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Innovation and the Future of Digital Learning

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The Coronavirus pandemic and its associated regulations have resulted in global experimentation with teaching online. Recently, we’ve seen COVID-19 accelerate plans and strategies which many institutions have been working on for years. If no such plans were in place at any given institution, they were quickly devised. And since then, online teaching has become the predominant method of delivering education for many institutions. But as we move forward, how do educators not only adjust to a future where teaching online is the norm, but excel at it?  

Teaching online presents both unique opportunities and challenges. But the future of teaching is undoubtedly online or blended, and in order for educators to be effective going forward, it is necessary to embrace the online landscape.  

Here’s some food for thought on what digital classrooms will look like in the future.  

The Opportunities and Challenges of Teaching Online 

When you consider teaching online versus teaching face-to-face, it’s clear that online education presents far fewer restrictions. Traditionally, education was confined to the boundaries of a physical classroom. Now, education can be accessed via a variety of online platforms.  

Students all over the globe can work together and collaborate. It also provides flexibility, allowing students to balance work, family, and personal responsibilities.  

That said, educators often have very real fears around teaching online. Many educators, if asked, express concerns around whether students will truly engage with the material, have questions about how to accurately and fairly assess learning, wonder about how to address the problem of plagiarism, and harbour doubts over whether their content is suitable for digital consumption.  

Adaptation of Content for the Online Environment 

While the shift to teaching online has already happened, thus far it has been largely as a crisis response. As far as the future of teaching online goes, it is important for educators to start considering how to move forward proactively instead of reactively. 

It’s important to remember that simply meeting online isn’t the same as teaching online. Faculty members need to find different ways to structure content for their virtual classrooms. That is, there needs to be deliberate choices about when, how, and what to teach – as well as the technologies you use to support this learning!  

In today’s screen-centric world, learning is no longer just about delivering content. Instead, it is an experience where the teacher, student, and medium all have to collaborate and “gel” with one another. The changing landscape calls for educators to deliver content which has been adapted with a digital-first approach in mind.  Luckily, this means educators have the opportunity to update content to fit the medium, and to make use of technology and resources which weren’t available in face-to-face environments.  

As part of their teaching arsenal, educators should give deliberate thought to the best way to present a concept in order for students to learn, understand, and apply it. In a traditional face-to-face teaching environment, this process happens more naturally as the lecturer is immersed in the experience, along with the students. They can see first-hand and in real-time how students are reacting and learning – but when it comes to teaching online, deeper consideration is needed.  

This may mean making sure on-screen content is simple and focused, allowing questions, breakout rooms, and discussions to lead the way as you tackle complex topics and theories. Or it could mean that instead of a written essay every 6 weeks, students have pop quizzes in between classes to regularly test their learning and understanding of the material. It could mean switching to videos instead of PowerPoint presentations, or adapting new, purpose-built tools. The exact adaptations of your content will depend on your teaching style, the modules or subjects you are teaching, and the way your students respond to different types of learning.  

Incorporating feedback and using a collaborative approach can help educators to adapt their content to fit the needs of the digital environment. The shift to a digital landscape is something which students and educators are still adjusting to, so forming or taking part in supportive and collaborative networks can help to accelerate the adoption of new tools and strategies. From offering open office hours to facilitating peer feedback and working with ‘living’ documents, the options are almost endless.  

Collaboration and Feedback  

In order to inform what you should do going forward, a natural first step is to consolidate what you’ve done so far. Repeating what works is an easy way to replicate success. But keep in mind that this needs to be in terms of online learning specifically. What has previously worked within a physical classroom might not translate to a virtual one.  

To discover what is working for your students, talk to them to discover what they’ve enjoyed. Look at assessment and assignment results to see if there are any common themes. If there are one or two modules receiving consistently high scores, for example, it might mean that other modules could benefit from those teaching methods. Embed that into teaching models in the future so it becomes commonplace and comfortable 

In addition to talking to your students, communicate with colleagues within your institution or even across other institutions nationally and globally. Create or join a collaborative network where you can share ideas and thoughts around teaching methods and successes. 

There are also benefits to engaging and collaborating with other experts such as learning designers, user experience professionals, and graphic designers to develop learning programmes which are easier to digest and interact with.  

Making Space for New Ways of Learning Online  

In addition to Zoom, breakout rooms, WhatsApp, Google Workspace, and the “usual” tools, educators might want to look into other creative resources and technology. These include online quiz platforms, virtual whiteboards, reminder/notification systems, design programmes for slides and infographics, gamification platforms, and more. 

Some of the most popular technologies you can add to your online teaching arsenal include:  

  • Visme – create enticing visual presentations including slide decks, infographics, storyboards, and more. 
  • Miro – a highly collaborative online whiteboard. 
  • Canva – user-friendly design tool allowing you to create infographics, flyers, images, and more from scratch or with templates. 
  • Figma – collaborative UX and UI tool allowing teams to edit vectors, prototypes, websites, and more from anywhere. 
  • ThingLink – make media “come alive” with the ability to create interactive images with annotations, links, and more. 
  • Remind – use instant messaging to schedule reminders, announcements, and messages about important deadlines, class changes, and more. 
  • InSpace – collaborative video conferencing packed with features built specifically for educators and students.  
  • Padlet – a digital tool that can help both educators and students in the classroom and beyond by offering a single place for a notice board.
  • Mentimeter – an interactive presentation tool that helps to increase student engagement and enable every voice in an online class to be heard.  

Of course, different tools will work for different organisations, different lecturers, and even for different subject matters. The important thing is for educators to approach learning around best practice.  

When you collaborate with a learning design company such as Hubble Studios, we will work with you to find tools that best suit your methods and materials. In the meantime, get some free tips on adapting your content for the digital environment by downloading our 6-step guide to moving your courses online.  

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