As eLearning professionals, our field is inexorably and intimately linked with technology. While practice is grounded in learning theory, the execution of our daily tasks requires the implementation of many different kinds of technology—and those technologies often advance quickly.

In this article, I'm going to examine some of the larger technical trends occurring and how they may impact eLearning. Keep in mind, I’m no soothsayer so your guess as to where all this is going may be better than mine!

Moore’s Law continues to make bandwidth & processing power cheaper

You’ve probably heard of Moore’s Law: Processing power and bandwidth will double every two years. Moore’s Law drives down costs and enhances accessibility to technology. While the exponential increases in processing and power are slowing down, the advances still impact what we do.

More processing power means we can create more complex simulations, add more variables, add more realistic images, and send it to more people quicker. Moore’s Law affects everything that happens in a computer and on a network. Since that is where we as eLearning developers live, we’ll continue to be impacted.

Want to see a result of Moore’s Law that impacts the training space? Check out Microsoft’s 2020 Flight Simulator, which aggregates real-time Bing maps data to create simulated visuals for virtual pilots (Figure 1). In the upcoming version of the software, you’ll likely be able to see your own house.

Microsoft's 2020 flight simulator

Figure 1: Moore's Law makes Microsoft's 2020 Flight Simulator possible (Wikimedia Commons image)

JavaScript becomes the “official” engine of eLearning

This is all but “official” at this point. JavaScript is such a powerful language. With roots back to 1995’s Netscape Navigator, JavaScript has become the go-to language for creating digital interactions. Everything that is interactive in a browser uses JavaScript. JavaScript is the underlying engine of xAPI. Under the hood, all authoring tools are writing JavaScript code that is interpreted by the LMS.

As the delivery of eLearning becomes more similar to the delivery of other web-based content, the inclusion of JavaScript code is going be critical—and understanding JavaScript will become an important skill for eLearning developers.

A push for standardization and protocols affects “under the hood” delivery technology

Can you imagine if every brand of computer required its own proprietary software to run? This was the situation at the beginning of the microcomputer age. There were a dozen or so different brands of computers, each running software written specifically for it. Now, we’re pretty much down to Mac and PC.

Users and consumers demand standardization. In some fields it’s necessary. Every telephone can use the existing cell infrastructure. Every type of plane can use a standard runway at La Guardia. You know how to drive a car, even if you’ve never been in that particular model before. Standardization allows for growth and consumption.

The eLearning industry has standardized learning content with SCORM. SCORM, however, has limitations that we’re now bumping up against. Different screen sizes, mobile devices, and non-computer devices are all integrated into the learning milieu and SCORM isn’t sufficient for the current era. I expect a new standardization effort to reveal itself soon so any learning content can run on any device without constraints. Additionally, learning content will be able to talk to other devices in a learning ecosystem. Courses will interact with each other and informal learning experiences will be tracked along with formal practice.

xAPI takes us part of the way there, but, there is still a need for even greater standardization with new protocols that provide true interoperability and device and operating system-neutral consumption of content.

More eLearning developers are coding and more coders are part of eLearning teams

This one is personal for me since I teach people to code. However, consistently some of the best work I see being done in our field is done by people who work outside the traditional model of authoring tools. They are developing content using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Why? Because it frees them from the limitations present in traditional authoring tools. As more and more developers try to push the limits of eLearning and use simulation, AR, VR, and other technologies, they’re going to need to code—or work with coders who can transform those ideas into a working digital experience.

eLearning doesn’t happen in a vacuum: It’s media

The current technological era has impacted many industries and perhaps media is experiencing the most dramatic shifts. From the disintermediation of content publishing to the inexpensive availability of content tools, there is no doubt the media landscape has been radically changed. Anybody—from PhDs to 13-year-old Ukrainians with colds—can produce educational media and distribute it.

What we produce as eLearning pros, while perhaps better informed by learning theory, is not distributed in a vacuum. Our media is not compared to other learning media but to video games, entertaining YouTube videos, and Jerry Seinfeld driving old cars on Netflix. The media produced by our industry should be best-in-class for education. If the content we produce can be surpassed in quality by a guy making training content in his makeshift home office, it’s hard to validate the importance of what we do.

We must be better in 2020. And beyond.