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).

Organizations can promote the use of cloud-based learning by providing lists of applicable and promoted sites that can be used in coordination with the companies’ internal tools. Be sure to establish and communicate your organization’s privacy policy and work with IT to ensure all approved software does not pose a security breech.

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.

Marci Paino

Marci Paino

Marci Paino is a senior instructional designer at Intrepid Learning Solutions. She earned her Certified Performance Technologist (CPT) designation from the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), M.A. in educational technology from San Diego State University and B.S. in organizational communication, learning and design from Ithaca College. Paino volunteers for ISPI, serving on several committees, forming the Emerging Professional Committee, and earning the Presidential Citation in 2009 and 2010. She is also a member of the eLearning Guild and American Society for Training and Development. Paino has written for PerformanceXpress, Performance Improvement Journal and She can be reached at

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