Many commentators anticipate that the 2020’s will be an era of change and overall transformation of the Higher Education (HE) sector. As indicated by the UK Government’s EdTech Strategy (2019), now is the time for much needed, long-term investment in new technologies with the hope of supporting teachers and lecturers – ultimately enabling them to explore new ways of learning.
However, due to the current restrictions in response to Covid-19, we are already seeing an unprecedented amount of additional pressure being placed on the technology that educators rely upon to support their student’s learning. In some cases, this pressure can take its toll and lead to reliability issues with learning technology platforms which then impacts the overall educational experience.
To understand more about how D2L manages this additional strain and ensures a problem-free student experience, we spoke to Matthew Ravenhill our European Strategic Accounts Director, who gave us his take on the lessons to be learned from recent events.
Q: Broadly speaking, how has Covid-19 affected the higher education sector and what does this mean for the future of online learning?
For many universities, this may be the first–time that lecturers have had to truly consider online-learning – and as we’ve seen, video conferencing has swiftly replaced everyday seminars and lectures. Interestingly, even for institutions that have more experience with education technology or those with a traditional Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or Learning Platform already in place, Covid-19 may be the first time that this technology has really been put to the test, either in terms of mass adoption or by being pushed beyond the most basic repository-type use cases. Unfortunately, I’m hearing anecdotally that some of these platforms and providers may be falling at the first hurdle as the additional strain takes hold.
With an enforced lockdown, universities are finding that a reliable learning platform is an assured way to maintain stability and continuity for both staff and students. Covid-19 is demonstrating that technology can be an effective tool within education, and that the most successful platforms must not only support those departments that had already embraced blended or fully online learning programmes – but rather all of the institution’s ongoing teaching and learning activities. Looking ahead, beyond this crisis, a strategically deployed and supported learning platform is likely to be at the forefront of most university initiatives and wider projects.
Q: How prepared do you feel the education sector was for this sudden shift toward mass online learning, and how best can they evaluate the effectiveness of their current VLE provider?
Faced with uncertain futures and an evolving education technology market, many universities were already planning (or conducting) strategic reviews of their learning platforms before this crisis hit. That would have been followed by thorough and professional procurement exercises, taking many months. That will obviously be much harder now, if not impossible given the current environment.
Universities still of course have the option to evaluate their chosen learning platform. Afterall, if your existing VLE is not proving effective and is in fact at capacity – that is, unable to provide support and help deliver fully-online education – then institutions will unsurprisingly look to other providers.
Faculty, governors, and other educational leaders need to take a new interest in their choice of learning platforms; first defining their institutional objectives and then considering what’s best to help deliver those and to support their lecturers and students. Now more than ever, students demand the reassurance that they can continue with their studies, without interruption or performance issues. Likewise, staff require an adaptable, reliable infrastructure that supports them during this period of change.
Q: Has D2L introduced any new product or service offerings in response to Covid-19?
Yes. D2L has created something called a Quick Start Care Package, which has been designed to help teachers and instructional staff to move fully online as quickly and efficiently as possible. The service supports schools, colleges and universities to upgrade their platform in a matter of days and weeks, rather than months, in order to continue running their teaching online. This is not just about implementing an online ready learning platform from a technology perspective. Support has never been more important, so we also welcome these new customers into a thriving, engaged and collaborative community of teaching and learning professionals on our Brightspace platform; a community who we support and who support each other, sharing best practice and helpful tips.
In addition, we are offering a completely free online course on Covid-19, having joined forces with expert reviewers and contributors from government, health, and the education sectors. Based on the science behind the virus, this is available to anyone, not just D2L customers, who wants to understand the global pandemic, its risks, and how to effectively manage them.
Q: What sets D2L apart from its competitors, and how does that impact its Covid-19 response or the support offered to customers?
At D2L, we have more than 20 years of experience supporting fully online learning – and right now, the Brightspace platform is relied upon by many of the largest and most respected names in education and corporate L&D. We are also the only leading global learning platform vendor in higher education that is still both founder led and privately owned. This means we can stay true to our original mission to transform the way the world learns – something that is so important right now.
We pride ourselves on being a genuine partner to our customers. We have made, and continue to make, the necessary investments in our technology platform, processes and people to keep the world learning at scale under almost any circumstances. Unsurprisingly, we have seen a massive increase in usage in recent weeks and with new customers coming onboard daily –we are proud to say that our platform and systems have continued to respond well, and we continue to leaders in the industry in terms of security and reliability.
It’s true that nobody knows where this current situation is heading or indeed when it will end, but one thing we do know is that with the right technology and partnerships in place, effective educational continuity can and will be maintained.
Matt Ravenhill is D2L’s Strategic Account Director for Education. He has spent the last 5 years helping to build a thriving community of Brightspace customers and partners across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Matt is passionate about promoting the positive impact that responsible technology innovation can have on society. He has previously held a variety of senior International sales roles in the education, charity and NGO markets with Blackbaud Inc, following an early career with HP, SPSS/IBM and Autonomy. Matt lives in Wiltshire with his partner Vickie, two young children, and a large brown dog that closely resembles Chewbacca from Star Wars™