Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Last Year's eLearn Magazine Predictions

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jan 02, 2008

Originally posted on Half an Hour, January 2, 2008.

2007 is finally over. Everybody is busily predicting 2008, but who is checking 2007's predictions?

I am.

Here are the predictions from the 2007 eLearn Magazine's annual round-up, and what actually happened.

Don Norman, Nielsen Norman Group, Northwestern University, and Author of Things That Make Us Smart, USA

Predicted: "Finally, something might happen within the educational scene. Why? Because business leaders are now seriously worried. I have seen more educational startups, more new foundations, more retired-while-still-young entrepreneurs turning their attention to education than ever before. Sure, many of these efforts are naïve and overly-simplistic, but these people are smart, fast learners, so their lack of knowledge and understanding of education doesn't last long. Not only that, but they are hiring teachers and educators for their staff, management, and advisory boards. Finally, something might happen within the educational scene."

Grade: D

Predicting that "something might happen" doesn't really score well on the precision scale. That said, we didn't really see a blossoming of new educational ventures last year. Indeed, if anything, we saw a bit of a retrenchment.

Richard Mayer, Department of Psychology, University of California, USA

Predicted: "Researchers will continue to make progress in determining the instructional design features of e-learning that promote learning, including research-based principles for the use of animated pedagogical agents, intelligent tutoring systems, simulations, games, virtual reality, and multimedia environments."
Grade: C-

Whether researchers were able to "make progress" is debatable, but at least research did continue in the areas listed (which was pretty much all of e-learning except for online courses). No great breakthroughs, and 2007 was characterized by a nearly complete absence of animated pedagogical agents, though simulations, games, VR and multimedia were strong.

Elliott Masie, The MASIE Center's Learning CONSORTIUM, USA

Predicted: "High Definition Learning: The rise of high definition media (from HD TV to higher resolution plasma/LCD screens) will push us to a new model of High Definition Learning. This will manifest itself in high definition video conferencing, presence, and higher expectation of virtual/simulated settings. Social and Informal Blends: Add one part informal learning, one part social networking and swirl in classrooms, e-learning, and online webinars, and you have some new recipes. Continuous Events vs. Defined Courses: Why graduate learners from a course in a field that is continuing to change? Courses don't have to end, but can continue for years. That can be applied to higher education as well as corporate learning offerings. Learning Systems (LMS/LCMS) Experiment with Web 3.0: Presence on the desktop, peer reviewed content, 'gadgets/components' and Learning API's. Open Source Content: There will be several experiments on organizational open source learning content development."

Grade: C

We'll give him points for precision, but unfortunately the predictions missed the mark. HD learning? Didn't happen. Continuous courses? A marginal influence at best. Web 3.0 and presence on the desktop: nice try to anticipate widgets, but they showed up in Facebook, not on the desktop. Open Source content? Not counting Yale, we are long past the experimental stage, and moving into mainstream.

Michael Feldstein, author of the e-Literate weblog and member of eLearn Magazine's Editorial Advisory Board, USA

Predicted: "The U.S. Supreme Court will weaken the test for proving 'obviousness' in a patent case, substantially impacting Blackboard's current patent litigation efforts. The Spellings report will spur new efforts in implementing institution-wide metrics for e-learning effectiveness in higher education. The IMS Common Cartridge and upcoming Enterprise V2 standards will significantly improve content and learning system interoperability, respectively, although we won't see the full benefits of these developments until 2008. And, finally, despite a ton of buzz in the edu-blogosphere and some merit, 'e-Learning 2.0' will only see limited success in terms of widespread diffusion."

Grade: A-

Very specific predictions, and very accurate. Feldstein hits the Supreme Court ruling dead on, tracks the impact into the Blackboard case, where a substantial part of the claim was invalidated. He also correctly tracks reaction to the Spellings Commission. Common Cartridge is gaining traction, with a lot of demand being expressed, but since the specification remains proprietary to IMS members, it hasn't had the impact it could have. Perhaps they'll open it up in 2008. Finally, e-Learning 2.0 had a bit more than "limited" success - things like social networks had a big year, both in and outside e-learning - but I think both Feldstein and I agree that we'll never see a broad corporate uptake of anything other than enterprise tools.

Curt Bonk, Professor, Indiana University, USA
Predicted: "With the push toward Web 2.0 technologies, Time magazine recently named "you" as the person of the year for 2006. In the world of learning, this signifies the growing attention toward personalizing and customizing learning and placing the learner in charge of her own learning activities. In 2007, we may further recognize this by renaming "the Web" as "the Web of Learning." In effect, when it comes to training and education, no longer is the Web simply "the Web." Instructional models are beginning to reflect this trend by thinking deeply about pedagogy and the learner within e-learning, not simply technology."
Grade: C-

Nobody attempted to rename the Web, and 'The Web of Learning' simply had no traction in 2007. There was more attention paid to personalization and customization, but nothing that would distinguish 2007 from previous years. Instructional models have always thought about pedagogy and the learner within e-learning (how often do we see in the mailing lists the refrain that 'technology is only a tool' and that 'we cannot be driven by technology').

Stephen Downes, Researcher, National Research Council, Canada
Predicted: "As expected, last year was the year of video. This year will continue that trend with a wide range of video-on-demand services becoming available as the leaders consolidate their hold. Also look for ubiquitous Wii-like wireless-based online applications, a limping launch for Vista, and challenges to commercial software across the board by hosted services (which will later become free applications you can host yourself). Single sign-in will finally arrive, and new services enabled by this (such as socially supported content filtering) will sweep the web. The internet is ripe for something new (and no, that something is not Second Life): something like the personal learning environment connected to free content— Creative Commons, open access, and open educational resources. If the bottom doesn't drop out of the paid software and content market in 2007, it will at least be severely compromised."
Grade: A-

Video continued to be strong with VoD services being developed (and TiVo becoming available in Canada, yay). The Wii was probably the tech story of the year, taking the community by storm. Single sign-on arrived with major players like Microsoft, Google and AOL backing OpenID. Vista was widely regarded as one of the worst products of the year, and "limping" was perhaps an understatement. Second Life faltered but remained strong. But nothing like the personal learning environment became mainstream, though development continues. Finally, while paid content and software remain strong, there were significant compromises, as the major lables abopted DRM-free MP3 releases and the NY Times closed Times Select.

Ray Schroeder, Director, Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning, University of Illinois at Springfield, USA
Predicted: "The coming year will bring advances in mobile learning (m-learning) as Microsoft and Apple compete for the e-learning market with enhanced versions of Zune and the iPod. At the same time the major cell phone manufacturers will deploy many new models of the dual WiFi/3G cell phones. These phones will enable e-learners to access web materials (with no minutes charged) at WiFi access points and via advanced 3G cell where WiFi is unavailable. Learning providers, recognizing the rapidly expanding market of mobile-connected learners will ramp-up delivery of m-learning compatible courseware."
Grade: A

Basically predicted the iPhone and was rewarded in spades, as 2007 was a major year for mobile technologies. Palm and RiM also had (to my vantage point) strong years. And with WiFi available not only on the iPhone but also the iPod touch, Schroeder nails tat one. Many e-learning (and other) content features are now aailable in mobile format. All of that said: nobody noticed whether or not Zune released a new version last year; they're simply not a player (yet).

Karl Kapp, Assistant Director, Institute for Interactive Technologies and Professor of Instructional Technology, Bloomsburg University, USA

Predicted: "Gadgets, games, and gizmos will dominate the e-learning landscape in 2007. On the one hand, organizations will seek to develop e-learning with an eye toward 3D environments using Second Life and other commercially available platforms. On the other hand, an increasing number of simple, quick games, so called casual games, will be developed to teach facts and concepts to employees who are used to being entertained as well as educated. Mobile devices will finally begin to be used for mission critical learning events such as prepping for sales calls and troubleshooting large machinery. Web-based tools used by individuals such as social bookmarks, RSS feeds, blogs, wikis and avatars will become more mainstream in academic and then corporate environments."
Grade: B

This is basically a 'more of the same' prediction, and while the trends identified - things like 3D environments, gaming, and web based tools - remained consistent, none of them had a break-through year. 2007 was a big year for mobile, as just discussed, but not really in the way described by Kapp. So, though the prediction was relatively reliable, points lost for lack of precision and failing to key in on any of the big trends.

Saul Carliner, Assistant Professor, Graduate Program in Educational Technology, Concordia University, Canada

Predicted: "The role of instructional-designers-by-assignment continues to expand (SMEs who develop their own learning programs). Instructional designers work as production assistants in these situations— well below our abilities and aspirations. Experimentation in the design of e-learning programs will be more practical and usable to other designers as our experience with the medium grows. In the workplace, e-learning is increasingly seen as one key part of an organization's larger portfolio of learning options. Blogs and wikis continue to gain traction as an e-learning device, especially in universities. Finally, e-learning tools are increasingly working their ways into the everyday university classroom, from guest speakers by webcast to the increasing rarity of paper syllabi."

Grade: B

I have the least knowledge about Carliner's most precise prediction, that instructional designers will be increasingly marginalized. Is this so? It sounds accurate to me, but I can't be sure. I saw no evidence that experimentation in e-learning design became more practical - indeed, with things like Second Life playing a large role, it became in certain ways less practical. Presumably usability improved, but no products were touted as great improvements in usability. Existing trends - blogs, wikis and webcasts - continued.

Allison Rossett, Professor of Educational Technology, San Diego State University and co-author of Job Aids and Performance Support, USA

Predicted: "Knowledge everywhere—evolution not revolution: Annual studies by ASTD and Training magazine confirm the slow, steady trend away from classroom delivery and towards more technological approaches to training and support. Information, lessons, instructors, and events are beginning to go where they are needed. While the shift from knowledge in the classroom to knowledge everywhere is radical, progress is not. Not yet. Revolution is too strong a word for where we are today. Intimations, hints, glimmers, and possibilities—those words describe it better. How will you use 2007 for pilot projects, measurement, continuous improvement, and change management? How will you bring knowledge and support closer to where it is needed and advance this worthy revolution?"

Grade: C

This was almost a non-prediction, and the last few sentences are actually questions. Yes, there has been an observable trend toward more technological approaches to learning and support. This has been true for years. Saying that there won't be radical shifts may be (in the main) accurate but not very useful. Knowing about the iPhone, the Wii or the changes in patent law are much more important - whether or not they count as 'revolutionary'.

Jay Cross, Internet Time Group., USA
Predicted: "This will be the year of PULL. People will rebel against the ever larger haystacks that have been pushed upon them in favor of finding needles for themselves. We'll see fewer and fewer courses, books, and three-day retreats, and more "small pieces, loosely joined." Conference attendees will set their own agenda; workshop participants will choose their curriculum. Systems will evolve that enable us to rate what we read— allowing the best to rise to the top. Not that we have a lot of choice. The world has become unpredictable; only a fool plans far in advance these days. As for technology, everything will get faster, better, cheaper. That's not a prediction; it's Moore's Law."
Grade: B-

People may have been rebelling, but the number of traditional conferences and events far outnumbered the alternatives. Still, Cross picks up on an important new trend, and even noticing that there are going to be any unconferences is a prediction worth noting. That said, 2007 wasn't really a year of any significance for 'pull', nor did content rating systems become any more mainstream than Digg - useful recommender systems are still in the future.

Mark Oehlert, Learning Strategy Architect, Booz Allen Hamilton, USA
Predicted: "My predictions are that we will realize that we need to re-design the curriculum for ISD programs so that we teach critical thinking informed by interdisciplinary courses; re-design business models toward more pay-as-you-use models that take advantage of Web 2.0 technologies; re-design our markets so that they veer sharply away from predatory business practices like seeking overly broad patents; craft a new design to better integrate game-based learning while meeting instructional objectives; realize that mobile learning means something other than hardware— it means experiences and environments; and finally, that Stephen Downes will be a pretty good predictor— he picked video last year."
Grade: B-

Most of Oehlert's predictions speak to attitudes, which makes them harder to disprove. We may or may not realize the need to teach critical thinking - certainly enough people talked about it - but that's very different from finally doing it. In other cases, it's not clear people believed these things at all: was there really a movement in support of 'pay per use'? Hardly. Did people's attitudes towards patents, game-based learning and mobile learning really shift? Very hard to say. A generous B-.

Margaret Driscoll, Consultant, IBM, USA
Predicted: "E-learning will continue to gain ground outside traditional training organizations. It is becoming a popular delivery vehicle for certification and compliance training. Managers in line organizations such as operations, sales, and finance who simply need to deliver information/instruction and document "training" have discover e-learning. The reach of these kinds of e-learning programs will color learner expectations regarding e-learning. Training professionals in turn will need to market their programs to overcome prejudice and negative prior experience."
Grade: C

Scores very poorly on the precision scale. While accurate, the prediction is essentially 'more of the same'. E-learning is becoming popular as a vehicle for compliance 'page-turners', which in turn creates negative perceptions that must be overcome. Nothing particularly daring about this prediction; what would be surprising would be were it to turn out to be false.

Richard Larson, Director, MIT Learning Interactive Networks Consortium (LINC) and Mitsui Professor, Engineering Systems, MIT, USA

Predicted: "Pressed by bandwidth limitations in many parts of the world, e-learning innovators in developing countries will find increasingly clever ways to balance online Internet connectivity needs with stored local content and pedagogical aids. Local content and learning algorithms (e.g., MyCyberTutor) can be stored on a hard drive, CD, DVD, or local server. The right combination of low-bandwidth text interactivity coupled with animations and video that can be stored locally will allow more and more learners in developing countries to experience the rich learning environments that we take for granted in the higher-bandwidth West. There are business, research and implementation opportunities here."
Grade: D

A very specific prediction of something that has been going on for the last decade. It would have been more interesting to see discussion of the use of Flash memory to address connectivity and bandwidth issues, but this is the one technology that is not mentioned. As it is, aside from the increasing use of Flash memory, which is geuinely a big technology story (think Wikipedia on a stick, think Web 2.0 on a stick, think OLPC), no major advances in localized content systems were reported in 2007.

Angeliki Poulymenakou, Assistant Professor in Information Systems, and Spiros Borotis, Researcher, both at Athens University of Economics and Business, Greece
Predicted: "European Union funding policies currently emphasizing digital inclusion and skills-development will continue to provide leverage for the uptake of e-learning in Europe. The content providers' markets will be increasingly divided into two segments: there will be an increased offering of free and open content, contributing to the decrease of prices for commercial e-content; meanwhile, another segment will continue development of quality, interoperable, and interactive e-content that is bundled with additional services such as accreditation. Moreover, this latter segment will move aggressively towards the institutionalization of intellectual property rights of digital educational content. Human resource professionals will increasingly demand and procure end-to-end e-learning solutions that will complement content and infrastructure offerings with consultancy services required to develop a truly value-adding technology-enabled human resource development function. Examples of such services include HRD process improvement, training needs assessment, evaluation and accreditation, and convergence of information and learning infrastructures."
Grade: C

We saw the division discussed in this prediction - just as we have for the last number of years. No new developments are predicted, rather, a continuation of trends in this ongoing conflict. However, the advances in 2007 came from the side of free and open content, with the number of open courseware initiatives increasing, with legislation (such as the NIH bill) being signed into effect, and with open source technology continuing to make inroads. That said, there were continued (though less visibly successful) attempts by the commercial side of the house to push issues like IPR, harmonization, and quality standards. This prediction is generally a prediction that the commercial side of the house will be more successful in its efforts, but the evidence would appear to contradict that.

Masaaki Kurosu, Professor, National Institute of Multimedia Education, Japan
Predicted: "As various types of e-learning have developed, we now have come to a point where there are disciplines that specify what types of e-learning should be given to what types of learners in what types of situations. One example of such a discipline is that e-learning content generally should consist of fundamental material required for learning an advanced topic. Fundamental topics may not change so radically every year. Because advanced topics have to be changed and revised as academic knowledge accumulates, they are not as well-suited to e-learning. The time and the cost of revising e-learning content is not small, hence teachers often want to use the same content for at least 3 to 5 years."
Grade: D

Didn't happen. There was no significant move toward defining what types of learning should be given to what types of learner. This prediction is one of those where the author is stating what should happen, rather than what will happen. Perhaps there is a need for what is being recommended. But there is no evidence available suggesting widespread recognition of that need.

Ellen Wagner, Sr. Director, Worldwide eLearning Solutions, Adobe Systems, USA
Predicted: "I predict that three distinct emerging trends will impact the ways in which e-learning practitioners engage in their professional activities for 2007. The first, and probably the most significant of these trends, looks at the impact of dynamic media (e.g. smart documents, interactive Web video content, mash-ups, and metaworlds) on learning and performance support, and how this new media is changing expectations of a high-quality, engaging e-learning experience. The second trend is mobility and considers the role that mobile technologies play in providing learning and performance support at the point of need, when that support is needed, and on whatever digital device makes the most sense for the learner. The third trend considers how socially negotiated media and user produced content (the so-called Web 2.0 phenomena) are expanding opportunities for all members of an enterprise to contribute ideas and information in a variety of formats and forms, regardless of their technical abilities."
Grade: B

Dynamic media? A brave prediction, but it didn't happen. This is most likely a case of 'too early' rather than out-and-out getting it wrong, as both Microsoft and Adobe are lining up technologies that will support dynamism in traditionally inert media (such as video and documents). The mobile web prediction was accurate but vague - the trend may be 'mobility' but what kind? Finally, web 2.0 advanced as predicted, giving - as predicted - 'all members of an enterprise' an ability to contribute in a variety of formats. It would have been nice to see discussion of what happens when you give your staff - and grade 5 students - the ability to produce video records and post them online.

David Porush, Executive Director, SUNY Learning Environments, USA
Predicted: "Neal Stephenson's and William Gibson's metaverse is open for business: 3D, first-person, highly sensational, real-time. Yes, there's lots of lap dancing going on in SecondLife, but also 120+ campuses and the NMC's very compelling learning space. Learners are now physical as well as discursive avatars. Explosive brew. PREDICTION: There will be a strong impulse to 're-create' the conventional university setting (walls, lecterns, screens & whiteboards) — comforting vestigial organs, like handrails in 1920s elevators. But the fluidity of physical identity and boundary-destroying commfeeds will busta move. Someone will exploit this creative tension by inventing a new and compelling mode for learning."
Grade: C+

The prediction that people would attempt to recreate the traditional university in Second Life may have been a no-brainer, but it was made, and was accurate. The prediction that somebody will invent a new and compelling mode for learning was brave, but - with the exception of a few innovative attempts - was wrong. No such invention - sad to say - happened.

Geoffrey Bock, Principal, Bock & Company, USA

Predicted: "We're going to start building a lot more 'intelligence' into our online information environments in some surprising new ways. Our 'seek and ye shall find' style of searching will morph into an 'I need, I find, I do' kind of solution. Yes, Google will still be there when we need it. But we're going to be adding actions and decision making capabilities. We're going to have environments that help us learn and that learn from our experiences. We're going to be embedding all kinds of informative semantics into our XML-driven metadata. We're going to be looking at semantics from a business perspective. My favorite? Take a carefully look at O'Reilly's Safari U ( and then imagine the possibilities!

Grade: D

Safari U - which has been around for a number of years - has had no real impact beyond the O'Reilly readership community (and even only a moderate impact within that community). And in 2007, Google remained the undisputed - and pretty much only - way of finding things. We may be embedding metadata into XML (though this appears to be slowing a bit) but we are not actually finding things using this technology. These predictions may come true in the future - but they certainly did not come true in 2007.

Jonathon Levy, Senior Learning Strategist, Monitor Group, USA
Predicted: "We will see movement toward capturing tacit knowledge and integrating collective knowledge with corporate data and other knowledge resources. Social tagging software will emerge as an important element of the knowledge management landscape. Corporate universities will begin to question their positioning as a 'university,' and some enlightened Chief Learning Officers (CLOs) will reject the academic model and begin to reposition themselves as performance support and change management specialists. More CLOs will move up to the board. The role of knowledge in corporate competitiveness will be enhanced while the metrics of the knowledge/learning function will shift toward revenue models, abandoning 'completion' statistics for more relevant measures."
Grade: C-

There was certainly an effort to capture 'tacit knowledge', though not always by the enterprise and not always with the user's consent. But social tagging wasn't the mechanism of choice; we saw much more sharing through chat applications such as Twitter. Corporate Universityies didn't really question their position, though they did look more at performance support and change management - as they have since their inception. No evidence of a major movement of CLOs to the board. No really shift in evaluation metrics, though there was (as usual) no shortage of alternative models offered.


So that's it. What did I learn from all this?

First, that there are two major types of predictions: one, which identifies a current trend, and says it will continue; and the other, that identifies something novel or unexpected. It seems clear that the former predictions are easy and safe and not especially useful. The latter, while not as safe, were much more useful to people.

There are also different types of predictions. Some predictions speak to attitudes. Others speak to trends (including a subset of these that suggest a trend will go mainstream). And still, others speak of technological or system-wide advances. And finally, the most useful predictions identify side-effects - the result of some unexpected event and development. For example: predicting people will want video is one thing, predicting that it will become popular is another, predicting that Flash video will help video become accessible is another, but predicting YouTube is most useful of all.

And third, scale is a tricky issue. There were many predictions that will probably come true - some day. But they did not come true in 2007. We want to reward such predictions, because we feel they are accurate, but unless it happens, it's just another false prediction. Another trend was a slew (the perpetrators won't be named) who correctly predicted last year's event or trend.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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