By Douglas Fehlen
Adaptive learning software
Most online courses feature at least one human teacher. Adaptive learning software, proponents claim, has the potential to provide intelligent feedback on students' work, effectively eliminating - or at least reducing - teaching time on the part of educators.
Computers have long been used to grade multiple-choice exams with clear correct answers, but emerging software programs also purport to accurately assess student essays. Some in higher ed, however, have questioned the efficacy of these programs.
With the release of the iPad and other tablet devices, electronic textbooks are on the brink of grabbing a larger share of the $4.5 billion college textbook market. Analysts suggest lower costs and increased comfort with digital texts will also contribute to this trend.
Many young adults love video games, a fact that some education software developers are taking advantage of. These companies are creating products that feature both the high-interest features of games and educational content.
This course format features some classroom seat time while also allowing students to complete many class activities online. It's widely believed that hybrid learning and other varieties of blended education will grow dramatically at postsecondary institutions in the coming years.
lLarning analytics software
Learning analytics software gathers data about virtual learners' behavior, engagement and performance. Developers suggest that this data can be used to help institutions assess and improve the quality of online programs.
Learning management system (LMS)
Institutions that provide courses online typically rely on an LMS to supply the virtual area in which students attend classes and complete assignments. Blackboard is the most widely used system; Moodle, WEB CT and E-College are also popular.
OpenCourseWare (OCW), an important part of the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement, refers to college course materials available for free online. OCW provides any student connected to the Internet with access to premier course content from institutions like MIT.
Project-based learning typically allows students to demonstrate their understanding of course concepts by applying them to real-world problems. Many laud this instructional strategy for its potential to better prepare students for the transition to the workforce.
This is the process whereby institutions of higher learning are reviewed to ensure that the quality of their education programs merit continued accreditation status. Reaccreditation is particularly important at a time when diploma mills are increasingly common.
Virtual learning environments
While virtual learning environments are certainly not new, they are changing. Electronic classrooms are increasingly incorporating more sophisticated elements, including social networking and other Web 2.0 tools, to engage and challenge students.
Learn about current funding trends in higher ed.