September 9, 2020

Forums and the new era of eLearning

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we view eLearning. With students preparing to go back to school, parents, teachers, and students alike are wondering how this year will shape up.

In Ontario, Doug Ford’s conversative government had already made strides towards remote eLearning even before the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in China. Of course, the priorities then were all about finding efficiencies in government, and while trimming the fat will always be popular with a conservative govenrment, it is at least a little ironic that likely more money is now being spent ensuring that students can proceed with this coming year uninterrupted.

As cities, provinces, and countries re-open, more attention is being given to academic, and how entire cohorts of students must be accommodated in this new era.

George Veletsianos, a professor in the school of education and technology at Royal Roads University and Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology, had this to say about the differences between in-person and eLearning strategies:

the meta-analyses have found outcomes between the two are generally the same. If there’s any sort of difference, it tends to favour blended courses.

As aptly put by Macleans’ staff writer Stacy Lee Kong:

The recent pivot to remote learning during the pandemic was ad hoc, inconsistent and happened during a time of great emotional upheaval for students

(The article about this, you can find here on the Macleans website)

It’s no surprise that academic institutions everywhere are looking for best practices in a field that has had much less development, relative to in-person teaching.

However, there have been many success stories related to online education, such as Khan Academy and Udemy. It is clearly a viable way to teach, and these services arguably become more valuable the longer we’re in the throes of this pandemic.

I had the opportunity to talk to Don Pezet, CEO of ITProTV, about how they are handling the coronavirus pandemic, and asked him to share his thoughts on eLearning at large.

If you were to give one piece of advice to academic institutions looking to quickly adopt to remote learning, what would it be?

The key to remote learning is maintaining a “presence” with your learners. They have an expectation of being able to see and interact with their teachers. Your online platform needs to replicate this as closely as possible, while remaining accessible to all your students. Synchronous video conferencing is the closest reproduction of the classroom experience, but it is not realistic for many organizations especially when dealing with underprivileged students. Online chat and forum platforms are an ideal middle ground where you can directly interact with your students without needing special equipment, large amounts of bandwidth, or scheduled meeting times.

What pitfalls would you caution against as academic institutions try to implement something quickly in time for September?

The biggest pitfall is trying to do too much all at once. This leads to a lot of complexity for the teachers and students who end up spending more time struggling with the platform instead of learning. Start out small. Establish the minimum viable product needed to educate your students. Then, as people settle in you can start to integrate more advanced technologies like synchronous video.

ITPro.TV combines video-based lectures with a forum component for follow-up questions and collaboration. Do you feel this model works well compared to dedicates courseware solutions?

We cater to audiences around the globe. It is easy for learners in the Americas to tune in to watch our training live and ask our Edutainers questions right there on the spot. However, that leaves out two big demographics: Everyone outside of the Americas, and everyone watching our previously recorded training. We want all of our learners to have a chance to interact with an Edutainer to get their questions answered and help build a personal relationship between the teacher and the student. Our forums directly support that. People all over the world, in any time zone, can post questions and have conversations not only with our Edutainers, but with other people who are studying the same material. This helps to build a community and create a support structure for each person as they study.

Thanks again to Don for providing such valuable insight!

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