 2013, especially as the cost of education continues to rise.

7. The year of the tablet? Tablet use has the potential to grow in 2013 as a way to store textbooks and access interactive learning materials. However, due to their expense, roaming costs and compatibility issues, the adoption of tablets in education may be a slow process.

8. Flexible course design (FCD). FCD could reduce the long-term cost of course design by shortening the process, and will focus on learner-directed activities, including project work and multimedia assignments.

9. Going international. Bates suggests that the adoption of online learning also depends on the country in question. Mexico is expected to open up a huge market for online learning due to the new President's promises of creating a national online virtual university, and India is putting in place a national high speed network connecting the major universities and colleges, which may open up more opportunity for distance-based learning.

10. Expect the unexpected. Bates urges people to "expect the unexpected" this year. Increasing privatization of post-secondary education, major online players including Google and Apple getting involved and a lack of public funding may all contribute to an uncertain future in the world of online learning.

Image credit: Tanel Teemusk

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— By on January 8, 2013, 4:40 PM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure