Three Trends for Online Science Learning in 2018

By Tracy Livingston, 01/25/2018 - 10:28

Today’s college and university students want to reach educational goals in a way that fits their lifestyle. Whether taking courses that are blended or 100% online, students are eager to leverage remote learning technologies and methodologies for an engaging, rigorous online learning experience in a convenient setting.

Science is an experiential process. For online science learning, the consensus among instructors and administrators is that hands-on experimentation is essential for successful science comprehension. Effective learning occurs when students get first-hand laboratory experiences and the ability to “practice” scientific concepts rather than passively view or read about them.

These three higher ed science learning trends for 2018 are certainly consistent with this thinking and are helping to bridge the gap between the distance learner and the traditional laboratory experience:

1.VR and AR

Virtual and Augmented Reality are currently among the hottest methods for disseminating online learning content. Virtual Reality has been prevalent in this arena for quite some time now. With Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality added to the mix, online educators now have exciting new possibilities in the immersive learning space.

Traditionally, VR and AR technology has been primarily used for gaming and media experiences.

With new technologies and less expensive hardware, learning applications for these technologies is becoming more prevalent. Virtual Reality enables students access to places or concepts that they otherwise might not be capable of experiencing due to cost, logistics, or feasibility. eScience Labs, facilitates virtual space travel for astronomy students, giving them a guided tour of our solar system. Other potential applications that are being considered for development include virtual field trips for students in the geosciences to study rock formations.

Among the possibilities being explored for Augmented Reality is the ability for students to trigger just-in-time learning. A typical scenario of AR would be a learner wanting to find out more about a piece of learning content, a device, technology, or a place. Using a QR code, the learner can scan the content or object and get more information, adding to the overall immersive experience. With the prevalence of smart phone technology and prices of wearable glasses and headsets reducing, VR and AR will become more affordable for organizations willing to experiment with them. We will certainly see more traction as 2018 unfolds and organizations invest and explore more of these technologies.

2. Adaptive or Personalized Learning Customized to Specific Learning Needs

Adaptive or personalized learning is all about customizing existing learning modules to specific students or groups. The biggest benefit for online educators is that they don’t need to provide all modules for all learners. Instead, they deliver focused instruction based on pre-tests and other assessment metrics that gauge the current understanding of the learning audience.  Based on the performance of learners, specific modules are provided to them. Areas where a learner has scored low and needs additional teaching or educational content are addressed. Each student receives tailored learning materials that are optimized to their level.

Adaptive/Personalized online learning is going to be an important trend that will help expand emphasis on the custom space. Educators and creators of learning content really don’t have to invest additional resources. It will be a one-time effort where pre-tests, libraries of modules, and assessments are created. Individual learners will get only what they require at a pace that suites their learning abilities. For the educator, existing LMSs can be used to implement these custom programs. Adaptive learning will be an important trend to implement and further experiment with during 2018.

3. Immersive Laboratory Experiences

A hallmark of science is that generated conclusions must be consistent with observations. These observations are generally collected during laboratory investigations. A school laboratory investigation is defined as an experience in a laboratory, classroom, or the field that provides students with opportunities to interact directly with natural phenomena. For online science learning, students should have opportunities to design investigations, engage in scientific reasoning, manipulate equipment, record data, analyze results, and discuss their findings. While reading about science, using computer simulations, and observing teacher demonstrations may be valuable, they are not a substitute for laboratory investigations by students.

For science to be taught properly and effectively, labs must be an integral part of the science curriculum. Companies like eScience Labs provide a cost-effective method for distance learners to get a practical, first-hand laboratory experience in a remote setting. Lessons, lab manuals, and assessments are easily added to instructor’s LMS while custom, PhD-designed lab kits are provided to each student for immersive science experimentation. Kits are designed around established needs for experimentation and can be customized to an instructor’s individual curriculum.

As online science learning continues to expand, a variety of solutions like the three mentioned above will support instructors and students alike. Innovative digital technologies along with traditional learning tools used in inventive new ways will continue to pave the way, expanding science comprehension.

What do YOU see as an important development and/or technology for higher education science learning for 2018?

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