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Hi, my name is Phil Hill, and I’m talking to you today about what’s next for learning platforms, a view of post-secondary and K-12 markets of the future. For this presentation, note that the slides are also available with the link right there,, which goes to SlideShare, and any of the individual graphics are available with the URL below that provides full resolution graphics.

Another thing to note previously, this year, if you want to look at more depth on the learning management system market, I did a webinar called The Future of Learning Management Systems. And again, those slides, images and the YouTube video of that session are available in the links on the screen right now. And obviously, a lot has changed this year with this session was presented. It was in June. It was relatively early in the pandemic and now we’re into December. And it really adds a lot of context towards what’s happening in the markets and what to expect as we see learning platforms moving forward.

And there’s going to be a particular emphasis during this talk looking at not just what were the changes happening earlier, but now that we’re in 2020 and we’ve had so much of remote teaching and increase in online learning, how does that actually impact the future of learning platforms? And it’s not a straightforward answer, because on one hand you could look at Covid, and you could look at the pandemic and our reaction to the pandemic as not really creating new trends, but rather accelerating pre-existing trends. But it’s quite significant what the acceleration has done. And I think it’s got some significant implications for what we’re looking at. It’s taking some of the things that might have taken five to 10 years, and making made them happen within several months time. And I think that’s going to change how we view learning platforms moving forward.

So one way to look deeper at that, and this is just from a U.S. higher education perspective, this chart is we’ve had a long term growth in education where if you look at the number of students taking at least one distance education or online course, it’s been steadily growing through the latest US data, which is the fall 2018 term, where we’re now more than one out of three students in post post-secondary education are taking at least one online course. And about half of those, roughly half of those – so let’s just say more than one out of six – are taking a fully online program. And you can see from these charts we’ve there’s been a strong growth with online learning already. But it’s been taking really two decades, obviously, to get to the point that we’re at right now. So where does Covid jump in?

Well, one of the most remarkable aspects of education is that quite often you hear the description that higher education has not changed in centuries. We’re following the same methods that we did before. And there’s a lot of critique saying education has not adapted the way that other industries have. But I think that misses some of the significant changes that we have seen in education. And I think it can miss what actually happened this spring. This spring, in a matter of weeks or roughly a month or so, we went from primarily face to face education to primarily online education or emergency mode in a remarkably short time period. This chart right here is looking at how this played out in the US to when and how it interacted with when spring break happened. And as you can see, the whole sector, the whole set of education change so that one month later, by the end of March, almost everybody was in fully online mode.

While as we know now and it’s December, a majority of education has remained online. That changed the nature of what’s happening overall. And I would like to think of it sort of in terms of digital education. This talk is more about learning platforms, but a significant impact on learning platforms is how instructors are actually using this and is that the primary method to deliver education is through a platform, or is it just something that’s augmenting mostly face to face activities that all changed this spring, even though it’s accelerating what was happening before?

Now, one way to view these changes is that we’ve really had multiple phases as higher education has responded to Covid and, you know, roughly looking at online education, we had we’ve had different phases that in the February to March timeframe, you had phase one. And that was the chart that we just showed, the rapid transition to remote teaching and learning globally this happened. And in particular, looking at North America where I am and we have a lot of the data, there was just a very strong reliance on not just going online, but doing it through synchronous video based methods. Think of it as Zoom University. I mean, obviously there are other platforms being used, such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meetings or even Blackboard Collaborate. But the dominant form of the reaction in Phase one was to move to a Zoom University approach or even a Zoom school approach for the K-12 market. It happened remarkably quickly, and we’re still dealing with it now, as many people have pointed out in this gets to the core issue. There was an attempt to just do what we’re doing face to face, but do it through Zoom. So keep meeting live synchronous three times a week and do any kind of office hours, but do them all through Zoom and just replace the mode of being in person with the mode of doing it through video.

Now we’ve been doing online education for years, so we know a lot of basics that need to be added back in. So if you look at phase two, there was several months where people were getting ready for the fall term in the Northern Hemisphere where we knew Fall was going to be primarily online. And this was a period where institutions really needed to add the basics back in to these course designs, if you will. And that gets into issues such as core navigation, making it easier for students to navigate the course and faculty equitable access, including dealing with student groups that might not have a reliable access to Internet or a timely access to Internet. Think of the case even of a student who maybe their sibling is on their computer that they have in their house at 2 p.m. and your class is scheduled at 2 p.m. So even if you have even if you have access to Internet, you might not have it at the time you need.

So there’s a period where we started adding back in a lot more effective course design and support for various student groups. It wasn’t as much as a lot of us had hoped, but it certainly was a period of several months of trying to figure out how do we add back in the basics, what we’ve primarily been going through this fall term. And we can now see that it’s going to continue through the spring term as well. And again, I’m using fall in the Northern Hemisphere terminology here, in that institutions have to be prepared to fully support students for a full term and to be able to deal with face to face or online or rapid changes between them. It’s sort of this period of chaos where during this extended extended transition, you needed to have plans or capabilities to shift, whether that was some schools deliberately built out hybrid programs or often HyFlex programs where the teaching and learning you could have students choose whether to be face to face or online, or you had cases where schools started out online. Then there was a flare up of the pandemic and they had to switch or they started up face to face and then they had to switch to online. So we’ve had this extended almost chaos where you need to be prepared for multiple methods. And we see that that’s actually going going to be happening at least through into June of 2021.

None of us know exactly what the new normal is going to be, but it’s certainly not going to be the old normal. So sometime in 2021 and beyond, we’re going to have this period of a new normal where institutions need to have new levels of infrastructure supporting that.

That’s where the learning platforms come in. We need to be able to support students reliably in a new normal that we that will certainly have a much greater usage of online and hybrid methods than what we had before and that sort of an issue that we should explore.

Now, we talk a lot about online, but one way to look at what we’re doing right now is to really view this as the hybridization of higher education. There are many different methods to combine face to face and virtual modalities. And a lot of what we’re seeing right now are different, using platforms to figure out how can we do some face to face, some online. Obviously, some programs are going to be fully online. Obviously, some schools or programs are going to fall back to fully face to face. But the biggest change that we’re seeing is this hybridization. And there are different ways to figure out what the mix is between virtual and Face-To-Face mentioned fully online.

But you also have a hybrid calendar that might be a case where certain groups of students are online for a certain period of time and then they’re face to face for a more constrained period of time. You might have certain disciplines or online versus face to face. And a lot of what we’ve seen there is certain activities that are very difficult in medical fields, for example, to be able to be done virtually. You just have to have some face to face activity. Doing a hybrid course design is a huge issue right now where the courses are getting designed with a much stronger digital component, with very purposeful act set of activities that are online mixing with face to face. In past years, we’ve seen flipped classroom examples. This year, we’ve also seen a lot of HyFlex ideas, basically allowing students to choose whether it could even be week to week or course to course on whether to be in a classroom or remote, but design the courses to handle both. And then there’s also class size and curriculum, so there are different ways to mix between them.

Where I think this gets significant is if you look at the adoption curve and to take a step back, Everett Rogers out of Iowa State University came up with his seminal book, The Diffusion of Innovation. And it really looked at whenever you have an innovation, how does it actually diffuse within some social group? Now, that’s been adapted over time into what’s commonly viewed as technology in circles. Looking at technology adoption, where you have one of the key aspects is you have different types of people who adopt that have very different characteristics. This is where you have innovators, technology enthusiasts who tend to be the earliest adopters of technology, followed by early adopters and visionaries. And in that grouping you have customers who want technology and performance. They might not have the complete solution, but they say, I want access to this new way of doing things. And if there are gaps in what’s ready, I’ll fill it and I’ll figure out how to do this. As you get into the early and late majority, you get much more of a view where people are saying, OK, take digital education, I’ll use to draw education tools or learning platforms, but it better work and I better just have what I need. So it’s much more conservative view of needing solutions and high convenience. Obviously you will have the technology laggards or skeptics, people who don’t want to use some innovation, whether they adopt it or not.

But the key issue here is that this view of technology adoption was augmented by Geoffrey Moore pointing out that there’s a huge chasm between the types of adopters early on in the market and then the more conservative and majority and laggards area. And you can’t view this as a steady change over time that you have a completely different set of expectations and technology needs.

Within the world of educational technology, and in particular, now that we’re in the pandemic, we’re in a place where we’re serving both the EdTech enthusiasts, the innovators and early adopters, but we’re also serving the mainstream. I mean, go back to that chart where we showed the vast majority of courses are now being delivered online, certainly in the spring and the majority still within the fall. So what we’ve done is we’ve rapidly added this right side of the graph to learning platform usage. And you have this group of people who aren’t going to be out there climbing the rocks, taking risk, trying to figure out how to make things work. Instead, you have a group of users, instructors in this case or of course, designers who are using technology. But it better be safe. It better be reliable. And I want to do it in a safe aspect. The challenge for a lot of support staff instructional designer schools is you don’t get to choose any longer which side of the chasm that you’re serving.

What we’re seeing this year is that we have to straddle the chasm and serve both groups that have very different sets of needs. And this causes a lot of tension within organizations. Are we providing power users with very advanced functionality, exactly what they want? They’re determining how they want to use it? Or are we serving people who are saying, OK, I’m only using a platform for the basics, but it just better be simple and easy to use.

And always their support staff are doing, as this is showing, straddling the chasm. But the same view, same thing is happening with learning platforms. Learning platforms, by and large, are having to solve both sets of problems on the left and right of this chart.

And I think that this is going to be the largest determinant of what we should expect to see in the world of learning platforms, certainly over the next, I’d say, five to 10 years. And it’s a good way to understand the nature of the changes that we’re already seeing and are going to see.

So where are we today? My thesis or belief is that we’re at an inflection point in higher education that’s driven by mainstream adoption, different platform designs, and this is crucial moving beyond the digitization of the traditional classroom. I wish there were more of that, but that but it’s definitely happening. And unfortunately, also dealing with Covid-19. So we’re at this inflection point driven by these issues to understand the future of learning platforms. The key driver of the trends that we’re going to be seeing right now is based on adoption. And not technology or pure innovation.

And so part of what that means is we’re not seeing as much, and I don’t expect to see as much, radically new technology where there’s A.I. based algorithms or, you know, where the technology itself is the key issue that that people are investing in or expecting to use, so much of the learning platform world is going to be much more based on get things broadly adopted. And that does have a lot of implications. You might call it power users or technology heavy solution ism, or you could view it as pure innovation. That’s sort of taking a backseat right now and what’s happening in learning platforms. And I would expect this to happen moving forward. This doesn’t mean there’s no innovation, but the innovation that’s out there is going to be based on how do you get a broader set of people to more quickly adopt a platform and use it.

So where does this leave us, where it likely leads us is the net effect is leading to increased importance of intuitive design, scalability and reliability and the ability to enable revised academic models. So in other words, because look at the mainstream, the right side of that chasm, this was already happening, that platform designs were becoming more intuitive and better user interfaces more natural. But now it really becomes important that you have to say you can figure out this platform quickly. You don’t need to take weeks of training to figure out all the details. At the same time, there’s been a long term shift towards cloud computing. The public cloud Amazon Web Services is the key infrastructure that a lot of people use in EdTech.

That doesn’t have to always be public cloud, but the crucial aspect is that scalability and reliability. When we shifted tens of millions of students online in the U.S. alone and obviously globally, much larger than that, you had to have platforms that could scale to a level that they hadn’t planned to be able to scale to that level for years and years. A lot of that was successful because of cloud computing, but that’s going to continue to be important. Schools just can’t afford to have platforms not being there and not being reliable because it’s becoming such a dominant way that students experience their education.

And then the third aspect of what was talking here is a lot of where the platforms are will be is simply how do you enable revise the academic models? One example is how do you break down the walls of an institution and allow in non-matriculated students? Maybe it’s a cooperative program between different schools that have a similar program or you’re bringing in outside experts. Or one of the most common is how do you actually have students who are not degree seeking students but are just there for certificates? They’re doing some sort of it could be stackable certificates that eventually they get a degree or they never want a degree. They just want some certificate showing what they’ve done.

So schools are having to adapt on different models and so much of learning platforms comes down to how do you support that? It can even get into somewhat what might seem mundane issues, such as how do you register students if they’re not already in the core student information system?

So this is where I see that we are with learning platforms and so much of this is driven by adoption. Now we’re using the term learning platforms, and I think it’s worth pointing out there are different categories that that we’re dealing with. This is not just the learning management system (LMS) or as it’s described in the UK, the virtual learning environment (VLE), which, by the way, I like that terminology. I think it’s more accurate to what those systems do. But in case that’s one of the categories.

But I think there are other categories we need to understand – video conferencing, digital courseware and then auxiliary systems, additional systems that on top of these. So just to understand where we are and where these platforms might be going, let’s look at these different categories and a little bit more depth.

In the LMS world, and again I’m talking from an academic context, so K-12 and higher education, you’ve really had what you can consider the big four. Canvas from Instructure, Moodle, Brightspace by D2L, and then Blackboard Learn. And in higher education circles, these systems have a large amount of the adoption, the vast majority of adoption, not just North America, but globally. So these are you really have a small set of vendors dominating academic usage of LMS.

And but there are variations by region, so, for example, if you look at the primary LMS for a school and this is a college or university, what’s their main LMS in usage that any student can access? You can see differences, particularly where North America is different than a lot of the rest of the world; and Europe, Latin America, Middle East, Oceania, which is Australia, New Zealand and some of the surrounding island countries.

Moodle is dominant. Moodle is the most used academic LMS in the world, and it has a huge impact on where we’re going.

You can also see Blackboard Learn having strong usage and in various regions. And then the red is Canvas. Canvas has been the fastest growing LMS worldwide, not just in North America, but then you have Brightspace in orange, and then you do have others. And that we’re capturing here, not part of the big four. But if you look at this, one of the most obvious things as North America has different patterns than the other regions. In North America Canvas is the most used system. And Moodle is in third place, if you will. And D2L, not just in North America, but in other areas has been growing or getting the most number of new implementations other than Canvas.

But that’s where we are in higher education is really a big for usage, these five regions I’ve picked or the ones where we do market analysis, it obviously doesn’t represent all of the world, but at least gives you more of a representative picture. We’re trying to expand our coverage so that we’ll show more moving forward.

Some of the LMS, secondary players you do have companies been around for a long time. Sakai, Schoology, which, by the way, is very big and the fastest growing system in K-12 markets in US. Itslearning, Jenzabar, you have different groups Ilias in Europe. You have these other players, such as Strut Learning and Motivis – both of those are more competency based. Neo,Chamilo. Than you have some of the newer or not quite an LMS. Notable are Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams. So you have these other secondary players that are at least important to be aware of, but they’re not necessarily dominant with the exception of Schoology is doing quite well in K-12.

Courseware, this is where you combine content with the learning platform underneath, and we’re quite a bit of the learning comes out and we’re seeing an increased usage of courseware, particularly from the large publishers McGraw-Hill Connect and ALEKS, but also Pearson Revel, Pearson MyLab and Mastering.

You have Cengage MindTap, but you also have other systems. Lumen Learning, which is an OER based courseware provider, OpenStacks, OER content and platform provider. RealizeIt, and the Open Learning Initiative out of Carnegie Mellon. So the courseware category where you combine content and platform together and assessment is a growing area of how students experience learning and learning platforms.

This other thing, this is probably the biggest change to the market. I mentioned Zoom University – and this logo amused me, no pants required – but the video conferencing has really come into its own this year. And yes, there are criticisms of it that there’s too much of a usage of these systems.

But they’re not going away. The video conferencing, we need to figure out how to make it more appropriate for education. And there are new entities such as ClassEdu with their product Class for Zoom, and Engageli that are trying to make it more education specific. But video conferencing is a major type of learning platform. There will be changes, but it’s not going away. The chart in the bottom right is showing the adoption of video conferencing within the K-12 market in the US by year. And it’s just incredible the growth that’s happened just this year in that market.

And two points I would mention. One of the things that will be pushed for to get greater adoption is engagement. So far, these platforms have not been very good on getting students engaging with each other or with the faculty. And we have a lot of survey data to back that up. But that’s an area where platforms need to move.

Another is in formative assessment, making usable data that supports the student, the instructor and the course design moving forward.

So what changes do I think will stick as we move forward, some of the things as we look at the learning platforms of the future? I think that the new normal will have more online and hybrid elements. You know, as I said, we’re not going back to the old normal. It’s not going to be as crazy as 90 plus percent all online the way that we’ve seen in the spring and through the summer. But there is going to be a significant increase in both online and hybrid elements. Another one is I think the video conferencing will remain at this new level of importance. We’ve got to figure out how to improve it, but it’s not going away. But likewise, there’s no there are no indications of the LMS going away. So where people are saying the LMS is dead and other platforms will replace it, in my view, the LMS is going to continue to be a core part of the learning platforms. And a lot of the learning activities will be tied to content such as courseware. At the same time, there will be instructors going back in terms of how much synchronous usage and there’s going to be a demand for greater quality.

But all in all, just to wrap it up, I’ll reiterate the fact that I think that we’re at an inflection point right now, that we have these drivers. But to really understand the future of learning platforms, look at adoption based issues and not so much at pure technology or pure power user type of issues moving forward. But I’d love to have a further discussion now and to talk about these issues. But thank you very much.

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