Spring of 2020 hit public and higher-Ed like a freight train, and frankly, it hasn’t let up as we enter the Fall. As a high school teacher myself, I’m here to tell you that being flung into an online teaching format after 15 years in the classroom was pretty much a nightmare. And I’m not even one of those “slow at tech,” old, curmudgeon teachers. There were late nights with lots of tears and many early mornings with curse words coming out of my mouth with my baby on my lap.
Training Technology & Challenges in Education
Canvas and its equivalent platforms are excellent training technology tools, but they don’t exactly transfer the “magic” I’d honed in my own classroom over the years. And to make matters worse, teachers across the country were thrown into this world of virtual instructor-led training (VILT) education pretty much over a weekend. We had a lot to learn, and it was crunch time.
That being said, it’s still crunch time. I’m spending every day transferring what I do in class to an online medium — and not very effectively. Sure, the assignments are there for the kids to access, but is that really education? The kids are telling us no.
And how is virtual life on college campuses through all this? Well, I have enough nieces and nephews in college right now to conduct an informal poll: In short, it’s terrible. They hate it. It turns out that the college experience without…well…campus…is not the college experience. They (and their friends) confirmed my suspicions as a public educator: Professors and the college-world were no more ready to move online than we in K-12. And perhaps they were even less successful in the transition.
Little known fact: College never really changes much. There is still a heavy reliance on lecture styles and reading assignments, which translates ineffectually to an online platform – at least without much work in redesign. So while digital training technology platforms, like Canvas, are strong (teachers are successfully putting content up), they don’t necessarily have the capabilities to recreate the interactivity that you get with in-person, instructor-led training. What instructors throw into their VILT is often not much at all (and repetitive) or far too much (over-kill), with little organization. And assessments are often inauthentic or useless.
Current Pitfall: Drought
Record the standard lecture that you’ve given for decades, upload it, assign some readings, and assign an online discussion forum. If you really branch out, you assign a Zoom lecture that requires attendance.
Repeat. All. Semester.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with recording your lecture and publishing it on a simple training technolgy platform – one has to get the information out there, and you are the expert, after all. But when that’s the end of the magic and there isn’t even an audience to play to, the content you love with all your heart falls flat for even the most talented of orators. Online discussion forums can be effective, though they often serve as something to check off the box that learners “participated.” There’s not a lot of thought, and there certainly isn’t a lot of engagement. Hardly the lively discussion inherent in a real college classroom.
Current Pitfall: Drenched
The other end of the spectrum is less common, but similarly problematic: Instructors throwing every link…and the kitchen sink…up on VILT platforms and hoping something sticks. Lists of links and readings may provide a great deal of information, but students are overwhelmed and often struggle to make the obvious connections the instructor may be hoping they make intuitively. But most do not make those learning leaps without some guidance. This certainly is nowhere near the microlearning approach corporate training strategies have found to be so successful.
Current Pitfall: Inauthentic Assessment
One of the more unexpected challenges is to proctor exams online? If students are left alone with their computers and Google, how can you be sure that they actually know the answers on their own? Why bother testing them if they are just going to cheat?
Custom eLearning Strategies to the Rescue
Any instructor is terrified of being replaced by a computer. Luckily, eLearning can be used to supplement the learning ecosystem rather than replace traditional lecture content. Record your lectures and/or hold them via Zoom, but don’t stop there!
eLearning strategies and courses come with inherent time-flexibility, which speaks to young adults who are often balancing work, family, and life in general. The other more notable of eLearning is the ability to take your class on-the-go – by phone, tablet, laptop – and come and go as time allows.
Digital learning strategies provide a variety of engaging methods to deliver information, even if it is just visually mixing up the content for tired eyes. Videos training, infographics, and motion graphics all lead to a more engaged learner.
Moreover, eLearning allows for virtual space to practice skills and apply knowledge that isn’t as easily accomplished on a discussion board or Zoom meeting. The instructor can set up practice scenarios, role-plays, questions, and hypotheticals, complete with animation, music, the whole shebang.
Finally, e-Learning can gamify assessment. The inclination to cheat drastically subsides when you have a challenge to see how many times it takes you to get a perfect score. Humans love to beat their own records – it’s ingrained in us.
Improving Digital Learning in Higher Education
Many in education have noted that 2020 is going to finally allow us to re-examine education all the way to its core and evaluate what we should ultimately keep or toss. The college lecture hall has long been seen as archaic when done in repetition or isolation. Perhaps seeing the result of simply throwing the old methods onto the internet without a redesign has shown us the true drawbacks of relying on only one method to educate in a virtual world.