Distance Learning Technology
Distance learning in higher education is no longer a trend. Rather, it’s mainstream, and it was so long before the pandemic. In the fall of 2012, 69% of chief academic leaders indicated online learning was critical to their long-term strategy and of the 20.6 million students enrolled in higher education, 6.7 million were enrolled in an online course (Allen & Seaman, 2013; United States
Department of Education, 2013). Today, over 75 percent of college students have taken at least one online course. Once a nice-to-have, distance learning technology is now essential if colleges and universities want to attract and drive student success in a distance learning environment.
As developments in distance learning in higher education and technology continue to advance, the ways in which we deliver and receive knowledge, as well as engage students in distance learning, in both the traditional and online classrooms will further evolve. Some institutions are incorporating distance learning technology as a way to extend the classroom. Other institutions are investigating new delivery mechanisms, which support a revised perspective on education. These latter institutions are revising their processes for interacting with students, and taking a more learner-centered approach to the delivery of education.
When it comes to the role of technology in distance learning and its impact on the delivery mechanisms employed in distance education, research indicates that those institutions that adopt a delivery mechanism employing an asynchronous mode can gain the most benefit from technology. This approach seems to represent the only truly innovative use of technology in distance education. The approach creates a student-oriented environment with a positive impact of technology on students life, while maintaining high levels of interaction, both of which are factors that contribute to student satisfaction with their overall educational experience.
We have to continue asking: how does technology help students learn? The advancements in educational technology and the variety of methods used to deliver knowledge is improving the quality of education we provide today and motivating, inspiring, and educating the students of the 21st century.
Technologies Used in Distance Education
One of the most impactful ways to engage students is by mixing asynchronous distance learning with synchronous activities using student engagement software or distance learning apps. Depending on the type, the technologies used in distance education can foster better inclusion among all learners, and that often translates into more engaged students.
To achieve this, instructional designers are turning to a suite of online discussion and collaboration tools. This distance learning software focuses attention on the activities that drive engagement, including:
- Powering collaboration during course prep with instructors and among students
- Creating multi-directional synchronous and asynchronous communication pathways during coursework to build community
- Fostering inclusive opportunities by removing barriers, enabling flexibility, and expanding access.
These tools increase the quality and quantity of student-to-student, student-to-content, and student-to-instructor interactions and include:
- Online Discussion Boards
- Rich Multimedia & Video, Image and Document Annotation
- Built-in Chat, Polling & Q&A
- Tagging, Notification & Reactions
- Integrated Plagiarism Detection & Streamlined Grading to Save Time & Focus on Feedback
In fact, by helping to foster virtual connection, educational technology tools like this work to reduce the common barriers that often prevent students from fully engaging in their online learning, including minimizing the sense of isolation online learning can cause.
The best software for distance learning allows instructors to employ an effective mix of synchronous and asynchronous online learning activities in order to provide increased opportunities to interact — leading to higher likelihood of student engagement, retention and success.
One such technology needed for online learning, Harmonize is a suite of online discussion & collaboration tools that helps instructors increase student engagement in their courses. Built to integrate seamlessly with the LMS, Harmonize enriches the learning experience with tools that boost engagement, promote inclusive learning, and save valuable time for instructors.
Examples of Technologies That Improve Student Learning
When it comes to examples of technologies that improve student learning, look no further than to those that enable interaction and collaboration among students online. Here are some ways in which institutions ahead of the distance learning curve are focusing on key areas and leveraging technology used in online education.
- Digital Simulations and Models: In traditional learning it is sometimes difficult for students to get a concept. Digital simulations and models can help students better understand various disciplines. This kind of technology has proved to be a helping hand for instructors who sometimes find it hard to explain certain things within the boundaries of a physical classroom. Tech-savvy instructors are able to prepare their lessons in a more strategic manner by including different types of media, activity models, and interactive controls for students.
- Improved Communication: Communication is an essential part of any learning activity. And when it comes to education, ineffective communication isn’t productive. Whether in a traditional or a virtual classroom, with online collaboration tools everyone can form a community where teachers assign projects to their students in real-time and students may ask for clarifications, if any. Peers are able to easily interact, giving and providing feedback, engaging in course discussions, and sharing ideas. Some ways to do this include using an:
- image annotation tool
- online annotation tool
- auto caption video
- video annotation tool
- online discussion platform
- Online Group Collaboration: The idea of group study has come alive in the cyber world. Now, students don’t need to get together physically; collaboration platforms and online engagement tools make facilitating small-group, one-on-one or peer review, and instructor-to-student collaboration easy. Students can easily discuss and chat, but also share documents and notes — creating community and enabling better learning outcomes.
- Effective Assessment & Grading: Distance learning technology allows instructors to give feedback, conduct autograding, or receive assessments of their students in real-time. In addition to enabling instructors and creating a better pathway for students to engage, it’s important that this technology seamlessly integrate with existing course technologies, including plagiarism detection tools. This will streamline grading for instructors of online courses. With Single Sign-On as well as integrated auto grading software, instructors can use a collaboration tool purposefully designed to increase engagement in their courses, while saving time and eliminating the many manual grading tasks to which so many instructors are accustomed.
Engaging discussion boards as well as student-to-student and small-group collaboration are among the hallmarks of face-to-face courses. But when it comes to learning online, some argue it’s difficult to replicate the value of these interactions. While a staple of strictly online courses for years, the online discussion board — just one of the many tools for online education — is finally finding traction in both traditional and blended courses — leveraged as collaboration activities for students online that work to reinforce course concepts and engage students in deeper reflection outside the classroom.
Discussion tools support online communication in which students can leave messages and expect to see responses to those messages. For instructors, the asynchronous discussion serves as an online learning activity in fully online, blended or hybrid courses. The online discussion board for students allows course participants to collaborate with others at their convenience by posting thoughts, comments or reactions and answering questions outside of a physical classroom. To make those online canvas discussion boards, or your brightspace discussion board, blackboard discussion board, or moodle discussion forum more lively, consider using video discussion tools or other media that can easily integrate with your LMS.
The online discussion board is proving to be a powerful tool. Of the benefits of online discussion forums for students, it fosters a sense of community and encourages student-to-student interaction, which research demonstrates improves learner engagement and achievement. Discussion tools give all learners the opportunity to expand and clarify their understanding of key ideas. It moves beyond the passive learning forms of reading and listening and allows the learner to actively engage with their peers and instructor.
Impact of Technology in Distance Learning
The impact of technology in distance learning continues to be studied. But its advantages are clear.
Efficiency: Years ago, an instructor may have spent days explaining a complex math concept. It was difficult to assess student understanding and engagement. Today, online collaborative learning tools in distance education courses can help instructors more quickly and accurately assess the student’s knowledge and teach concepts more efficiently. This kind of technology improves the efficacy and efficiency of the entire learning process for both instructors and students.
In addition to instructional efficiency, the blended learning benefits for teachers include greater insight into how their learners are doing. Instructors have real-time insights into digital student engagement to see whether students are engaging with the content and keeping on track with learning goals. They can see what’s working, so they can offer a more effective learning experience. They have real opportunities to deliver faster outcomes at lower costs, as well as reach a much wider audience through the use of distance learning technology.
Accessibility: With traditional teaching methods, educational materials were only available during classroom hours. Students may have been able to take their textbooks home with them, but they didn’t have a way to actually interact with or engage the material. With new learning apps and other technological advances, they have more flexibility to access and engage with course material from home. The impact of technology on online learning when it comes to accessibility, along with the opportunity to self-pace the learning, can translate into more successful outcomes.
Student engagement in online learning: Distance learning technology also presents more opportunities for students to connect with their peers and instructors. They can connect via chat, feedback, or on discussion boards. Courses with an online component is an effective means for instructors and students to become more engaged with one another outside of the classroom. In the end, the impact of technology on teaching and learning and its benefits are powerful. Instructors can keep a better pulse on student progress and more efficiently work on increasing student engagement, while students can ask more questions, collaborate more frequently with classmates, and gain deeper knowledge.