Higher education has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but not necessarily to its demise. Educators with no distance teaching experience are faced with the challenge of implementing emergency remote learning experiences for students across the globe. And, while some educators struggle to implement new virtual meetings and online classroom tools, others seek ways to optimize existing learning and collaboration operations.
For professors who are skilled with the tools and tactics for delivering a satisfactory digital learning experience, now is an excellent time to add new enhancements to your course plan. If you invest in your teaching processes now, you can deliver an even better experience for your students in the days to come.
Here, you will learn:
- A Perspective on the Future of Remote Learning
- Why Sharpening Your Processes Might Be Crucial in the Coming Days
- 3 Tips to Optimize Your Distance Teaching Operations
As you move through this article, try to think about how you might implement some of the new tactics and organize an action plan. And, be ready to make some of these changes straightaway.
If you’re ready, learn how you can improve teaching operations and deliver a better experience for distance learners.
What Does the Future Have in Store for Distance Courses in Higher Education?
First, it’s important to look at the world as a whole to predict what might happen next. In all industries, much of the tech being implemented as an emergency response is being found to increase productivity. For example, 52.5% of clinicians now say that they are able to deliver more effective healthcare with virtual vs in-office visits.
While nobody can say for certain what will happen in the immediate and long-term future of online learning and distance education, much of what we see today is likely to have at least a partially-permanent impact. Those that think of empty classrooms and social distancing as a catalyst for a transformation in the education system rather than a temporary, band-aid solution to a passing crisis probably have the right idea.
According to statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics, distance learning at Title IV schools in the United States has seen a consistent rise in recent years. And, this trend should have previously been expected to continue.
From this data, representing the 2013-14 school year to the 2018-19 school year, the number of students enrolled in some, but not all distance education courses increased by 4.8 percent. Respectively, the number of students enrolled exclusively in distance education courses increased by 3.5 percent.
While this may not seem like an impressive spike, the total number of students enrolled in distance education is significant. When you consider that nearly one of every three (approximately 30.38 percent) University students were enrolled in some form of distance education at Title IV schools each year since 2013, and approximately one out of every seven exclusively leveraged distance education.
In general terms, it takes time to recover from trauma. For example, it’s common knowledge that after the 9/11 attacks, it took years for air travel to return to normal because people were afraid to fly. And, it should be expected that a portion of University students will remain fearful of classrooms for some time after social distancing restrictions are lifted.
With this in mind, would an increase from 30 percent to 50 or even 75 percent of students enrolled in distance learning courses for higher education be so incredible?
Here’s What This Perspective Means for Today’s Educators
Whether you’re in the early stages of transitioning your traditional courses to digital presentations or you’re a seasoned distance instructor, the coming days, months, and years will present major changes. The most likely outcome from the Coronavirus pandemic on your career is a major influx of students with the desire to enroll in online courses.
With a higher number of students comes a greater need for streamlined processes, enhanced organization, and more effective teaching strategies. And, if you wait until your schedule is full, you may not have time to apply new ideas. So, start today if you want to give your students a more satisfying education.
Now, Here Are 3 Powerful Distance Education Tips You Can Apply Right Away
You should be able to implement the following advice to facilitate an enhanced educational experience for your students in any discipline.
1. Customize Your Tools for the Specific Functionalities You Need
There are a ton of helpful online tools and resources you can leverage to make your operations run smoothly. And, you surely have your favorites. But, are you getting everything you can out of your content creation, file sharing, and communication tools? If you’re not sure, the answer is likely ‘no.’
So, dedicate at least a few hours this week to research more robust options. One of the first places you may want to look to educate yourself is the official websites of the tools you use on a daily basis. Most software companies have deep knowledge bases of frequently asked questions and product knowledge that most people never bother to read.
Next, keep in mind that just because everyone else uses a tool doesn’t mean that you need to settle. If you find yourself wishing that you had more features available to you, shop around. Typically, there is more than one option for most types of online education tools.
Furthermore, you might want to switch from a prepackaged software platform or tool to a custom solution. You are likely to be surprised by how easy it is to create your own teaching tools if you have a background in IT.
What is the Difference Between API, SDK, and Software?
To illustrate this idea, let’s look at some definitions. API stands for an ‘application programming interface.’ And, an interface connects an element to a system. SDK is an acronym for ‘software development kit’ and holds several elements, including APIs, of an installable software package. Software is a collection of data or information (APIs and other elements) that is ready to use.
Most of the tools used in a distance learning environment, like Zoom and Dropbox, for example, are software. Custom tools can be created from scratch using APIs and SDKs. When your existing tool is a bland meal, you may want to add integrations to give it more flavor.
As an example, you may want to add a custom messaging feature to your live stream presentation that enables Giphy or emoticons to enhance the interactions between students. Or, classroom APIs could be used for multiple aspects of the online learning environment.
2. Give Special Attention to Your Onboarding Process
Keep in mind that students are likely to come to you in the near future as novice distance learners, many of them reluctant. So, patience is important. But, you will avoid countless headaches if you put an ample amount of work into your onboarding processes.
Previously, you may have given extra attention to explaining only new tools or resources. Moving forward, it will be a good idea to spell-out the processes for using common tools, with the presumption that most students will be using each platform for the first time. For example, many new online learners have complaints about virtual meeting software.
So, even with standard technology, include specific instructions about how to use online teaching tools and resources along with your lessons. And, here’s what you may want to explain how to do.
- Access a web browser
- Download an app or resource
- Access a virtual meeting space
- Find archived course materials
- Upload a file or assignment
Furthermore, if you know that a platform has a better user experience on mobile vs PC or vise versa, spell that out, and try to include instructions for both.
In this case, you likely won’t have to reinvent the wheel. Most if not all platforms will have well-presented instructions. So, you can choose to simply share a link to instructional resources or copy and paste them directly into your course materials.
3. Gamify Complex Segments of Your Lessons
Most online courses offer multimedia content in the form of articles, infographics, videos, presentations, quizzes, and other helpful training tools. Because students’ learning styles vary, it’s crucial to diversify the course experience using these tools. But, most distance courses have yet to integrate gaming elements into their curriculum.
Implement gamification, the use of game design elements in non-game contexts, to take your courses to the next level. If you know a bit of code, you could invent your own computer games. Or, you can use existing platforms to facilitate interactive learning experiences.
According to a study from Bradley E.Wiggins, published in the International Journal of Game-Based Learning, gamification isn’t a new approach to education, but a “repackaged” method to implement traditional instructional strategies. So, the process essentially gives students access to the latest technologies to automate and simulate both simple and complex techniques.
To elaborate, you could develop a complex game. However, it’s more likely that you would use gamification elements to perform straightforward tasks like progress tracking. Gamification in the form of badges, leaderboards, and points have been shown to have a positive impact on performance indicators like classroom attendance.
As a seasoned distance educator in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may find yourself with an increased workload. And, if you can implement advanced tactics to optimize your processes, you can exponentially enhance the learning experience for your students while getting in line with educational leadership objectives — isn’t this what we all want?