Educating through an epidemic with online learning

Ryan Eash

Ryan Eash is an Education Evangelist at TechSmith where he helps educators learn to use their screencasting and visual communication products, such as Snagit and Camtasia, successfully; through video tutorials, webinars and in-person training. He loves getting to work alongside teachers and sharing how software can make a difference in the classroom. Ryan lives in Indiana and was an educator for 10 years (K – Higher Ed) prior to joining TechSmith in 2007.

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In 2014, we saw the development and growth in adoption of online learning methods in both business and education. While the UK has been more reticent in implementing online learning programmes than the US, with the lift on student cap, British universities and schools will look for ways to become more international without juggling student capacity in order to compete – and online learning could be the answer. Beyond simply making documents available across devices, online learning or e-learning can ensure education is never compromised and becomes accessible whenever and wherever the student may be.

"At the University of Sierra Leone, educators have set online initiatives in place to make sure subject materials remain accessible."

The scalability and flexibility of digital learning content means it can span geographies and help continue learning without the need to enter a school. This has proved beneficial in countries where weather disruptions are rife or even where national epidemics have impacted the country.

Continuing education during a medical epidemic

A recent story emerged from the midst of the Ebola epidemic affecting the region of West Africa that illustrated the promise of online learning and also drew attention to an issue that is often forgotten in times of crises. At the University of Sierra Leone, educators have set online initiatives in place to make sure subject materials remain accessible to any students in isolation. When they realised that, because of the health risk, students would not be able to physically return to class for a number of months and would be impacted by the lack of regular education, the university staff utilised social media channels like WhatsApp and Facebook, the university website and email to upload lecture notes and engage with the students. By developing resources that their students can access anywhere and at any time, the University of Sierra Leone is showing what can be achieved through online remote learning.

We’re seeing a significant increase in the use of technology across education with a number of teachers believing technology has the ability to boost motivation and help engage students. Thanks to the advances in smart mobile devices, digital and video content can offer educators a chance to get creative with their methods of teaching that can improve effectiveness. Initiatives such as flipping the classroom, where students learn the theory at home, mean classroom time can be dedicated to learning the practical aspects of the lesson or providing valuable 1-to-1 time with the teacher.

Preventing disruptions on the road to learning

The rise of technology can provide a solution to many learning challenges that educational institutions have struggled to face in the past. For example, in the US, some schools are beginning to turn to e-learning initiatives to keep students learning when there is a weather disruption. When snow and weather conditions force schools to close or keep students at home, the low attendance days can affect public school’s state funding and slow down overall progress. Various schools are therefore offering online or downloadable learning packages for the students to use and work on from home to make sure their education doesn’t go as cold as the weather.

For example, East Noble School in Indiana has implemented a pilot online learning programme to ensure school closures do not create havoc with class momentum. Students are all equipped with laptops or iPads that have course materials in the form of pre-installed apps and documents and teachers are encouraged to develop content that contributes to the school’s online learning experience. In the event of severe snow disrupting student attendance or forcing East Noble to close; virtual snow day schemes are put into place so that students merely switch from being physically present in the classroom to going online to continue lessons or projects. Teachers are available to answer any queries or hold lessons online during virtual office hours. While the initiative is still in its early days, this form of distance learning has the potential to prevent the disruption so often brought about by extreme weather conditions.

The power of e-learning

The format of online learning is perfect for those wanting to learn on their own terms and visual content is an ideal medium to help break down complex concepts and give control of the learning pace back to the viewer, which can prove especially useful for students juggling their classes.

In the UK, universities are also beginning to look at improving online learning experiences to help students remain productive in and outside of the lecture room as well as a way to remain appealing to international students.

While many universities currently provide an online portal to access reading lists and library materials, some teaching staff are taking the opportunity to share knowledge further and therefore enable students to always be able to log on and learn. For example, Phil Jones, a lecturer at the University of Canterbury Christ Church in Kent uses screencasting technology to capture his lectures and create video learning materials in order to provide additional support for his students. The popularity of his material has meant that not only have students accessed his videos from outside of the classroom, but students from across the globe have also tapped into the snackable content.

"By creating instructional and interactive video content, students are allowed to approach their subjects from a new angle and include their own interpretations."

When done well, video tutorials or similar digital content can be more useful in a learning process than sifting through heavy theoretical books. In tandem with an online distance learning strategy, video can help educational institutes to avoid disruptive external influences, as demonstrated by University of Sierra Leone, East Noble School and University of Canterbury Christ Church.

Video can be an engaging and creative approach to teaching as part of an overall digital learning strategy. By creating instructional and interactive video content, students are allowed to approach their subjects from a new angle and include their own interpretations and innovative ideas which will eventually boost performance levels in a class. According to Forrester, one minute of online video equates to approximately 1.8 million written words. Furthermore, visual information is processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text. Video can not only help keep students engaged but can also help speed the process of learning and knowledge retention.

Kaltura recently published a ‘State of Video in Education’ report in which more than 500 educational professionals from across 300 institutions unanimously agreed that video has the potential to create a real impact on education. The results show 57% of respondents agree that the use of video in new techniques such as the flipped classroom will become a standard teaching method in higher education and has the benefit to boost attendance as well as overall student experience and success.

Video and online content offers educators the power to share knowledge for core or complicated concepts in ‘digestible’ pieces. In providing online learning initiatives, students can access materials no matter what the circumstances are and make sure their education never has to take a hit.

Do you use such technology in your school? Let us know in the comments.

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