October 31, 2023

Transforming Teaching and Learning Experiences with Emerging Technologies

IDC Report Blog Series: Part Two

Innovative technologies are reshaping the way we teach and learn. Learning management systems (LMS) are at the forefront of this transformation and can integrate cutting-edge tools like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR). These technologies transform instructional design by personalizing learning experiences and immersing students in dynamic educational content. A recent report from the International Data Corporation (IDC) indicates that the education sector will be reshaped by technological advancements, resulting in more responsive and engaging learning experiences.1

AI-Facilitated Personalized Learning: Unlocking Student Potential 

AI has emerged as a game-changer in education. Within LMSs, AI takes on a multifaceted role, enhancing various aspects of the teaching and learning process. At its core, AI within an LMS serves as an intelligent guide, adapting to individual student needs and optimizing their learning experiences.

Generative AI in Action: A Glimpse into the Future That’s Available Today 

One of the defining features of the modern LMS is its ability to harness the power of AI to personalize learning experiences. This isn't just a technological advancement; it's a game-changer in education. Blackboard® Learn Ultra, for instance, is pioneering this transformation with its innovative AI Design Assistant, created following Anthology's Trustworthy AI framework. It's a noteworthy achievement, as Blackboard Learn becomes the first major LMS to leverage generative AI capabilities to benefit instructors and instructional designers. 

The AI Design Assistant is more than just a tool; it's a technological helper for educators. It streamlines the entire course-building process by recommending course structure, module titles, descriptions, and images based on course content. Instructors no longer need to start from scratch; they receive a helping hand in creating engaging and effective Learn Ultra courses. Furthermore, it goes a step further by helping educators standardize the rubric creation process and by supporting educators in evaluating student performance, all in a fraction of the time. 

Efficiency in assessment extends to test generation as well. AI-facilitated algorithms can analyze a document's content and rapidly generate diverse questions, which instructors can then review and edit to assess students' knowledge and understanding. Additionally, the AI Design Assistant addresses the need for engaging visuals by providing royalty-free image recommendations based on the context of a course or document. This eliminates the time-consuming process of hunting for visuals and concerns about copyright infringement. 

What's truly remarkable is that the AI Design Assistant smoothly integrates into existing workflows. It doesn't disrupt educators' routines but enhances and streamlines their processes, allowing them to focus more on teaching, knowing that AI is handling the heavy lifting. This AI-driven design is a reality, empowering educators today. It is a testament to how AI is making education more engaging and accessible to learners. As AI advances, its role in education will only become more significant.  

AR and VR: Immersing Learners in Knowledge 

While generative AI transforms content creation, augmented reality and virtual reality redefine how students engage with that content. These immersive technologies transport learners to new dimensions, where knowledge is acquired and experienced. Within LMSs, AR and VR modules can be integrated, allowing educators to infuse their courses with interactive and immersive elements. 

Elevating Language Learning Through Virtual Reality 

Virtual reality is no longer a concept confined to science fiction; it’s increasingly becoming a tool utilized in education, particularly for language learning. Because of VR's immersive nature, learners can enter simulated environments, making it ideal for practicing and mastering new languages. VR in language learning is more than just a passing trend; it’s a technological leap that has the potential to improve the educational experience significantly. 

Recent meta-analytical research conducted by Chen, Dai, Zhu, and Xu (2022) delved into the impact of extended reality (XR), which includes VR, on language learning. Their comprehensive analysis of articles published between 2000 and 2022 revealed that XR, particularly VR, significantly impacted language learning. This means that VR is more than just a gimmick; it’s a genuinely effective tool for language acquisition. 

One of the language learning challenges is creating authentic language environments for learners. VR addresses this challenge by immersing learners in lifelike scenarios where they must use the target language for effective communication. 

VR’s sense of presence and immersion significantly benefit speaking proficiency. Radianti et al. points out that learners often experience a heightened sense of VR presence, leading to better language retention and speaking skills. VR offers learners a safe and supportive space to practice speaking, reducing anxiety and building confidence. In this sense, VR is a powerful tool for developing oral language skills. 

VR applications can be tailored to individual learners. This personalization allows learners to progress at their own pace and focus on areas where they need improvement. AI-driven VR systems can analyze learners’ language skills and adapt content accordingly. For example, if a learner struggles with verb conjugations, the VR program can provide targeted exercises and practice scenarios to address this weakness. This level of customization is difficult to achieve in traditional classroom settings.  VR bridges geographical divides, allowing learners from all over the world to interact and practice languages together.  

As we investigate the impact of VR on language learning, it becomes clear that this technology is more than just an addition to the language classroom; it’s a revolutionary tool with the potential to transform how we learn languages. VR is emerging as a game changer in language education, thanks to empirical research and the potential for personalized, immersive, and authentic language experiences. In the following section, we will focus on another aspect of education technology: augmented reality (AR) and its role in modern learning environments. 

Augmented Reality- Where the Virtual and the Real Collide 

Augmented reality is emerging as a transformative force, bridging the gap between the physical and digital realms within classrooms. AR overlays digital content onto the real world, enhancing learning, interactivity, and comprehension.  

AR technology enriches education in various ways. It empowers students to explore subjects through interactive 3D models, immersive simulations, and information-rich overlays, making complex concepts more accessible. AR also supports personalized learning, catering to diverse student needs and learning styles. Moreover, it fosters collaboration and critical thinking, preparing students for the dynamic challenges of the future job market. 

As AR adoption in education grows, research and development efforts are burgeoning. Several studies, such as the 2021 edition of the International Journal of Education and Development Using Information and Communication Technology, highlighted the effectiveness of AR in improving learning outcomes. The intersection of AR and pedagogy is at the forefront of educational innovation, promising an exciting future where learning knows no bounds.

AR, VR, and Generative AI in Action 

The following examples highlight how institutions around the world are utilizing generative AI, VR, and AR within the learning environment. These examples showcase how institutions might integrate these tools into the LMS or utilize these tools to enhance learning outside of the LMS. 

At the University of Dundee in Scotland, generative AI (GAI) plays an increasingly significant role in the educational landscape. GAI tools, which can generate text, code, artwork, and more, are being explored for their potential to enhance learning experiences. The university has developed comprehensive guidance for its students and staff to ensure responsible usage. This guidance emphasizes the need to strike a balance between harnessing the capabilities of GAI and understanding its limitations. While GAI can provide valuable support for research, drafting, visual content generation, and language improvement, the university stresses that it should only be used to generate some essays or assessment answers. The university’s approach recognizes that GAI, while powerful, is not a substitute for human intelligence. AI tools may occasionally produce inaccuracies or fictitious references, and they perform differently across subjects.  

Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has embraced virtual reality to revolutionize nursing education. They've developed the Virtual Hospital learning system, a first-of-its-kind in Hong Kong. This VR-based system replicates a real hospital ward and offers 11 immersive scenarios, including Clinical Practicum Orientation, Challenges of Delirium, and Potential Heart Attack. What sets this system apart is its ability to create over 1,200 randomized situations and choices, fostering decision-making skills among nursing students and challenging students to manage multiple patients and unexpected clinical scenarios. 

Boston University (BU) stands at the forefront of educational innovation, embracing extended reality technologies to redefine the learning landscape. Collaborating with BU's Center for Teaching & Learning, educational technology teams, and various schools and colleges, BU's Digital Learning & Innovation (DL&I) spearheads this transformative journey. DL&I fosters an AR/VR Learning Community, serving as a hub for XR exploration. BU pioneers VR pilot projects spanning diverse disciplines. A notable example is the "Using VR to Address Social Determinants of Health" project, a virtual reality simulation supported by BU's School of Medicine and School of Social Work, addressing critical health issues through immersive experiences. BU emphasizes active XR engagement, allowing educators and students to gain hands-on experience with XR technologies. BU's proactive approach to XR education positions it as a leader in this transformative field, setting the stage for more real-world examples of XR's impact on education.

Paving the Way for a Transformative Future 

As we conclude our exploration of AI, AR, and VR in the context of learning management systems, we have explored how technologies like generative AI, immersive AR, and VR can transform education. They hold the potential to make learning more accessible, engaging, and effective.  

It’s worth noting that a recent report by the International Data Corporation emphasizes the role of these technologies in creating responsive and learner-centric education environments. This underscores the significance of our discussions and the continued evolution of LMSs to meet the diverse needs of modern learners. 

Now, as we turn our attention to the next chapter in our journey, "Blending Pedagogical Expertise with Technological Innovation: Navigating Hybrid Learning Environments," we'll delve into the evolving world of hybrid education. Drawing from my own experiences in online and hybrid teaching and learning, we'll explore how LMSs serve as crucial foundations for mixed learning experiences that combine the best of both traditional and digital teaching. 

1 IDC, The Ongoing Evolution of Learning Management Systems, #US50304923, April 2023

Justin Louder headshot

Justin Louder

Associate Vice President of Academic Innovation

Dr. Justin Louder serves as associate vice president for academic innovation at Anthology. He is the former associate vice provost of Texas Tech University’s Worldwide Learning. Over the last decade, he led TTU through a significant transformation from humble beginnings into a division with regional teaching sites around the state, over 100 different online and distance degree programs, more online or hybrid doctoral degrees than any school in the south, a division wide staff of almost 100, and growing fully online enrollments from 1,200 to over 4,000. He also served as a faculty member in the College of Education throughout his tenure at TTU. He holds a B.A. in communication and psychology from Angelo State University, an Ed.D. in instructional technology with a minor in higher education administration from Texas Tech University, and an M.P.A. in governmental administration from Wayland Baptist University.