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Remote doesn’t have to be distant

  By UNIT-e   - Friday 17 April 2020

Right now there are hundreds of technologies being tested around the world as schools, colleges and universities scramble to deliver effective and engaging remote learning.

Education is arguably one of the sectors most primed for this rise in the use of technology. It is, at its heart, a process-driven industry – we teach and test. It’s therefore no surprise that technology is transforming the role of the educator and helping learners to keep their education on track during the current pandemic.

Today’s K12 students have never known a life without smartphones, tablets and information at the touch of a button. This makes it easier for technology to transform how education is taking place outside of the classroom – with interactive eBooks, iPads, Google and Microsoft Education applications on hand to help.

But education providers are facing an overwhelming number of options. They are inundated with sales calls from education technology companies, and it’s increasingly difficult to evaluate which solutions will actually be helpful – there’s just too much choice and not enough time. Furthermore, it’s hard for those unaccustomed to online learning to understand how various technologies can fit together to create a remote learning experience that’s as effective as a classroom-based one.

So, the cultural shift required to enable technology-powered learning is key. With that, training that helps teachers l to use the power of technology is likely to be as important to the future of learning as the technology itself.

What can we learn from early e-learning pioneers about the student experience? One of the first major successes in learning technology came from teachers and lecturers crowdsourcing and opening up their courses, textbooks and class materials to be shared and accessed digitally. Not only is this saving them time and money, but it also allows them to access the best of what’s available - in turn benefiting their students.

But will digitising existing courses, rather than conjuring up genuinely fresh thinking and new ideas, be enough for a generation of tech-enabled students? That message goes as much for higher education and adult learning as it does for primary schooling. Educational providers need to use the right technology to engage learners and give them exactly what they need.

For schools, colleges and universities now turning to remote learning technology, adding a stronger element of personalisation will be key to boosting engagement – both in teaching itself and in the other range of services they provide, including student wellbeing and safeguarding. Using AI, teachers will be able to diagnose errors and then guide students through the problem – helping them to work at their own pace, whatever that may be.

But we don’t necessarily need robots and AI to find inspiration from examples of how remote learning can be done successfully. The Open University, for example, has employed relatively common technology to develop one of the most successful distance learning platforms around. Again, it’s about finding balance. Companies like Moodle, Canvas and itslearning have successfully driven adoption of learning management systems which serve as an accompaniment to traditional teacher-led classes.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made education providers re-imagine the learning journey and, in the years ahead, there will be no shortage of promising technologies to evaluate. Working closely with educators and students, technology providers must now focus on how we can best integrate the most appropriate technologies for each situation to ensure it can support and enhance our teachers’ work.

Andrew Hunter is Head of Higher and Further Education Marketing at ESS. Andrew has 15 years’ experience working in the school, colleges and university sectors with a background that includes educational publishing, edtech and learner communications.