Remote education – otherwise known as distance learning – is an extremely popular way of pursuing higher education. First pioneered by universities offering correspondence courses by mail, the distance learning environment is now a highly digital affair. Universities provide a high level of education in part because they can use technology to deliver a personal educational experience. Here are some of the technologies that modern universities make use of in order to offer high-quality remote education.
Video Conferencing Tools
Video conferencing tools are absolutely essential to online masters degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and vocational training. Although they rose to prominence during the coronavirus pandemic, video conferencing services such as Zoom have actually been around for a few years. Interpersonal communication is one of the foundations of a good education. Until the introduction of video conferencing software, distance learning arrangements could not offer students the ability to take part in face-to-face conversations with their peers and educators. Almost all distance learning now involves seminars, lectures, and joint projects being carried out with the help of video conferencing. Some universities commission custom video conferencing software built into their course management systems.
Online Journal Collections
Online journal collections are immensely useful to students who would otherwise be unable to access physical copies of academic papers at their university library. Almost all journals digitize their publications and upload them onto services such as JSTOR. Physical copies of journals are extremely expensive and printed in small numbers, so digital copies are necessary. Students working towards a postgraduate degree cannot rely upon foundational texts when completing their work. They must keep abreast of the latest academic developments in their field. Most of these developments are published and reviewed in specialist journals. Without access to online journal collections, students taking part in distance learning would be at a huge disadvantage compared to students with access to an academic library.
Course Management Systems
Course Management Systems such as Blackboard act as central hubs for students and educators. They facilitate the marking and submitting of written work, the communication between students and educators, and the creation of reading lists. Course management systems are the backbone of most modern degrees and are indispensable for universities offering distance learning.
Mobile Learning Apps
Mobile learning apps like Google Classroom help to make the digital learning space more interactive. Mobile phones allow students to take their classroom with them anywhere they go – further increasing the appeal of education to people who may not have the time to sit at home in front of a desktop computer.
Mobile devices also feature push notification technology: applications are able to notify students of updates on their home screen. This can help improve seminar and lecture attendance and also help students prioritize and organize their time in education. The ubiquity of the mobile phone in modern society makes it the perfect vehicle for educational materials.
Collaboration is one of the keys to good higher education. Students and tutors need to be able to interact productively to learn and innovate. Some specialist software is designed to facilitate educational collaboration. Software like Webex is designed to combine video conferencing and presentation tools in order to offer collaborative opportunities.
Digital simulation technology is proving to be very popular in the delivery of remote higher education – especially in fields where vocational training is part of the program, like medicine. Screen-based case simulations are already in widespread use, while virtual reality (VR) is being trialed in several educational institutions. Simulations are extremely important for students that would otherwise have been able to conduct in-person practice of complex situations.
Interestingly, medical students have been spending time in Linden Labs’ Second Life. The program, originally developed as a commercial MMO, has been used to replicate hospital environments so that trainee doctors can become familiar with their layout.
Students with disabilities face some unique challenges when it comes to distance learning. During the coronavirus pandemic, when the majority of students had to shift over to distance education, disabled people reported a lack of technical support and the failure of courses to be designed with varying physical and mental abilities in mind.
Assistive technologies are employed by universities in an effort to make distance learning more accessible. Assistive technology is any hardware or software that is used to improve the functional ability of a person in the course of education. A good example of assistive technology being used in a remote learning context is the adoption of AI-based closed captioning services that can interpret live human speech. This is especially useful due to the importance of livestreaming and video conferencing in remote education. Without closed captioning, these features of remote education would be inaccessible to people with limited hearing capabilities.