If you are reading this article, then you are using “assistive educational technology”. As technology expands and expands, new forms have been tested and implemented in education, which in many ways has been transformative for the way humans learn. We have E-books, online forums, video chat, microsoft office and myriad ways to connect, talk and inform.
So a new question and conversation has begun to unfold at the forefront of technology and education, and that is the ongoing development of virtual classrooms and remote learning. Now most schools of various rank and clout provide some permutation of an online classroom where students can access lessons and information remotely. So what is the future in this?
As of right now almost 75% of top schools offer online degrees with fields like business and health being the most popular for distance learners, with bastions of educational excellence like Johns Hopkins and Harvard being early adopters. The online data tracker priceonomics surveyed 1,844 U.S. schools and 46% of them had degree programs offered in 2012 which jumped to close to 60% in 2014 — the upward trend continues and schools have been able to meet demands for distance learning options without diminishing the quality of the education, so despite common misperceptions, online education does not mean a worse education.
“While overall higher education enrollments are declining, the number of students engaging in online education continues to increase, with 28% of college students taking at least one online course last year (Babson, 2015). In our survey of higher education school administrators, 74% of respondents indicated that “there is an increase in demand for online courses” at their institutions. An overwhelming majority, 98%, reported that demand is either increasing or has stayed the same for the past few years.”
Online learning comes in many permutations, and schools are deciding which implementation suits their program. Whether it be full-time online, part-time or supplemental online tools that compliment traditional classroom settings, there are many options to consider. Malcolm Brown, director of the learning initiative at Educause says that “the range and extent of offerings continues to increase at a pretty fair clip.” Particularly three emerging trends in online instructiona are: synchronous instruction, gamification and project-based learning.
Synchronous instruction is the practice by which classes are held virtually but at the same time for all students, so everyone is accountable for attendance at a set time. This type of instruction involves additional technologies or tools like chat rooms, video conferencing and other virtual lesson applications but is opted for in its ability to mimic the traditional classroom as a more practical placeholder.
Gamification is a practice that can be added in any type of lesson and is meant to keep students engaged even if remote. It is the incorporation of competitive sports-like incentive into electronic learning so that students remain absorbed. If you can gamify the learning, you are almost conditioning students in the learning process due to the predictable dopamine release, which is similar to how video games attract and retain so many users. Ways of doing this include including a points system or inter-student competitions within a lesson.
Project based online learning is an online learning module and method of lesson progression that keeps the student engaged throughout the allotted time through problem solving and investigation. In PBOL, students are asked to use the skills they have been taught thus far to work through a real-world issue, and then reflect on their answers and conclusions. This type of project learning leaves room for students to collaborate and work together even while being remote.
Just because a class is online, does not mean that a student can get by without doing the work. Similar to live in-person classes, students must listen to and read lecture material, complete assignments, and participate in discussion. The specific methods or requirements are dependent on each class and professor, but video conferencing, recorded classes and group chats and forums are all usable means to completing lessons.
“Online education projects present a host of problems to be solved as institutional teams move from deciding to launch a new program to maintaining it and providing related services to faculty and students. When asked to identify the most pressing challenges faced, the top responses involved meeting marketing and recruiting goals (41%) and meeting cost and program management demands (31%).”
Two of the toughest challenges faced by institutions regarding their online offerings are launching the programs and meeting marketing or recruitment standards to meet the cost of program upkeep. While the idea of higher education is becoming increasingly broad, and people are accepting the notion that online does not correlate with lower standards, and that there are some serious benefits that outweigh the negatives.
These advantages include: