Remote Learning: Present and Future Prospects

Professor Paul Springer, Director, School of Communication Design & School of Writing & Journalism, Falmouth University

Professor Paul Springer, Director, School of Communication Design & School of Writing & Journalism, Falmouth University

1. In your opinion, how has Distance and Remote Learning evolved over the years? What are some of the advantages of the current technological evolution?

We found a clear distinction between courses/course teams and their students on programmes designed to be online from the outset, and on-campus courses that had to migrate periodically online during lockdown measures between March 2020-June 2021. Of the latter community of learners, it was clear that community-building and frequent live meetings helped glue the community and encouraged peer to peer networking around organised sessions. Many Unis we spoke to during early lockdown evangelised about the potential of asynchronous learning until it became clear that, without clear guided learning and punctuated live sessions to reflect on content, students did not work through material at the same tempo. They didnt view pre-recorded sessions in time either, with other covid-related responsibilities diluting focus on courses. I have noticed that students tend to prefer one-to-one tutorials online. Conversely larger taught sessions (lectures, large seminars) have also discovered a better form on line than their original offline formats. Sessions are shorter, packed with content and takeaways, they are more visual and, as staff have engaged editing packages (such as Camtasia) and live interactive tech (such as padlet), students have come prefer one-to-ones, briefing sessions and lectures online. Seminars, workshops and colloquia still work better as live on-campus experiences.

2. What according to you are some of the challenges plaguing the Distance and Remote Learning landscape and how can they be effectively mitigated?

Online space provokes different engagement characteristics. Social student-led platforms to supplement the teaching channels has evolved as a positive characteristic and trend between different types of discipline and learning styles

The last year has polarised students’ expectations. Half want the all in on-campus university experience while the other half wanted distance learning and were keen to manage remotely. With the latter half the challenges of parity of experience and snagging their personal digital tech (digital poverty in some cases) required more located resolution. We discovered that frequent and quick communication with the course team and students helped overcome most of the challenges. Students saw staff adapting at the same time they were having to, so it made the migration between formats a shared realtime experience.

With courses designed to be online (we have some with Cambridge Education Group and our own Falmouth Flexible programmes), part of the challenge involves setting expectations and standards at the beginning of the programme. Online students tend to be older and manage education around work and family commitments, where the scales of economy require larger cohort sizes. So, there is a well-orchestrated system of module leaders and tutors to support Course Leaders in managing the many personal situations. The advantage of an online course community is that it is international, which makes for a great global peer network, and students have the opportunity to reflect on their learning more. The threshold for guest speakers and input from companies worldwide is much wider too, so courses tend to more readily involve newsworthy stars, which makes the experience very dynamic and very different in its experiences compared with on-campus programmes. So, the challenges are offset by advantages. The learners in profile between on-campus and online are significantly different communities though.

3. What are a few technological trends influencing Distance and Remote Learning today? What are some of the best practices businesses should adopt today to steer ahead of competitors?

My Head of Marketing (Amber Burton) raised the theme of Lurkers—students in sessions with cameras and mics off. She makes the excellent point that, just because they are not speaking, they are still necessarily involved. Online space provokes different engagement characteristics. Social student-led platforms to supplement the teaching channels has evolved as a positive characteristic and trend between different types of discipline and learning styles. Notes, padlet and slack (especially around Games, coms and media production course courses) supplement the standard platforms that our Uni has subscribed to and uses (which includes Canvas, Teams and Sharepoint).

In terms of tech trends, polished content is the norm for pre-recorded intros and keynotes. Camtasia is a standard. However, alongside this content (rather than presentation quality) key. The simpler and more accessible formats work best, especially if aspects such as keynotes include luminaries and high achievers in the subject discipline. So, curious, lo-tech content works well if the content is gripping. Students want to see things they can achieve and don’t want over-production. It’s not so much flipped classrooms and learning at students own speed (which was the common wisdom 18 months ago). Distance Learners just want access to new ideas, ways of seeing their subjects and a community to discuss ideas with. To that end Keynote sessions and live Q&As really supplement the content of curricula by bringing subject to life. This is much easier to achieve online/

4. Do you have any advice for industry veterans or budding entrepreneurs from the Distance and Remote Learning space?

1.  Don’t presuppose that the learners attracted by distance and remote learning have the same profile or expectations as on-campus prospects.

2. Embrace the ways in which online delivery can meld around the commitments of online learners. Especially if your community is global in various time zones. Do all students need to start at the same point of the course, and at the same month in a year?

3. Although distance is remote learning, without scope for human interaction to capture the nuances of individual learners, engagement rates can dip.

4. There is a need to refresh and upgrade content, no matter how futureproof and high-quality pre-recorded content can look

5. Invest time early on in making your learning community an active student-driven network. This can highlight and give voice to particular challenges that a cohort might collectively share, and it will enable you to learn on the first run of programme.

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