Distance learning has become more popular over the years. The National Center on Education Statistics reports that overall postsecondary distance education has increased, particularly as the economy has worsened and funds for education have tightened. Many colleges now offer some form of distance learning option to make it easier for students to work college into their schedules and bank accounts. Traditionally, these courses generally revolved around a professor in front of the camera, providing instruction as needed along with online syllabi and forum postings for conversations. However, video conferencing has brought about a number of changes to both the traditional and the distance learning setting that have improved learning overall. Here are some of the more interesting developments.
1) Greater Ability for Give and Take
One of the primary concerns about distance learning is that instructors are not as accessible to their students. In some courses, students complain that they feel their instructors do not take them seriously. Pew Internet reports that only a little more than half the students in an online course feel that they receive the same value for the course as they would in a physical setting. Part of this has to do with access to the instructor as well as to the perceived sterility of the material.
In terms of access to the professors, video conferencing that goes both ways permits students to have face to face time with their instructors. It isn’t precisely the same as being in a physical classroom, but it is an improvement. The Wall Street Journal reports that the same level of closeness that develops in an in person interview is not always as easy to achieve through a video conferencing service. However, it does create stronger connections and a far clearer understanding of what is being said. It can also go a long way toward creating that increased sense of camaraderie that might otherwise be lacking in a distance learning setting.
2) Greater Mobility and Retention of Information
Through the Skype or Blue Jeans network, students can access their courses and their professors from their mobile devices. Mobile devices have been used increasingly over the past few years, and that usage is only likely to increase. Courses have had to offer shorter segments to allow for greater access. However, shorter course sessions actually permit better learning. Distance learning courses like Themis offer sessions that last between 10 and 25 minutes. Their primary reason for breaking up courses like this is because the shorter sessions make it easier for students to retain this information. The traditional class lasts between 55 and 85 minutes, a period that can make it difficult for students to comprehend all the information.
Shorter class times allow students to more readily absorb and recall the information. At the same time, it also makes it easier for them to access these courses on their mobile devices. Additional course video conferencing options can help to further develop the student’s understanding and make the knowledge even more concrete.
3) Great Levels of Frankness
One of the surprising results from a study in China as reported in New Horizons in Education is that students are more likely to be honest about their feelings in video conferencing. This was not the purpose of the study, but it was one of the discoveries. Students who participated in video conferencing sessions with their instructors were more likely to be frank about their concerns or the needs for improvement. This is one of the benefits of the slight disconnect. When using platforms like Blue Jeans, the authority and gravity of an instructor does not always have the same impact on students. This, in turn, makes students more likely to share their concerns and gives the instructors a greater opportunity to make the needed corrections. Instructors should brace for this frankness though as it may feel more brusque than they anticipate. But ultimately this will allow for healthier and stronger teaching habits and better improved distance courses to develop.
Distance learning as well as video conferencing have created opportunities for many individuals to pursue post secondary degrees. Despite initial concerns about the lack of closeness and the overall quality of the classes, distance learning is on the rise. Video conferencing has also helped to address and alleviate some of these concerns. Through conferencing opportunities, there is a greater opportunity for give and take as well as increased mobility. Students can even chat on their tablets or phones while still accessing full course material. Even more importantly, students are more likely to be open about how the course is working for them. As video conferencing services and streaming capabilities continue to improve, it’s likely that distance learning will likewise improve.