Education is evolving at a rapid pace. In the past decade, the quantity of digital assets and technologies students have access to has skyrocketed. Overall, online degrees are growing at 25% per year and that trend shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. When it comes to science, technology, engineering and technology (STEM) courses, introducing online education is more difficult, but as the technology has improved, that’s changing too. But to be successful, online education has to be at least as good as classroom education. In fact, it can be even better.
Ten years ago, online education consisted of a professor putting PDF course notes or videos of classroom lectures online for student viewing. This offered convenience, but did not enhance the education experience. Five years ago, with the development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), students were offered an opportunity to take entire courses online. Unfortunately, problems including lack of student engagement led to huge drop-out rates. However, the lessons learned from these experiences paved the way for improvements and future advancements in education.
Today, we are at the dawn of a new era. Because today’s students are digital natives, it is essential that modern education matches the pace and convenience that these students are used to. Modern students aren’t afraid of technology – in fact, they embrace it! They want education to be as connected as the rest of their lives. And it is no longer enough that e-learning be flexible, convenient and cost effective. It must also be better. The online education experience must be better than the face-to-face classroom experience, delivering a better experience and higher student engagement.
Using the right digital assets offers the potential to vastly improve student outcomes in ways other technologies and approaches can’t achieve. For the first time, modern online learning tools, such as Möbius, Maplesoft’s online courseware platform, allow both instructors and students to understand where they are in the learning process. This leads to competency-based learning, where we no longer have to teach the same way to all students but can instead adapt the materials to suit their particular needs.
Aspects to Consider
When considering adopting digital course assets, there are several key aspects schools consider. One, of course, is cost. Whether the school develops their own materials or adopts content created by others, there is often savings for the students, as access to those materials typically costs students far less than a traditional textbook. For those who choose to create their own materials, it is true that developing and maintaining digital course assets presents a significant cost to institutions, though these costs can be mitigated by designing micro-assets to maximize re-use and simplify maintenance. However, the benefits are substantial. Unlike textbooks, which may only be updated every five years, digital assets can constantly be iterated and improved. Their effectiveness can be measured, and constant changes and adjustments made to address weaknesses, improve learning, and incorporate new content. Instead of making do with existing content while waiting for the next edition, improved learning materials can be rolled out in a matter of days.
Another aspect to consider is the range of learners who will be accessing the material. Modern education, especially in STEM courses, brings together a wide range of students in every course. With students coming from various countries and educational backgrounds, it can be a challenge for institutions and instructors to effectively teach every student. Digital course environments provide instructors with the ability to offer materials spanning the spectrum from enrichment to remediation. Students can work at their own pace, ensuring understanding of materials without the danger of being left behind. Testing is key when dealing with a wide range of learners, and online systems can provide a variety of testing methods that help instructors identify and adapt to their students’ needs. Möbius, for example, provides a toolbox of testing methods including in-lesson, formative questions, as well as summative, placement, diagnostic, and adaptive testing.
Digital course assets present instructors with many advantages over traditional textbooks. They can provide a hands-on learning environment, rich in animations and graphics, interactive explorations, and embedded assessments that aid, as well as track, student understanding. STEM courses in particular present complex concepts that typically require a great deal of hands-on learning. A recent paper developed by researchers at Harvard, MIT and Maximum Human Performance shows that student brain activity spikes when they are more engaged with materials by interactively working through problems. Having a digital environment that emphasizes interactive learning, like Möbius, leads to deeper understanding and a more enjoyable and effective educational experience. Students have the opportunity to actively apply difficult concepts to various questions to ensure they are learning and understanding the materials.
The goal of online education should be to offer better learning outcomes. This must be the driving force behind further advancements in education. In order to assess improvements and the overall quality of education, one must have the ability to tangibly measure its effectiveness. What empirical evidence exists to support specific changes to instruction or curriculum? What evidence is there that students are learning?
There’s an old management saying that says you don’t get what you expect, you get what you measure. Using modern online tools, instructors can measure such things as a student’s comprehension and success rate, the amount of time students spend on materials, and their engagement with the digital content. In addition, instructors can automatically identify learning breakdowns and use data analytics to determine materials that are most and least effective, while institutions can identify the best teachers, students and classes.
For the first time, there is the potential to truly measure the education process. With data, we can measure how students learn, and use that information to improve learning for everyone. As exciting as current digital and technological assets are, the future of education looks even brighter!
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