The traditional classroom is not for everyone. Some students may perform better in an online environment where they can take their time on assignments and allot extra time on specific subjects as needed. Other students might be more advanced and wish to take courses not offered at the school. Through distance learning, educators can serve the needs of both types of learners.
While there is no set formula for creating a distance learning program, there are a few key elements that can help you get there.
Telepresence or Videoconferencing
Having a telepresence or videoconferencing system allows a school to bring in a guest speaker or instructor to connect with students. Interactions take place in real-time and provide the experience of actually being there. Most systems consist of a video codec, a high-definition screen, a camera and an audio component. These systems range in size. Some are designed to be permanently installed in a room while others can be used via a simple desktop screen and the computer’s built-in camera and microphone. Still other systems are built to be mobile and can be wheeled from room to room in a cart.
Web conferencing is another similar distance learning tool. Products like Cisco’s WebEx, Microsoft Live Meeting or Adobe Connect provide video conferencing opportunities via Internet. These solutions do not require additional hardware or equipment like traditional videoconferencing systems.
Learning Management System
A learning management system (LMS) is vital to distance learning. It allows the user to design and deliver content. For example, schools can use an LMS to create an online history or math course. Students just log in to the system and all course material, including e-books, videos, assignments, etc., are located right there. An LMS also allows for built-in assessments. Teachers can create quizzes to provide students with feedback on their progress in a particular class. There are many learning management systems out there. The most popular are Blackboard and Moodle. Blackboard also allows for Web conferencing with Blackboard Collaborate. This allows teachers to hold class and students to work together in a face-to-face webinar type environment.
Lecture capture is an easy first step into the world of online learning. There are a variety of solutions to choose from whether you’re looking for a solution that is equipment-based, software based, or cloud-based. All lecture capture solutions rely on a camera and microphone to capture both the video and audio of a presentation or speaker, but the products vary in size. Some are meant to be permanently installed in a room, while others can be used on a mobile device. For example, the Crestron Capture HD includes an HD recorder and remote asset management software, while Tegrity is cloud-based and only requires a laptop and a camera. The recorded videos can then be posted to a school’s LMS or website.
The success of distance learning depends largely on the course you design. Online learning is meant to be convenient so navigating your LMS or school website should be simple. It may be helpful to record a short video that explains how your LMS works and how to access basic elements like guides and videos necessary for completing the course. This will eliminate the need for IT staff to answer basic how-to questions and may put less technologically savvy teachers and students at ease.