Results from ALT’s Annual Survey: What’s Important to Learning Technologists?

If you work with learning technology, what’s important to you - now and in the future?

VLEs, electronic assessment, submission & feedback and blended learning occupy the top spots for importance, according to recently published annual survey data from ALT. Data and analytics are rapidly coming over the horizon, though. Student engagement was the top driver for the use of learning technologies.

 

ALT and the Annual Survey

ALT is the Association for Learning Technology, a UK charity which seeks “to advance education through increasing, exploring and disseminating knowledge in the field of Learning Technology for the benefit of the general public.

For the past four years, ALT has put out a survey designed to track current and future trends in learning technology, and how it’s used across sectors. Here we discuss some key findings of ALT’s 2017 survey report, published 1st March 2018.

ALT’s survey questioned people working in learning technology, and analysed 226 responses. Included was the following: given a list of current areas of learning technology, how important is each one to your work - both over the past year, and expected over the coming year.

The top three answers from each question are shown below:

 Selection of data from ALT's Annual Survey 2017 - top answers shown only

Selection of data from ALT's Annual Survey 2017 - top answers shown only

 

Content management systems and VLEs

It’s clear than centralised learning environments such as Blackboard, Moodle and Canvas play a central role in learning technology. 80% of respondents said CMS / VLEs were important in the past year, and would be important for next year.

This is understandable, because VLEs act as a digital hub for online courses. Without it, learning can be limited to a series of disparate files and links - far less engaging and more time consuming to manage.

But there can be more to VLEs than static repositories of notes and lecture captures - there’s a world of possibilities.

When it comes to getting the most out of your VLE, there are a number of things you can do. For example, you can turbo-charge it with LTI capabilities. These act like an embedded portal to external resources, allowing you to go far above and beyond the standard VLE offering.


 

Electronic assessment, submission and feedback tools

The era of students dropping assignments in pigeonholes in academic department offices is coming to an end.

The importance of electronic support in assessment, submission and feedback appears to be highly and consistently valued: 75-76% of respondents rated it as important currently and in the future, respectively.

When it comes to assessment feedback, the “holy trinity” is personalised, consistent and immediate. Unfortunately, given increasing student numbers and staff workloads, achieving all of this without support is practically impossible.

 A Smart Worksheet example from Learning Science

A Smart Worksheet example from Learning Science

However, with the right electronic tools, your students can benefit from high quality feedback in satisfactory quantities. Smart Worksheets from Learning Science are built upon feedback as a foundation. They can be used as post-lab assignments, dynamic tutorials or formative calculation practices.
 

Blended learning

As defined by the HEA Knowledge Hub: “Blended approaches use multiple methods to deliver learning, combining face-to-face interactions with online activities.”

In this survey 66% of respondents said blended learning was important or very important in their work. When considering next year, this rose to 69%.

The popularity of blended learning is connected to the benefits for staff and students. According to the HEA: “The flexibility inherent in this form of delivery enables teachers to rethink where and how they focus learning activity and students to develop self-directed learning skills and digital literacies.

Here at Learning Science, we also believe blended learning is a valuable approach, allowing us to offer the best of both worlds: the efficiency of software with the experiential elements of in-person learning. Our pre-lab and post-lab solutions are designed to enhance teaching labs, not replace them for this reason.


 

Predictions, drivers, and the future

When considering future vs current practice, Data and Analytics showed the biggest increase, even though it didn’t make the “top three” list above.

 Sample data from ALT Annual Survey 2017 - top answers only

Sample data from ALT Annual Survey 2017 - top answers only

As computing power and Big Data make learning analytics more accessible and sophisticated, we collectively need to consider the best ways forward - taking pedagogical, privacy and practical considerations into account.

Last year, 85% of students displayed willingness to use activity tracking apps in their studies, given it would help boost their grades.

 Sample data from ALT Annual Survey 2017 - top answers only

Sample data from ALT Annual Survey 2017 - top answers only

When studying the trends, it’s valuable to consider what might be driving these changes. For learning technologists, student engagement is overall the most important driver, followed by colleagues’ commitment and staff development opportunities.

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So what’s next for learning technology? While VLEs, electronic assessment and blended learning currently rule the roost, there’s no guarantee it’ll stay that way. The survey asks for personal predictions one year into the future, but there’s always new innovations just around the corner.

Thanks to ALT for sharing these annual survey results - which you can find in full here. It will be interesting to see how future years compare, as more transformative pedagogical practices and long-term trends emerge.