Interactive learning has long been used to improve the learning experience and enhance knowledge retention among students. (Ibrahim & Al-Shara, 2007). After all, it has been proven that interactive learning is six times more likely to help students learn (Koedinger et al., 2015). In a study published by Koediner et al. (2015), university students who enroll in open learning initiative courses (OLI), interactive courses built for evidence-based learning, have been found less likely to drop out than those who are taking only Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) (Koedinger et al., 2015).
While this approach to teaching has taken the form of roleplaying, story-telling, as well as peer feedback over the years, it has clearly evolved further at the turn of the digital transformation age. This article aims to shed light on these changes by exploring the emerging interactive learning trends, such as collaborative and experiential lessons as well as new technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). As such, this will be useful as a resource for educators who are looking to implement interactive learning strategies or are interested in investigating the role of digital transformation in the modernization of higher education.
Change in the art of teaching is constant. In fact, over the centuries, educators have always experimented with teaching, adopting new methods, tools, approaches, and technologies to make it better. All along, educators have tweaked the way information is disseminated in learning institutions to help students achieve competency and match their skills with jobs more effectively.
Now, however, boosting student engagement has taken precedence with learners grappling with distractions aplenty and attention spans taking a downhill trend (McSpadden, 2015). Consequently, institutions at all levels of learning are exploring groundbreaking innovations to increase engagement in learning to help students get the most out of every course.
The quest for increased student engagement has led to the following exciting interactive learning trends:
Augmented Reality Learning
AR is an immersive technology that superimposes digital components—such as video, images, text, animations, and 3D models—into real-world elements. In other words, AR augments real-world images with computer-generated perceptual details.
What sets AR apart from other immersive technologies is that it exhibits the highest degree of merging real and virtual worlds. Because of this capability, AR has found increased use in many areas and is slowly becoming a ubiquitous part of our daily lives just like electricity (Peddie, 2017).
In the education sector, the concept is in the cusps of disrupting the nature of learning—from surgical techniques to art restoration—in colleges and universities. Already, AR is substituting for physical reality, eliminating much of the need for physical campus classrooms and labs (Kim, & Maloney, 2020). Leading institutions have found a tactile and hands-on method to train the next generation of medics, without the need to ever leave their homes. That said, it comes as no surprise that many C-level executives believe that education is one of the sectors that will invest the most in AR and similar immersive technologies (Karl et al., 2019).
For example, Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) has created the innovative MR App, HoloAnatomy. The app allows access to a comprehensive 3D suite of all organs, systems, and vessels that comprise human anatomy. Using Microsoft’s Hololens and HoloAnatomy, CWRU medical students can learn the minutest detail of human anatomy in 3D from their homes.
In addition to improving student engagement, HoloAnatomy has eliminated overreliance on 2D medical textbook illustrations. Plus, medical training is no longer limited by the availability of cadavers for dissection.
Source: 2019 Augmented and Virtual Reality Survey Report
Virtual Reality Learning
Virtual reality is another interactive learning trend that’s finding increased use in the education sector. The technology has massive potential for transforming the way content is delivered. VR in education is projected to hit $200 million in valuation by 2020 and $700 million by 2025 (Appsolutions, n.d.).
Primarily, VR works on the premise of creating an immersive virtual world—imagined or real—thus allowing learners not only to see content but also to interact with it first hand. In doing so, it reduces the cognitive load required by learners to process educational information. Better, immersing learners in what they are learning motivates them to fully understand concepts.
Currently, Osso VR, a revolutionary surgical training platform, is partnering with top US learning institutions, such as Harvard Medical Schools, Columbia University, and Vanderbilt University to deliver hands-on training opportunities for surgeons using VR (Fink, 2018). Instead of remodeling the entire surgical education system, Osso VR seeks to augment the apprenticeship training method that has been in use for over a century now.
VR has been utilized in healthcare training settings for several years now (Okojie et al., 2020). But educators have only recently begun to explore its use in other education settings (Okojie et al., 2020).
For example, NASA has created an expansive VR lab to train future astronauts in the aspect of spacewalking. The innovative VR Lab offers an enthralling virtual reality experience using a conventional, graphical 3D world of the International Space Station (ISS). Learners use a combination of motion trackers, haptic feedback gloves, and a headset, to explore life outside the ISS without ever leaving the planet earth. (Unimersiv, 2016).
Additionally, ClassVR is another example of firms that have dipped their toes into the arena, seeking to bring the power of VR to classrooms. The versatile platform helps learners at all levels—from pre-school to institutions of higher learning—experience learning in new ways.
Increased Use of Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) emphasizes the development of machines that simulate human intelligence or mimic the way humans think and act. The potential of AI in aspects such as natural language processing, speech recognition, and machine vision makes it an invaluable technology to the education sector.
More specifically, AI exhibits characteristics of cross-cutting, comprehensiveness, and strong application. It is a novel prospect that, when properly implemented, can help address perennial challenges that confront students, administrators, teachers, and researchers. As such, colleges and universities are exploring the specialty to find unique ways to wring every drop of this potential (Atiquzzaman et al., 2020).
Already, some institutions such as Staffordshire University are making sterling headway with AI innovation. The institution has created the UK’s first AI-driven Student Coach application known as Beacon (Staffordshire University, 2019). Using intelligent chatbot technology, the mobile app provides hyper-personalized and responsive information on timetables and enables contact with personal tutors.
Even better, students can interact with it via text or voice conversations to get answers to 400 frequently asked questions regarding campus facilities and support services. The innovation by Staffordshire University is a new dawn and a good example of how AI can be used to streamline campus life for students, as well as learning.
As mobile devices proliferate, they continue to find increased use in various industries. In the education sector, mobile devices, particularly smartphones, have become an increasingly common tool in the classroom. Statistics show that 46% of students would like to complete some of their coursework using a mobile device (Magda & Aslanian, 2018). A more recent study echoed this finding by revealing that 8 out of 10 students complete some or all their course work using a mobile device (Lieberman, M., 2019).
Mobile devices have made the way for a new mode of learning—mobile-first learning. This unique method entails the use of portable computing devices (such as laptops, smartphones, iPads, and tablets) to deliver (for teachers) and access ( for students) essential information. The portability of these devices makes teaching and learning available beyond the traditional classrooms. (Yilan et al., 2020)
Europe has been the breeding ground for an overwhelming majority of mobile learning initiatives. In fact, by 2012, this regional block had kickstarted numerous projects all geared towards assisting teachers in supporting student learning in and outside the classroom. One such project is the WapEduc platform launched in 2005 by Philippe Steger, a renowned secondary school teacher in France. In the first three years of its operation, the platform provided anytime, anywhere learning for approximately 32,000 students. (UNESCO, 2012)
The WepEduc platform provides free access to course materials, tutoring, and quizzes for students preparing for baccalaureate exams. In addition, it includes an advice column, problem pages, and interactive questions to help students track their own learning. Beyond accessing materials, students can upload records of their progress to build personal mobile portfolios.
Source: Online College Students 2018
The interactive whiteboard (IWB) used to be a simple LCD screen attached to a computer to facilitate small group meetings and roundtables. Initially introduced for workplace use, IWBs then penetrated educational settings in a
swift manner (Greiffenhagen, 2004 cited in Saltan, 2019). With the technological evolution, however, IWBs have progressed greatly, adding powerful tools and resources that make them perfect for use in the classroom.
The touch or hand gesture recognition feature—the ability to write, edit, annotate, and navigate directly on the screen—is the biggest draw for students. Also, the smart technology of IWB allows teachers to leverage interactive apps to illustrate concrete concepts or engage students in group problem solving and brainstorming.
Overall, IWBs provide innumerable, feasible opportunities to digitize learning and deliver inspiring lessons that engage students in extraordinary ways. They help generate a high level of enjoyment that keeps learners curiously focused and intensely hooked on the course. Beyond capturing the learner’s attention, interactive whiteboards reduce costs associated with printing, papers, dry markers, erasers, and subscriptions to digital education resources (Eztalks).
While only a third (33%) of students globally claimed to have used a smartboard in class in 2018 (Cambridge Assessment International Education, 2018), today, more schools are cognizant of the aforementioned benefits. Consequently, there has been an increase in demand for IWBs. It follows, then, that the market is growing rapidly and is projected to hit $5.16 billion by 2023 (Markets and Markets, 2018).
Interactive Learning Approaches
The current generation of learners (Gen Z) stands out from the preceding generations—Millennials and Gen X—for various reasons, many of which impact the art of teaching and learning. Gen Zers are true digital natives. As such, they inherently crave digital experiences in everything they do, including learning.
For this reason, conventional learning approaches where teachers were the sole players communicating knowledge and enforcing standards of behavior do not cut it anymore. Today’s learners want to be actively involved in the learning process to remain fully engaged in the courses.
The following learning approaches prioritize student interactivity in learning. As you will find, some encourage students to be active members of their class, to think on their own, and work collaboratively in groups to boost long-term knowledge retention.
Gamification in learning is a psychologically-driven approach for incorporating game design elements in the learning environment to increase student’s motivation. Defined as the application of game design aspects in non-game environments (Deterding et al. 2011), gamification continues to gain growing interest and attention in industry and education (Sailer & Homner, 2020). It is most pointedly directed at keeping learners engaged in the performance of routinized and predetermined activities to which learning becomes a secondary consideration (Smeyers, 2018)
Nothing demonstrates the lack of student motivation like the startling high school dropout rates. In fact, if the most recent numbers are anything to go by, sustaining student motivation has been a longstanding problem in education. In 2017 alone, an average of 4.7% of students dropped out of high school, compared with 3.5% in 2007 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2019). This explains the tremendous attention that gamification has gained in the education context—the potential to keep learners motivated.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
One gamification success story is Lee Sheldon, a professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. During his time as a professor at Indiana University (2006 – 2010), Sheldon gamified his course via role-playing games and instituted an experience points (XP) system to decide students’ grades. He leveraged student interest in games to help them progress towards an unfathomed level of mastery (Tito, 2010).
Collaborative learning is an approach to teaching and learning that involves small groups of students working together in stations around the classroom to complete a task, solve a problem, or create a product. As Gerlach puts it, “collaborative learning is founded on the idea that learning is a naturally occurring social act, in which partakers talk among themselves (Gerlach, 1994). It is through this interaction and talking that learning occurs.”
That being said, it is good to point out that collaborative learning is not an entirely new interactive learning trend. Teachers have been using this approach for many years. With technological advancements, however, the type of activities used and tools that facilitate this learning model have changed. Primarily, the advent of virtual communication technology has opened ways for students to collaborate outside of the physical classroom and beyond the school day.
Schools do not have to spend top dollar on sophisticated EdTech to facilitate collaborative learning. Sometimes all it takes is a little creativity, as Rockingham County Middle School has demonstrated (Winske, n.d.). When Rockingham’s students collaborated with a classroom in Sweden, neither school had a video conferencing system. To work around this issue, Christy Barham, the instructional Technologist Specialist at Rockingham, designed a collaborative suite using Skype, Wiki, Voice Threads, Crocodoc (similar to Google Docs) to connect the classrooms.
Students in this day and age are easily distracted. In fact, studies show that the majority of students have used their digital devices for non-classroom activities (McCoy, 2016). This is why it has become pertinent to engage them in more active learning activities such as experiential learning.
Experiential learning simply means learning through experience. It focuses on students reflecting on their hands-on experience doing something, to gain practical expertise and unforgettable conceptual insight. Experiential learning exists in a cycle. As David Kolb opines in his Experiential Learning Theory (ELT), the cycle has four stages, namely: active experimentation, concrete experience, reflective observation, and abstract conceptualization. (University of Leicester, 2020).
Experiential learning is more common now in schools around the world, and for a good reason. This approach to learning immerses students into real-world situations where decisions, behavior, and skills are developed, assessed, and practiced in a safe and controlled environment.
The advances in technology have not changed the stages of the experiential learning cycle even a little. What has evolved is the way students are plunged into real-world scenarios. Initially, learners had to engage in activities, such as cultural exchanges, international travel, or museum tours to trigger experiential learning. This is not the case any more thanks to emerging technologies such as VR and AR, which makes it easy to conduct virtual tours and learning.
Additionally, institutions of higher learning are using experiential learning to ease the transition from school to the world of work. For example, Northwestern University through its international Growth Lab introduces business students to challenges that international organizations face in the real world. The program partners Kellogg MBA candidates with Hong Kong University and ESADE Business and Law School in Barcelona (Kellogg, 2015).
In this program, students video conference and travel to work collaboratively at their respective home schools to create solutions to preexisting business challenges. At the end of the three-month course, students are expected to provide the final strategy recommendation to the specific client.
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Digital Distraction Among Students
How Often Do Students Use Digital Devices for Non-Classroom Related Activities?
Digital Distraction Among Students Never: 3.26%
Digital Distraction Among Students 1 to 3 times: 34.42%
1 to 3 times
Digital Distraction Among Students 4 to 10 times: 28.49%
4 to 10 times
Digital Distraction Among Students 11 to 30 times: 21.51%
11 to 30 times
Digital Distraction Among Students More than 30 times: 12.31%
More than 30 times
Source: Journal of Media Education
Social learning is the process of learning and acquiring knowledge by observing or interacting with another individual. The social learning theory of Albert Bandura emphasizes the significance of observing and modeling the attitudes, behaviors, and emotional reactions of others. As Bandura intimates, “ Learning would be an exceeding and laborious activity, not to mention hazardous, if individuals relied solely on the impact of their actions to inform them what to do” (Bandurra, 1977, as cited in Instructionaldesin.org, 2020).
From the above definitions, we can deduce that learning is a completely social experience. Plus, the social environments that learners are subjected to have a constructive effect on the way they comprehend lessons. As such, educators should endeavor to create a positive atmosphere for learning through ongoing teacher and student connections and collaboration.
But, effective engagement and collaboration do not occur in a vacuum. Moreover, it is not confined to the four walls of the physical classroom. This means schools have to explore the profound potential exhibited by modern technologies to make learning ubiquitous and easily accessible. For starters, initiatives such as flipped classrooms, online education, and MOOCs are safe bets.
When the Harvard Business School created HBX, its innovative online learning platform, it encouraged experts against intervening too early in student questions. As a result, the peer group was allowed enough time to discuss these questions and concepts to find solutions themselves. Remarkably, and to the delight of every lecturer in the institution, the students were able to precisely and accurately solve 90% of the questions. (Anand, Hammond, & Narayanan, 2015).
Microlearning has long been used primarily for corporate training where participants need to learn new processes in a short period of time. However, it is becoming popular in the education sector as well. That said, it comes as no surprise that the microlearning market is predicted to grow from $1.5 billion in 2019 to $2.7 billion in 2024 (MarketsandMarkets, 2019).
This learning method borrows a leaf from the concept of chunking, which was popularized in the 1950s by George Miller. According to Miller, the human brain has the capacity to retain between five to nine things in the working memory, after which, this information is transmuted to be stored in long-term memory or it will be forgotten (Harrod, n.d.).
Chunking entails breaking long strings of information into multiple chunks that can easily be processed to working memory. Microlearning or learning in bursts reduces cognitive overload and prevents learner burnout (Cortez, 2018). In addition, it increases efficacy, enables personalizations, and drives over 20% more knowledge retention than long-winded, theoretical content (Grovo, 2015).
Microlearning can be implemented in multiple pedagogical approaches, both offline and online, to suit the needs of the modern learner. Besides, it works well across all mediums including text, video, images, and sounds, to name a few. As such, interactive microlearning can be achieved through some of the latest learning models such as video-based learning.
A study by Mohammed et al. (2018) reveals that students’ motivation for learning was high when using different microlearning tools. According to the study, 97% of learners desire to play and perform activities, watch videos (95%), flashcards (94%), posters and infographics (94%), and telling stories (92).
Source: IJERE (2018)
A Look into The Future of Interactive Learning
Technology is, without a doubt, transforming the nature of interactive learning. The inception of interactive learning trends, in particular, has revolutionized learning, and the best is yet to come. Most notably, technology has allowed learning to deviate from the norm, creating an incredible learning continuum between school and home.
Moreover, it has empowered students to interact with information and skills to be learned with ease. Today, learners do not have to visit a historical site or deal with the smell of embalming fluid in the dissection lab. Virtual reality has brought the world to the classroom and homes, allowing students to navigate what used to be complex concepts with unprecedented ease and a high degree of effectiveness.
While the benefits of modern interactive learning are as clear as day, schools should be bold enough to look beyond the facade. In plain language, there are hurdles, such as cost, that can impede the proper implementation of these technologies. For this reason, you should prioritize extensive research and practice caution with each interactive learning trend. Keep in mind that your institution’s curriculum is unique and so should be the methods used to drive interactive learning forward.
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