The Here and Now with Distance Learning
Years ago, correspondence courses met the definition of distance learning. Today, that definition has expanded to include every form of distance education that employs technology from something as effortless as teleconferencing to video communication and presentation. The purposes for distance learning can be simple like earning a professional badge to something more substantial like a university degree! The 2019 Online Education Trends Report found that by 2017, all students are taking at least one online class and almost half (48%) are taking only online classes.
What is the future of distance learning, especially in the midst of social distancing? James N. Bradley, CIO at Texas’ Trinity University, in his recent LinkedIn post wrote, “Every faculty member is going to be delivering education online. Every student is going to be receiving education online. And the resistance to online education is going to go away as a practical matter.” For practicality purposes, educators are quickly adapting their curriculums and instructional materials to create and deliver positive, quality learning experiences for their students.
To achieve this kind of learning: telecommunications, software, and hardware professionals have aided in making distance education easy and mainstream. And they continue now, during this time of social distancing, to aid educational institutions to expand their distance learning capabilities through easy-to-use platforms. Before the social distancing, of the 56.6 million K-12 students in the U.S., only 2.7 million students or 5% are taking part in digital learning. Immediately that statistic will change.
Online interactivity is top priority for tech support
The paradigm shift from student-filled, single teacher-directed classrooms to online classrooms requires schools to invest in technological infrastructure, technical support, and training. To excel at distance learning, schools must do more than deliver traditional curriculum over a computer network. Instead, Work by One Touch Systems found that “interactivity is crucial to effective distance learning.”
Interactivity includes, but is not limited to, instructors providing real-time feedback to material and enabling students to ask and share ideas with their instructors and classmates. For many educators, distance learning requires them to develop additional presentation skills and instruction materials that will be crucial to keep students curious and engaged. The technology employed greatly affects how well the redesigned curriculum is delivered and presented. Therefore, to close the distance on distance learning, IT teams need to adopt and support technologies that actually contribute and impact positively upon student learning.
To make this method effective, IT teams should take the lead for identifying, implementing and supporting technology designed with remote students in mind. Three key considerations include software, applications, and hardware.
- Software that supports:
- all types of learning approaches from self-paced to traditional classroom styles, with interactive elements included;
- organizing the curriculum, tests, and projects into learning modules;
- a learning management system where classroom materials are all kept and accessed from one place; and,
- student services, tutoring, career services, and access to the school library.
- Applications that support:
- video conferencing;
- assignment posting and submission;
testing and assessments;
- peer discussion;
- message boards for student interaction; and,
scheduling applications for student to meet with faculty and staff.
- Hardware such as computers, keyboards, mice, cameras, and cloud-based networks to deploy and support the applications.
Every distance learning initiative requires a well-trained IT support team and a stable IT environment. While the initial configuration and loading of needed software is critical, unexpected glitches inevitably occur. When the technology fails, both the users and IT are negatively impacted. Therefore, having a support team in place that has a well-defined process for servicing technology requests is critical to keep remote classes up and running.
Technology is the key to enabling distance learning to break down the walls of the traditional classroom. The future work of IT teams within learning institutions and organizations must focus on how to manage the change and adoption process to make the implementation of distance learning a commonplace approach to education.
For more content like this, check out our latest blog post: A Plan for IT Support in a Virtual World.