In knowledge and technology-based economies, teaching and learning are the foundations of future progress. But the digital revolution means that virtual real-time and face-to-face training is very much growing and has a big role to play in case of travel restrictions or even in times of severe weather, political unrest or health crises. All of these argue in favor of mixed training methods.
When distance is part of the mix
When you disconnect the act of teaching from the necessity of being face-to-face, distance can be a solution rather than a problem. There are times when bringing teachers and pupils together is not only difficult, but also not a very good idea in the first place. Dedicated remote teaching and training enable programs to continue, without losing the students’ engagement.
At the moment, however, remote teaching still often happens with videoconferencing systems instead of dedicated teaching and learning platforms. Videoconferencing tools typically allow less engagement between a teacher and students, the interactive possibilities are mainly one-directional and, most of all, these platforms require teachers to do a lot of adaptations in their content and workflow in order to convey their message.
So choosing explicitly and well-informed for a virtual classroom technology is key. A platform built for training should meet three criteria. It should:
- provide the best teacher and student experience
- require minimal changes in content and workflow
- maintain engagement with the students (we’ll all agree that teaching to a laptop screen is not the way to go!
The case for distance learning
Traditional, in-class teaching will never disappear. Yet even without outside forces, education and training is changing. Tools such as learning management systems, where students can log in whenever and from wherever they choose, interactive digital content and flexible learning spaces with different teaching styles are all transforming how we pass on knowledge.
The truth is that the motors behind this transformation lie both in lifestyle and management. Universities and corporations can now dispense more knowledge to more people without the need for them to be physically present.
Due to geo-political factors, students have had to become more careful about where they choose to study. EdTech now gives them access to many institutions without or with less need to travel. This is not to overlook corporate training and business schools that are often dealing with busy professionals with very precise time constraints.
As Australian EdTech consultant Peter Westcott put it, “The big change in higher education institutions is that before, it was a privilege to go to university whereas now it’s a privilege for universities to acquire students”.
What can realistically be achieved?
Distance learning through online on-demand lessons is as old as the hills. But the newer solutions offer far broader benefits and combine well with traditional teaching. The most modern systems allow for virtual classrooms that can accommodate up to 112 students (in the case of weConnect). A system that is productive will allow easy access in terms of technology and high levels of interactivity. Teachers can call up any document or lesson they have saved at any time, share it and enable group-work. The active participation of the students is encouraged with polls and quizzes or silent questions.
“Even better than the real thing”
One of the keys to understanding and exploiting the potential of distance or e-learning is to remember that it is not a second-class version of teaching. It can be, in the words of U2, “Even better than the real thing”. It complements traditional teaching and opens new ways of improving the experience for the teacher and student. The combination of a live situation with digital enhancements works perfectly.
Preparing for the unforeseen
The other essential aspect of virtual classrooms and technology-enhanced learning is that it also prepares institutions for situations where normal in-situ classes become impossible. We have seen many examples of these in the past few months alone. A large part of the student population at business schools consists of men and women who combine their studies with busy company jobs which often require a lot of travel. Similarly, universities in many regions, such as Australia and the US, have a large percentage of foreign students. In case of unexpected travel bans, many of these people suddenly lose access to their teaching institution. It goes without saying that virtual classrooms can confine the possible damage to a minimum.
Ellen Van de Woestijne of Barco will be speaking on how virtual & hybrid classrooms are transforming online learning at OEB20.