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How Edtech is Making Distance Learning Easier for Everyone

The importance of leveraging technology in education while acknowledging the potential risks that come along with it is necessary to future-proof education, as is recognised in the third National Education Policy of India proposed in July this year. Holistic edtech solutions are needed to support this plan by providing a platform that is responsive to the needs of educators and learners, such as with a learning management system, or LMS for short.

Active learning, a form of learning where students are required to participate in tasks and engage with the material as opposed to merely consuming theory, is an evidenced approach for students to learn better. Rather than observing, students are put into practical tasks and can interact with their newfound knowledge. When online learning is involved, there is a misconception that teaching can only be passive and remote. Since schools were forced into virtual classrooms, educators have been struggling with different methods of boosting interactivity and incorporating active learning in the online classroom. Enter LMSs, an innovative solution that leverages technology to offer a customised and curated educational experience while aiding teachers with the resources for robust content delivery.

When it comes to online education, there are challenges that surface every now and then. However, it still remains as a very useful and valuable tool for educators and learners alike. Edtech solutions can also be used to curb these challenges if used right. Institutions can find that a well-structured LMS will help in ways such as revenue, quality programmes and scaling. This article explains why it is important to leverage technology in education.

Interface is designed with the user in mind

The global shutdowns that forced schools and corporations into a remote function rendered in-person learning and training inaccessible for a good part of this year. The adjustment was counterintuitive for many who struggled to find suitable conferencing platforms to cater to the large groups. This sudden adjustment invited a swarm of glitches, software errors and technologically unsavvy educators and learners have found themselves struggling to navigate the abrupt shift to online learning. This opened a new opportunity for industry leaders to pave the way for user-friendly softwares to accommodate the masses, such as with D2L’s Brightspace LMS. The system works closely with instructors to develop and enhance online lessons and provides immense support with 24/7 customer and community support to ease users into the world of digital.

Accessibility for all

In the past, students can be restricted through means such as geographical location, unsuitable schedules or physical disability. Students may be unable to pick their desired field of study or have been prohibited from attending face-to-face lessons for an array of reasons. An LMS brings the classroom to everyone, regardless of time-zones, oceans, and quarantines. Everything is conducted on a cloud-based system, so all it takes is a working internet connection. Now, students would not need to leave their home to connect with their peers and teachers with video sharing.

Accessibility in education means that there will be an increased student registration and remote educator hiring and a more attractive system. Users can keep connected across any device, a defining factor for students who may need adapted technology. For some, distance learning provides them with a meaningful and equal opportunity to education.

An engaging platform

In India and some parts of the world, the education system is planning to move away from the heavy implementation of rote learning. Instead, goals have shifted to a more holistic approach to develop and promote deeper understanding through innovative methods. An LMS can aid educators in constructing assessments and lessons that are optimal for students to retain information. The features in Brightspace LMS include drag-and-drop content and gaming design to facilitate in the creation of engaging and interactive course material. Technology is used to imitate popular video-game designs that encourage active participation from students. With the right tools, engagement can be pushed across all age groups and demographics, learning becomes more fun and adaptable to individual needs. D2L recognises the different ways of learning that vary according to age groups and the learning environment face-to-face and works around it similarly in eLearning. The need for a vibrant lesson plan spans across remote and in-person learning to motivate and give students an extra boost.

Creating an online community to motivate students

With the shift to remote learning, peer collaboration and socialisation can be limited. This is where an integrated LMS comes to the rescue to encourage peer interaction on the platform for not only students but instructors.

Sally Morgan, a Course Development Coordinator, said this about Brightspace LMS: “The elementary discussion boards are unbelievably vibrant and fun to visit. The students are posting videos of their little science projects and encouraging each other, which is great to see. It means that students not only engage in learning more but also get another valuable opportunity for both social and academic contact with their peers.”

Research has shown that learning comes from both teachers and peers. Users can instil a sense of community and have a fruitful sharing of knowledge through discussion boards and interactive group collaboration tools in Brightspace LMS.

A scalable and sustainable framework

Out of the numerous benefits of digitisation, scalability is arguably one of the most experienced advantages. Epidemiologist Dr Emily Gurley’s online John Hopkins’ course, “COVID-19 Contact Tracing,” one of the earliest developed programmes for training contact tracers, has over 644,205 tracers currently enrolled online. Online learning services can help institutions to scale by expanding a niche course into global participation. This can lead to an increase in revenue that schools and colleges can use to fund objectives.

With face-to-face work and traditional schooling certainly facing challenges for the foreseeable future, schools and businesses in the education sector should recognise that the transition to remote learning is here to stay post-pandemic. Blended learning has also gained popularity since the pandemic, with benefits to implementing LMS learning to supplement in-person education.

To ensure success in the virtual classroom and overall education system, platforms like the Brightspace LMS can strongly support this drive with interactive and customisable learning tools. Choosing a platform like the Brightspace LMS provides interactive online learning tools without compromising on continuity in learning. In trying times like these, when there are bigger priorities like health and staying safe, essential education plays a part in being easy and accessible instead of being taxing on students and educators. An LMS alleviates this stress by allowing the continuation of coursework with a framework for the continuation of coursework and safe learning from the user’s own home. With technology, distance is no longer a setback.

This article was first published in The Hindu.

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Fueling up:

Upskilling to grow careers

Name: Zaria
Age: 27

Policy prescriptions: Invest in a Learning-Integrated Life; Transform the learning of today with new partnerships; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

Zaria has five years of work experience and is ready to change jobs and enter a field that has high growth potential in her region. The national government has been investing in collecting better skills-based labour market information for years and has developed a public platform to offer individuals specialized tools to assess their skills against current market needs, and to locate employers that are currently hiring.

On the employer side, the human resources team is closely examining a recent internal skills audit done at their organization and determines that the organization needs additional digital marketing specialists. They initiate a search for individuals with the skills they will soon need and spot a strong candidate in Zaria who requires only light training on regulatory issues regarding the sale of electric vehicles, along with some formal skills development courses on social media marketing strategy. After a successful interview, Zaria is offered the job.

Upon joining, Zaria will receive an educational benefits stipend from the company, and access to a company-provided platform of curated programs for skills building from approved providers. Upon completion of a set of courses, Zaria will receive a credential from a company approved program verifying her technical knowledge and marking the end of her probationary period at the company. To ensure she continues to build her skills, she will move into a formal mentor program with one of her colleagues to receive continual peer-to-peer feedback on her demonstration of skills and knowledge. information

This affordable and accessible learning through employer-funded training has enabled Zaria to begin working while also upskilling to ensure her long-term success in the company and growing industry. The employer is investing in its employees, and company leaders are thinking further into the future about the skills the company needs, and the types of job candidates who will succeed. This match, based on skills potential, was made possible because of government investment in high-quality labour market information and a national platform that matches job candidates with career opportunities based on the candidates’ skills and the identified skill needs of a given job.

Taking the road less travelled:

A networked postsecondary education

Name: Sam
Age: 18

Policy prescriptions: Transform the learning of today with new partnerships

Sam is a prospective postsecondary student who has always been interested in pursuing a global and interdisciplinary education. Sam’s siblings have all instilled in her the importance of studying abroad, having spoken fondly of their academic exchange semesters, field research trips, and intensive language immersion programs. She is inspired, but unsure whether this pathway will be available if she chooses not to complete a four-year degree at one institution.

Sam is interested in understanding how emerging technologies can be used to modernize and improve government services—an area in need of talent not only in her home country of Canada but also abroad. She could take on a general political science, public administration, engineering, or computer science degree at the university close to her home, but none of those degrees feels like the right fit to build the skills she needs to pursue this career interest.

While researching options, Sam learns of a new degree completion pathway that allows students to take courses from a network of universities, colleges, and polytechnic institutions throughout Canada and stack them for skills-based  credentials that are recognized by major Canadian employers. A set of four of these credentials grants an individual a degree-equivalent endorsed by each institution. Sam identifies the skills and knowledge she wants to work towards and charts out four credential pathways:

  1. Service delivery design
  2. Change management
  3. Applications of emerging technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence)
  4. Machinery of government

With this customized learning pathway, Sam has full flexibility to decide how she wants to structure her courses, the institutions within the network she will study at, and the format and model of courses she prefers—whether live in-class instruction or online courses.

Cost flexibility is built in as well—students pay a standard fee based on the number of competencies they intend to learn rather than the normal standard of ‘credit hours’. The province in which Sam lives has endorsed this networked model of  postsecondary education and adjusted its financial assistance program to better support students. Grants and other non-repayable assistance take into consideration the number of courses the student is taking across all institutions when assessing financial need. Previously, Sam would have been required to be a full-time student at every institution to receive support.

Sam also has the option of starting with foundational courses or applying for Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) information so her existing knowledge and skills can be tested and she can move on to more advanced topics.

Sam completes her first three credentials in three years and uses her certifications to apply for a one-year work-integrated learning experience with the federal government in Germany where she can learn first-hand about the applications of artificial intelligence in government. When she returns home, she applies for PLAR to certify her learning on the machinery of government and is granted a degree acknowledging her four-part customized education.

The collaboration between universities, polytechnics, and colleges to create a networked approach to degree completion, and its endorsement by the provincial government, allowed Sam to graduate as an alumnus of multiple postsecondary education institutions. Her exposure to different thought spaces and networks was highly valuable for ensuring she was engaged throughout her education and set up for post-graduation success. In the rapidly evolving field she has chosen, she understands how important it is to continuously upskill, and is prepared to return to formal education for more stackable credentials as she continues throughout her career.

Route guidance:

Personalized professional development

Name: ZheYuan
Age: 33

Policy prescriptions: Prepare teachers for their own lifelong learning journeys; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

ZheYuan is about to join Marama’s school as a new secondary school teacher. He completed his professional teacher education a decade ago, and teaching looks a bit different today than it did when he was studying. With the incorporation of learning technologies in the classroom, and expectations of teachers delivering competency-based education information, he needs personalized professional development to feel comfortable and supported in this new opportunity.

The school district has been on its own learning journey since shifting to a competency-based education model, and has had some growing pains. Over time, the district has come to recognize that success depends on school administrators working closely with teachers to co-create systems of instruction, and pathways to professional development. The district has its own online learning management system (LMS) for teacher professional development, with a catalogue of content covering a range of subjects including:

  • Strategies for student-centred instruction
  • Design thinking—how to prototype and iterate on solutions to test new approaches
  • Online content—using learning management systems to advance competency-based education
  • Data analysis—interpreting student progress

ZheYuan is excited that he can take on professional learning to suit his needs on his own schedule. He recalls an earlier time when he had to spend nine hours a month in-person taking the same professional development courses as his peers who were teaching very different subjects and had varied skill levels and pedagogical needs than him, which was less than effective.

ZheYuan can also take advantage of his teacher community in the LMS, connecting both in asynchronous chats and in live discussions with other teachers and experts from across his region to ask questions and share his experiences. He sees some upcoming dialogues hosted by his school district to share learnings and signs up for those sessions, knowing he will get a valuable peer perspective from other teachers. ZheYuan is thankful that his school leaders recognize and value professional learning and provide the supports and the time needed for improvement.

D2L Whitepaper Contributors

Lead Authors:
Malika Asthana, Manager, Strategy and Public Affairs
Joe Pickerill, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, International

Contributors:
Jeremy Auger, Chief Strategy Officer
Mark Schneiderman, Senior Director, Future of Teaching and Learning
Brendan Desetti, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, United States
Mike Semansky, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, Canada
Nia Brown, Senior Manager, Strategy and Public Affairs

In the driver’s seat:

Owning the personalized learning journey

Name: Marama
Age: 14

Policy prescriptions: Prepare teachers for their own lifelong learning journeys; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

Marama is enrolled in a school with a competency-based education model information. Students are responsible for owning the personalization of their learning pathways, making choices alongside their teachers in how and when they learn.iii Teachers play a central role in guiding and validating all learning, regardless of where it takes place—offering formative assessments to evaluate a student’s mastery of skills and knowledge. Teachers use data from these assessments, gathered through an online learning management system (LMS), to differentiate instruction and provide targeted supports so that all students progress toward graduation. As a student diagnosed with a learning disability, Marama is supported in her education by this personalized learning pathway.

All students complete an assessment in ninth grade to identify their natural strengths as a learner. Their teachers use the results as inputs to design tailormade educational pathways with learning materials and activities that suit the individual students’ learning needs. In Marama’s case, this includes:

  1. Supplementing lecture-based teaching with structured but independent reading
  2. Shadowing professionals who work on the concepts she is learning about
  3. Taking the stories and lessons she’s learned and sharing it back with classmates by designing a creative and interactive presentation

Over the course of the school year, Marama spends a third of her time in live lectures (sometimes online) with her teacher alongside other classmates—but the rest of her time is spent learning in the ways that suit her best. She can log into her online LMS from her mobile device to access her school resources and complete on her own schedule before the assigned deadline. When Marama finds a concept that interests her, she can ask her teachers and counsellor for support in finding a working professional to speak to, or work alongside for a couple weeks, from the network her school has curated over time. And when she has learned something, she is encouraged to reinforce her learning by applying her skills and developing content to share back with her classmates.

Marama’s personalized learning journey empowers her to own her education by learning in ways that are effective for her, with the support that allows her to be successful. Her teachers have high-quality data about student strengths and performance they can share with her parents to show them how she is mastering specific skills, and where she may need extra support. Her school experience empowers her to embrace her subject interests very early on, and she advances to deeper topics quickly as she submits evidence of learning that demonstrates her proficiency. She graduates having cultivated a mindset for self-directed learning early in her education.