As tools such as Google and YouTube gain popularity, repeated reference is made to software that's available “in the cloud.” As a result, there has been an increased focus on how this software impacts learning. Many speculate that there might be generational differences in how software in the cloud is used for learning purposes. Generation Y, in particular, has grown up using computers and various software, which means they may be accustomed to adopting and utilizing them for learning and development. However, the argument can be made that all generations are already using software in the cloud on a daily basis, and therefore, its use for education is a given. Both formal and informal learning is afforded through software in the cloud, or cloud-based learning, and all generations are taking advantage.
Let’s take a closer look at the definition of the phrase “in the cloud.” This refers to cloud computing, which is defined as:
… the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet).
… provides computation, software, data access, and storage services that do not require end-user knowledge of the physical location and configuration of the system that delivers the services.
This leads to the meaning of “cloud-based learning,” which is the use of software in the cloud to learn (i.e., solicit and gain knowledge, skills or abilities). Cloud-based learning environment (CLE) is another new term used, which is defined as “one big autonomous system not owned by any educational institution.” CLEs allow all learners equal opportunity to control, share and collaborate. The most significant benefits of cloud-based learning are that it enables accessibility from multiple devices (e.g., computer, tablet, smart phone) and allows for both formal and informal learning with a wide network of individuals, one that is not limited to a specific institution.
A more formal example of a CLE is Schoology, which is an LMS geared more toward school districts and universities, and allows for cross-collaboration among users for a fee. Other common examples of cloud-based learning include:
- Completing eLearning courses; registering for classes; and accessing resources, assignments and other course materials from a learning management system, or LMS (i.e., oftentimes, a company’s LMS is hosted externally, called software-as-a-service or SaaS, rather than in-house).
- Leveraging social media to learn about a specific topic (e.g., Twitter and blogs).
- Watching video tutorials (e.g., YouTube).
- Utilizing Google tools for communication and collaboration (e.g., Gmail, Google Documents, Google Sites, Google Groups).
Cloud-based software is ubiquitous – we are surrounded by it and do not even realize it. All generations can leverage this software and use it for formal and informal learning.