US futurist Dr James Frey predicts that “teacherless classrooms” are the way of the future, with eLearning becoming dominant and teachers acting more as coaches or guides than the traditional imparters of knowledge at the front of the classroom.

In his blog, Frey gives the example of the popularity of the “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence,” course offered by Stanford University professors Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig last year which received 160,000 student enrolments, 60% from outside the US. Lectures and assignments were posted online and autograded each week to enable remote learners to take part.

Taking the online capabilities even further, earlier this year, Harvard and MIT joined together to offer free online courses to students around the world in an initiative known as edX.

Following in the footsteps of these high profile institutions, Melbourne University is now offering several free short online courses with open enrolment. Registrations for the courses have been something of a surprise as they have exceeded the traditional face to face course enrolments (52,000 vs 47,561) although the online courses offered do not provide formal qualifications.

Many other Australian universities also offer some online access to learning with lectures available to be listened to online rather than live. Anecdotal evidence shows that increasing numbers of students are participating via the web and using social media to network and facilitate group projects rather than spending time conversing in person.

The Sydney Morning Herald called university lectures a “legacy of our pre-digital past” earlier this year, suggesting that the future would be more like Frey’s vision with classroom time reduced and used for interactive exercises and group discussions rather than lecturers delivering monologues to hundreds at a time.

We can now see this shift in education delivery being a real possibility with the National Broadband Network rollout underway. The NBN will offer higher quality video streaming and faster interactive capability to people across Australia, making quality online learning more accessible. Courses such as those offered by the iHR eLearning which use the latest technology in animated videos and interactive exercises will be more widely available and could offer effective training solutions to organisations who find it hard to train their workforces in the traditional way.

This week, The Age tabled the issue of the efficacy of online learning and iHR Australia has also discussed the merits and faults of an online only approach. While research on this topic concerning academic training is ongoing, iHR Australia and the World Learning Hub recognise that, for training that is linked to behavioural change; a fresh, interactive, integrated approach is the most successful.

For organisations the future is bright as training becomes more flexible and accessible. That said, organisations must now be more cautious than ever and be committed to assessing the quality and suitability of training solutions before purchasing. A quick, cheap fix is rarely effective and could end up costing more in the long run.

Whatever the future holds, it is clear that eLearning is an undeniable part of contemporary education and training and the realisation of its potential is only just beginning.

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