educationtechnologyinsights

E-learning Growing by Leaps and Bounds

By Thomas Hoover, CIO, University of Louisiana at Monroe

Thomas Hoover, CIO, University of Louisiana at Monroe

In the light of your experience what are the trends and challenges you’ve witnessed happening with respect to the e-learning landscape?

The education sector always has budgetary concerns; in this state especially, we have to be very budget cautious and very frugal in trying to do things creatively. In any respect, that is one of the big concerns; our vision needs to be rooted in creative solutions and also to utilize the systems we currently have to their full potential.  Often while rolling out new systems, we are operating under a time crunch to get the system up and running because of a strict deadline.  We then move on to the next project without circling back to ensure that the application or tool is being used to its maximum potential.

"It is much better to be actually able to experience a lesson as if you are actually present at a virtual site than off the page of a book or looking at a picture"

In terms of trends, adaptive learning will take further strides in the e-learning space; we have a campus lecture tool online for encouraging adaptive learning. The option for students to retain classes or information online and review it at a later point in time helps them enjoy the learning process.

One of the necessities of e-learning solutions is to create an immersive and personalized learning experience for students. What are the solutions the industry is looking to leverage currently to enable that experience?

We use virtual reality for our courses. I believe that makes it a much better immersive educational experience for the students. It is much better to be actually able to experience a lesson as if you are actually present at a virtual site than off the page of a book or looking at a picture. This allows for a more interactive session and in-depth conversations with a professor, who would then be a facilitator of knowledge. In one of our classes at the university, students were learning about the Great Wall of China, where our students were able to use VR and walk on a virtual set of the famous location. Later, they came to class and were able to discuss what they learnt and share their experiences. In such instances, students have the opportunity to come to a class prepared to share their thoughts, helping them retain the lesson they learnt for longer periods, and engage in more meaningful discussions with their peers thus creating a more immersive environment for them.

From the various surveys and assessments we have done, 75 percent of our students said they loved the experience, were excited to be a part of the class and the learning process. If you can put 'love' in an educational experience in a college class, I believe they can learn much better and grasp the concepts more effectively, and more importantly, have fun while doing it!

Could you talk about your approach to identifying the right partnership providers from the lot?

We have a budgetary condition to take into consideration, so if we can handle certain enhancements in-house, we opt to do so. But when we understand our limitations in terms of solutions or skills, we do look for the right partner. It is all about making the right assessment in a situation and then making a decision that would ensure the end result is satisfactory. In the past, I partnered with a company that made virtual desktops and servers for us because we did not have the skill set. We leveraged their capabilities, and they were able to complete the task much faster and as efficiently, just as we required. In that circumstance, it would have taken a long time to train our staff to do the work or have someone train them to understand the work. When it comes to partners, I try and evaluate what makes the most sense and make a better-informed decision for that scenario.

It is really a case-by-case basis.

How do you see the evolution of the e-learning space a few years from now with regard to some of its potential disruptions and transformations?

 I believe the education sector is going to continue adopting AR/VR solutions. The key is to ensure that they are being leveraged to their true potential and whether they enhance the learning experience for students. The faculty members will increasingly become the facilitators of immersive and interactive educational sessions. It has happened for the past few years and will continue to happen in the foreseeable future. IoT has also complemented the e-learning space to empower students to gain knowledge from all areas that they want to in ways that they could never learn in the past, with more and more data and information made available to them from any device, anywhere in the world.

What would be the single piece of advice that you could impart to a fellow or aspiring professional in your field, looking to embark on a similar venture or professional journey along the lines of your service and area of expertise?

It is great to start with a pilot program, figure out the challenges, how to overcome them, and find the right partners. It is essential to talk with other institutions that may have adopted certain technologies and listen to their experiences and learn from their mistakes. This knowledge-sharing among peers makes the experience better for everyone.

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