Technology is disrupting almost every industry more and more every single day. Even the most traditional industries are being challenged by new technological innovations that are making our lives better. Here are a few quick examples:

  • Uber and Lyft make it easier than ever to get a ride using technology, forget taxis.
  • GrubHub and Postmates make it possible to get delicious meals delivered to you without talking to anyone
  • Tuft and Needle and Casper have changed the way many people buy mattresses.

Technology is also disrupting the way people learn skills. No longer do you need to be in a physical classroom in order to learn. As long as you have an internet connection, you have the ability to learn a fascinating amount of new and in-demand skills in a way that was not previously possible.

Online education is an evolving space. And as the industry has changed, some key trends have begun to emerge.

In this post, we’ll dive into the 8 key trends that are happening right now in the online education space. We’ll talk about how they’re helping people from all over the world get a world-class education from the comfort of their own home, and what they mean for the future of education.

Trend 1: It’s becoming easier to learn from world-class experts.

If you’re a world-class expert on a particular topic, you’re probably pretty busy. Most likely, you’re continuing to work in your field, which takes up most of your time and attention. These world-class experts spend their time on their area of expertise, and they don’t have time to visit every classroom around the world to teach other people.

However, world-class experts can broadcast a message, a course, or another package of information to an insane amount of people through technology.  

People like Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, Dan Abramov,  or Aaron Patterson are doing this every single day through the Internet.

Trend 2: Learning is becoming more optimized.

Traditional education is a bit broken. I can attest to this from experience. Earlier in my life, I taught in-person coding workshops with Marco (CEO & Co-founder of Firehose) around the country at places like Harvard Business School, Carnegie Mellon, and Babson university. The first few times that we ran workshops, we would experiment with the way we explained the concepts. We A/B tested classrooms and used our findings to understand the way people best understand complex technical concepts. After running dozens of workshops, we ultimately figured out an ideal way to teach students.

At the end, it was nearly scripted. We explained the concepts in a fully optimized way. We even tossed in the same jokes at the same points in the workshops.

Ultimately, we realized that it was possible to scale our approach to far more people than you could ever fit in a college classroom.

So that’s what we did. We used the lessons that we learned from teaching hundreds of students in a physical classroom to engineer an online learning platform that makes things click for thousands of people wherever they are.

Trend 3: Getting the right content in the right form.

Video lessons work for some concepts, but text works better for other concepts. Live instruction trumps both video and text for other types of learning. The best online learning experiences find a way to balance each type in most optimized way possible for students.

We use a combination of all 3 on our Firehose platform.

The individual lessons are text-based guides with detailed coding instructions. We structured it this way because it mirrors the real world, where you have written documentation that you need to parse through to solve problems.

We use video lessons to teach big concepts (like MVC architecture, Object Oriented Programming, Inheritance, and more) that are hard to understand from just text.

And we use live instruction through mentorship sessions, agile team meetings, and virtual office hours for highly customized teaching.

The ability to give students the right content in the right form is an insanely important trend that is really starting to push the online education space into an exciting new form.

Trend 4: You can challenge yourself on your own time.

Figuring out challenges without explicit instruction is one of the best ways to absorb the material and truly start to understand how things work on a deep level. It often takes a bit of frustration and failure in order to make things click.

Traditional education handles this process through tests and quizzes.

Tests and quizzes often encourage students to:

  • Memorize facts
  • Cram for the test
  • Cheat

In fact, traditional school has conditioned us to be bad at learning new things.

Deep level learning is difficult to accomplish in a classroom setting. The same challenge could take one person 4 hours to finish, but it might take another person only 30 minutes.

Online learning platforms allow you to move at your own pace. You don’t need to cram for a test just because it’s happening on an arbitrary date. And you don’t need to sit around waiting for other students to finish their challenges. You can move forward in the exact way that works best for you.

Trend 5: It’s becoming easier to get back on track.

When learning new skills, it can be easy to fall off track. As the saying goes, there are three types of things.

  • Things you know.
  • Things you know you don’t know.
  • Things you don’t know you don’t know.

When students encounter problems that they don’t understand, it’s often the silliest things that cause the issues. In programming specifically, something as small as the difference between a lowercase or capital letter can cause hours of struggling.

The best online education platforms are engineering ways for students to correct as quickly as possible in order to help them stay on track. This includes things like:

  • Moderated forums
  • Student communities
  • Chat rooms (like Slack)
  • Email support

These tools ensure that when a student inevitably slips up, he/she is able to get back on track quickly and continue to learn and improve their skills.

Trend 6: You can get personalized individual attention from experts.

One of the fastest ways to level up in a skill is to have a direct conversation with an expert from the field that you’re trying to learn. But finding, vetting, and convincing someone with the experience you need to take you under their wing is a lot of work.

The best online platforms, however, match students with industry experts and coordinate time for video chats. They provide the one-on-one mentorship that can make a huge difference in your ability to learn a complicated topic.

There are a number of reasons why mentorship matters when learning new skills.

First, it can help with the emotional toll of learning new things. Particularly in the field of programming, learning something new can feel daunting.

It’s helpful to be able to talk with someone who has succeeded and accomplished the goals that you have. It can help put things in perspective and give you the motivation to keep moving forward.

Second, they can tell you what not to do.  When learning things, it can often feel exciting to try the new, hip thing. But experienced professionals will generally push students towards the fundamentals. This is essential. By focusing on building up a solid foundation, you’ll build the base that allows you to learn more complicated things later on.

Third, they hold you accountable.  Let’s face it. It takes a lot of work to learn enough of a new skill to drastically impact your life. Even if you’re super motivated, it can be easy to become distracted.

A 1-on-1 mentor who assigns you work to do is an incredible influence. They hold you accountable and push you to go further than you would on your own.

Why?

Students feel compelled to prove to their mentor that they’ve achieved their goals.  

Trend 7: Learning online no longer means learning alone.

Just because you’re learning virtually doesn’t mean that you’re learning alone.

Online communities exist and it’s possible to build bonds with peer groups too.   Chat tools like Slack can provide a real-time place to communicate with other people who are in the process of learning the material too.

Online communities can help foster relationships, solve problems, and motivate students to keep learning because everyone around you is learning.

These online communities are places where you can surround yourself with like-minded individuals that are committed to making a meaningful improvement in their lives.

Trend 8: You can learn more easily from other people on a larger scale.

Many online education platforms offer ways for students to come together as a group of learners and ask questions. If you combine experts, inquisitive learners, and new video technology, you get virtual office hours. Virtual office hours are an amazing way to learn online.

They offer students a place to ask these questions and learn from the questions of other students, too.

Online learning has evolved a ton in the past few years.

Some of the early attempts to do it didn’t pan out great.  But like most other fields, the Internet has massively disrupted how it can be done.  And today it’s doing the same for the online education space.  

This is a good thing. Not a bad thing. Why?

Online education democratizes the spread of knowledge.

Traditional education is largely gated. The quality of the education that you can receive from a traditional source is largely dependent on a few key factors:

  • Where you live
  • How good your teachers are
  • How much money you have
  • How intelligent your peers are
  • How much time you have

Online education breaks down a lot of these barriers:

  • It’s open to anyone with an Internet connection.
  • It provides access to expert-level teaching.
  • It’s cheaper than traditional education.
  • It gives you access to other motivated students at an incredible scale
  • It works around your schedule

The Internet is changing how people learn. It’s bringing the value of education regardless of student’s current lifestyle or situation. And it’s allowing people to make a new start in a different career regardless of their geographic location or current job situation.

Online education is the future of education. And the future of education is one that is inclusive and flexible for the people who are willing to put in the work.

Have you been thinking about learning to code online? You can get started our free 2-week intro course.

AuthorKen Mazaika

Ken Mazaika is the CTO and co-founder at Firehose. Previously, he was a tech lead at WHERE.com (acquired by PayPal) and a member of the PayPal/eBay development team in Boston.

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