XXI century has brought many changes to our daily life. Now it's no longer odd to buy things on the Internet, order a taxi with a click in the app, pip at your favourite celebrity via Twitter or even chase after Pokemons in your city park. Technology has greatly influenced our lifestyle: how we interact with our family members, colleagues and strangers, how we cook, relax or study.
Learning something new is what inspires us and helps us to succeed in life or simply enjoy it. No wonder so many people spend large sums of money on education. Thanks to the appearance of the Internet and a rapid evolution of e-learning development technologies, acquiring knowledge has never been easier and more available to millions of people than it is today.
The power of e-learning
E-learning is great as online classes are accessible anytime and anywhere. A student no longer needs to move to another city or country in order to study at a worthy university. The thing that is essential now is a good Internet connection that will allow people to register and study online and even get a real diploma which will help them to find a job. It is also accessible to those who can't move to another destination or leave their home for long. In addition, e-learning contributes to cultural diversity.
As for teachers, modern educational technologies give them a chance to reach a wider global audience and choose how to work. They can either promote free education or sell online courses through some popular e-learning marketplace without worrying about payment processing and other tech stuff.
The dark side
However, there are some drawbacks among the numerous e-learning platforms and applications available to students today. The most important one is that they are often non-interactive. So if you want to find or develop your own e-learning solution, make sure that it promotes communication between the tutor and the student or a group of students. Our modern Net generation is characterized by being "strong experiential learners. They prefer to learn by discovery, rather than simply being told that something is true".
In reality, very often e-learners literally have to report to a computer. Such faceless interaction leads to a lack of motivation and understanding of the matter. Among the most common reasons why students drop out is that the program is impersonal and monotonous. So it is essential to give them a chance to ask any question, be a member of an online learning community and satisfy their basic need for interaction.
A new hope: live communication tools
It's hardly surprising then that Skype is the first thing that comes into your mind when you think of communication tools for online lessons. It gives e-learners the core thing that they need - synchronous communication. However, nowadays we have even better ways of teaching on the Net most of which combine online video chatting feature with a set of other useful tools of presenting and discussing new information. Let's take a look at some outputs of e-learning development industry which can help you to engage students and foster their motivation for learning.
- Voice interaction
Historically, our voice has been the basic method of communication. So it is more natural for us to perceive information in such a way and, with modern technologies, you can bring the power of voice to your online courses. Let's take, for example, VoiceThread that allows you to host videos and share presentations - all accompanied by your voiced commentaries, the ability to make markings on the go and answer questions live. When you mix text, pictures and voice, presenting the material becomes more real and helps to establish an emotional contact with your audience.
Such audio-based features allow students to record lectures with inserted questions, upload powerpoint presentations and teachers, in their turn, get the possibility to annotate them, quote and comment right in the students' documents. Thus, it also makes asynchronous communication possible. The voice-enabled options ensure a full presence, better understanding of the material and contribute to establishing a sense of community (unlike the learning experience in an LMS alone).
- Interactive whiteboard
This is something any teacher enjoys working with and there are many online education tools that support this feature, e.g. BrainCert. The changes that you make on your whiteboard instantly appear on the students' screens. Apart from making notes and a set of various ready made symbols you may need in math analysis, for example, you can also upload and share pdf and text documents, pictures and videos.
In addition, you can give access to the board to one of the students who will be able to make changes for everyone to see. If you need, you can split the virtual classroom into smaller groups and let them work collaboratively during the session. Of course, there is a small chat window for instant questions and commentaries.
These video lessons can be saved and later rewatched if necessary. Interactive whiteboard is a great feature that you can use if you want to present the material in the best comprehensive form and achieve maximum understanding.
- Retrieval questions
Practically anyone today can create video lectures. But remember that they shouldn't become rubber stamp copies of ordinary university chalk and talk sessions. So if you still need to give students a lot of information in the form of a lecture, try to include retrieval questions. In most recorded video classes they are given afterwards, which is far from being really effective. What we need is students' engagement and a better understanding of the matter. So the idea is that at some point of the video, the speaker pauses and asks a question which should be instantly answered by the student. In fact, even such weak form of engagement keeps students' attention and ensures better results.
A learning management system can help you analyze the common misunderstandings in a given lecture and, based on this, help you to spot the confusing part and later eliminate it. You can see how retrieval questions work for Coursera, a web-based learning system developed by Stanford University professors, which provides thousands of students all over the globe with certified online courses from the best educational institutions.
- Collaborative work
This is something that will help students to have conversations that promote learning, brainstorm and share ideas as well as exchange feedback and personal experiences. Collaboration can't be achieved without a discussion, preferably a synchronous one.
Chats can take many shapes in different online education platforms. They can have the form of asynchronous forums and threaded discussions. You may also find chat rooms to be useful as students meet at convenient times and discuss challenging questions with their mentor or fellow learners. In some e-learning apps, you can arrange a group page where certain students work collaboratively on some project by not only discussing the subject but also exchanging files, having a group email as well as a private file sharing space.
In addition, you can include such feature as student wiki dedicated to some topic or sphere, which learners will have to create and modify together. If you want students to work responsibly and do their best, try including a workshop into your online learning platform. There they will submit their work and wait for others to evaluate it according to specific parameters set by the teacher.
Such collaborative features will always help to achieve a greater and deeper understanding of the subject under discussion.
Use the force, Luke!
So you may see that communication remains a vital part of learning and can't be ignored. You have a whole array of features you can include into your application and customize it to your needs and liking. Of course, e-learning software development doesn't stand still and with time, new ways will appear. One day we will all be sitting in a circle like the Jedi council thanks to VR presence that will ensure maximum involvement in the educational process.
As for now, take the most of the available tools. Or, if you have an innovative idea that goes beyond existing solutions and think of the development of new online education website or a progressive LMS for your teaching practice, our developers are always there to help you make it real!