Five technology tools to improve the distance learning experience
After understanding the distance learning needs of both students and instructors, institutions can begin to select the right technology to support a seamless transition. While the number of distance learning technology tools on the market can be overwhelming, there are five key areas to prioritize when getting started: learning management, collaboration, productivity, digital simulations and assistive technology.
1. Learning management systems
A learning management system (LMS) is a software application for delivering course materials, assigning quizzes, tracking student progress, providing feedback, sharing announcements and posting grades. Many learning management systems are cloud based, allowing students to access content through a web login. The LMS is the foundation of the distance learning technology stack and often integrated with collaboration and productivity tools.
The main benefit of an LMS is the convenience of having all course materials in a central location. This allows instructors to streamline workflows and provide structure for students. A few examples of learning management systems include Canvas, Moodle and Blackboard.
2. Collaboration tools
One of the biggest challenges with distance learning is facilitating virtual collaboration. Collaboration technology tools, like Cisco Webex and Cisco Webex Rooms, can help instructors share information with students through videoconferencing, messaging, digital whiteboarding, file sharing and virtual office hours.
Instructors can schedule classes and encourage student participation in the video chat and interactive polling or break the class into smaller virtual groups to work on projects. By leveraging collaboration technology, instructors can virtually provide the face-to-face communication that students typically experience in a traditional classroom.
3. Productivity tools
Productivity tools refer to software or applications that help make everyday tasks more efficient. Institutions most likely have productivity tools in place as many are necessary for instructors to do their jobs. Examples include email, calendar, notetaking, to-do lists, document creation and cloud calling.
When adding new productivity tools, look for those that can be easily integrated into existing tools and/or the LMS. It’s important to avoid tool segregation as too many siloed technologies can become overwhelming and hinder adoption. Productivity tools should be logically incorporated into workflows to increase productivity, not disrupt it.
4. Digital simulations
Digital simulations are a type of experiential learning in which an instructor creates online, scenario-based environments for students to navigate and apply practical skills. This is most popular in health and human services programs, like nursing, as it allows instructors to develop students’ clinical skills without being in a hospital setting. Much like a video game, an instructor can assign students to a digital simulation in which they interact with a patient and respond with specific actions as if it were real life.
Digital simulations are an important component to consider in a distance learning technology stack because they help develop students’ critical thinking skills, provide virtual “hands-on” learning, and help ensure transfer of knowledge from course materials to practice.
5. Assistive technology
As described earlier, assistive technology is necessary in distance learning courses to support students with physical and/or learning disabilities. The Assistive Technology Industry Association defines assistive technology as “any item, piece of equipment, software program or product system that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.”