August 06 2020

7 Trends in Digital Learning Innovation

Time to read: 5 minutes

A recent study from the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) and Every Learner Everywhere outlines primary trends in digital learning innovation as well as some secondary trends worth watching. The report, produced in association with the National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements (DETA), is the result of an analysis of published research reviewing how emerging learning technologies are being applied and exploring their potential impact on learner success.

The purpose of the analysis was to “help identify and understand innovations in the digital education landscape," explained Jennifer Mathes, interim CEO of OLC, in a statement. "Our ultimate goal is to pinpoint prominent innovations that have the potential to improve learner outcomes..."

Researchers defined digital learning innovations as "technologies or ideas that improve access, equity and learning." The analysis incorporated peer-reviewed journals, popular news and media coverage and other articles and documents, as well as an analysis of initiatives that have earned OLC Digital Learning Innovation Awards. Remember, if you are considering changing language provider, here are some questions you should ask them.

Top trends identified by the analysis included:

  • Adaptive learning;
  • Gamification and game-based learning;
  • LMS and interoperability;
  • Mobility and mobile devices; and
  • Design (the structuring of the learning environment and interactions).
  • Blended learning;
  • Dashboards;

A better understanding of the technology and trends driving teaching, research and learning, means companies can prioritise the inclusion of these new innovations in current plans.

Adaptive Learning

Adaptive learning technologies provide students with learning activities, an assessment of their learning, and feedback on their learning. Based on their level of achievement, they are provided an adaptive pathway that is personalised to their strengths and weaknesses demonstrated on the assessment. Importantly, adaptive learning technologies are a broad umbrella and can look very different from one product to another.

Gamification and Game-based Learning

Gamification is learning that incorporates gaming elements into the learning activity (content and interaction), assessment, or course.

Common examples of these include point systems and badges.

Game-based learning is when games are used to facilitate learning. This learning is often related to the learning of concepts to enhance cognitive knowledge or the learning through the simulation activities to enhance students’ cognitive, behavioural, and affective abilities that often parallels real-life situations.

The increase in the pervasiveness of gaming among children and adults due to the advancement of technologies and the internet, along with gaming becoming a social phenomenon gaining the attention of scholars and researchers due to the engaging effects, yet integrating games or gamifying a course can be a challenge. Therefore, the replication and scaling of game-based learning and gamification is slow, while interest in the scholarship of gamification is steadfast.

LMS and Interoperability

Learning Management Systems (LMS) and the interoperability of these systems is a trend in innovation. LMS and the ability of the LMS to integrate digital courseware within the system and within course sites is important. It is a requirement and developed course plans based on this assumed functionality, but obstacles are often experienced that prevent the use of this interoperability and alternatives have been explored.

Mobility and Mobile Devices

With the widespread adoption of mobile devices, their fast data speed, and the substantial number of applications available, mobile devices have become an extension of learners. Their use of mobile devices to access their learning and their expectation of seamless interactivity greatly influence digital learning. Ensuring usability and accessibility from a mobile device is critical to learning and satisfaction.


Design refers to the structuring of the learning environment and interactions so that learners can learn. It usually consists of attending to the design of a course and/or the instruction, including learner interactions with content, other learners, and the tutor, to ensure alignment between learning objectives, assessment, and activities. Design also often includes considerations of organisation of a course, course technologies, and materials, leanness and richness of content and interactions, and learner support, or creating clarity and ease of learning for learners, in the online environment.

Blended Learning

Blended learning occurs when face-to-face and online environ-ments are strategically integrated to meet students’ needs across environments and seat time is replaced with, or supplemented by, pedagogically advantageous online activities.

Blended learning is sometimes referred to as hybrid or flipped learning—conceptually, the terms are interchangeable. However, flipped can some-times refer to a different pedagogical model that does not necessarily reduce seat time and where online activities predominantly involve content dissemination. You can read our thoughts on Flipped Learning V3.0 and see  how the team here at CWL have taken Flipped Learning into the future.


Dashboards are aggregators of data that presents data to the user or viewer. Often, this data is presented in a combination of quantitative expressions and data visualization allowing users to better understand the data. These learner dashboards are created to improve learner outcomes by allowing L&D managers to see learner data in relation to other learners’ and gauge their performance. Also, the sharing of learners’ data with the learners themselves allows learners to gain a sense of agency over their performance and potentially motivates them to take control over their learning achievements. Dashboards are often referred to as learning analytics efforts, but they seem to be the key vehicle used to visualize learning analytics data to measure ROI and improve learner success. There has been recent movement towards the use of multiple data sources (SIS, LMS, survey, courseware app data) and the inclusion of behavioural data to identify and test interventions that can improve learner outcomes.

The full report, with detailed analyses of each trend, is available on the Every Learner site.

  • Previous
    How Flipped Learning Helps You Learn More Effectively
  • Next
    An L&D Revolution [Thanks to COVID]