Predictions About the Near Future of Online Learning and Five Tools Needed to SucceedWendi Prater | Associate Vice Chancellor, Lone Star College Online
It’s no surprise with access to so much information online. Mobile connectivity is creating a culture of both informal and formal online learning. According to Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization until 2003. While most of this information is user generated, mobile devices are putting it all in the palm of our hands.
The convenience to learn almost anywhere is driving the demand for more online content. Informal learning opportunities are available from a limitless number of providers and content for all ages is easy to find. For example, YouTube has several channels devoted to educational content and it provides everything from learning shapes and colors to academic lectures in medicine or law.
Because of demand for online content to learn “how to” do a task or to learn a new topic, it’s also seen as a driving force for more formal online learning and college courses as well. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 5.4 million students, or one in four, took at least one distance education course during the fall of 2012 (latest available data).
Understanding the expectations of future college students in addition to identifying effective tools to deliver course content will be a challenge for educators. Everyday new mobile tools and solutions for online education are being developed and many of these new tools are quickly adopted, particularly with young learners. For college administrators, the challenge is to identify the latest tools to effectively deliver courses, while maintaining budget and online security breach concerns.
There are many tools available for online colleges to use for educational content and each day the list grows. Of course, the selection of which services to use can be a daunting task. When making a selection, educators should take into consideration its ease of use by faculty members and students in addition to mobility.
The focus should always be on student success. Several tools that I believe online colleges should consider using are:
1. Constituent Relationship Management (CRM)
Many colleges struggle with student data located in many different places and in multiple departments. Constituent Relationship Management supports students through their admission and degree pathway and provides a full range of student services. CRM helps college staff members manage the student life cycle in a more seamless process. For example, a campus one-stop shop might include the availability of an admissions counselor, financial aid officer, a registrar representative and an academic adviser—all in one virtual location. CRM can encompass at a minimum the following: marketing, student inquiries, admissions and enrollment, advising, registration and academic achievement.
2. Learning Management System (LMS)
Faculty members and students are the primary Learning Management System users. Choosing the right LMS for the college can be narrowed to asking three basic questions –will it be used, will it adapt to your college’s needs and is it reliable? Changes to a college’s LMS should involve all stakeholders and one should always remember, any platform chosen should focus on the success of faculty members and students.
3. Predictive Analytic Platform and Applications
New services and applications paired with ease of use and online dashboards have given college leaders more data power for decision making than ever. Platforms are capable of drilling down granularly to show the impact of student performance and success, as well as the institution’s effectiveness. Advising can be improved by using these platforms to provide real-time information when counseling students.
4. Online tutoring services
Today’s tutoring profession has flourished with the variety of options available to students and colleges. Online tutoring services now provide learning opportunities anytime–on demand. In addition, the ever expanding online collaboration tools available to faculty members provide options for all teaching and learning styles with services such as Instant messenger, text chat, Skype, shared whiteboards, shared files, graphing tools and the ability for differentiated instruction.
5. Online course assessment solutions
There are many assessment solutions for faculty members of online courses. Assessments may be a traditional test, a project, an essay, or another practical demonstration of a required skill. They can take many forms such as: assignments involving problem solving, designed projects, essays, research papers or computerized exams consisting of multiple-choice, matching, and other question types.
Some online colleges are increasingly using proctoring services for assessments. While the biases about course quality of online instruction have eroded over the years, online proctoring services continue to have skeptics. For many, the integrity of exams from online proctors who may be thousands of miles away remains a burning question. Improved technology in this area has enhanced these services and when paired with increased security, it has given many colleges the confidence to allow students the flexibility and convenience of completing their exams remotely.
Overall, regardless of the educational tools colleges choose to adopt, online or not, student success is the new standard by which higher education institutions are being measured.
In a time when many toddlers are as comfortable using mobile technologies as they are using crayons and paper, it’s definitely safe to say that we will only see an expansion of online learning. Providing courses and college services in a mobile environment will be driven by the next generation of students. Therefore, it’s critical that administrators understand today online learning’s anticipated growth and equally appreciate the tools needed to assist faculty members and students to succeed.