Distance learning innovators are finding ever more clever ways to use technology to enhance online education. From mobile phones to Skype, these sometimes familiar technologies are finding new uses in the classroom. Here are three distance learning technologies to watch in 2011:
Mobile e-learning: The now familiar mobile phone has been implemented as a device used to facilitate online learning. The Gulf Times reports that “the roles being played by communication tools, in particular mobile phones, in imparting learning lessons to communities across the world were highlighted by speakers at a session on ‘education through mobile devices’ held as part of the World Innovation Summit on Education.” The article goes on to report that “the four panelists said the communities they served stood to gain considerably from the mobile e-learning programmes in which they were involved in their respective territories.”
Distance education by mobile phone promises to be especially useful in third-world countries, where many residents do not have access to computers. One panelist, the Gulf Times article continues, “explained how a BBC education programme ‘Janala’ succeeded in turning several thousands of people of people in Bangladesh into good English speakers.”
Skype: Skype is the hottest new distance-learning tool in foreign language courses. The blog Global Teacher extols the virtues of Skype in the classroom:
The great thing about Skype is that it can be used at any time, no matter where you’re based. It can also be used to include a number of students, as a type of conference call and your possible student base is huge -- it’s global! Skype also has a text entry function that can work as a type of blackboard where the teacher can type new vocabulary or introduce a new grammar point.
One successful implementation of Skype involved a German class at a Minnesota community college. The Community College Times reports that Skype is the latest technology to bring foreign instructors to American students: “Each Wednesday, a few minutes before 1 a.m., Ann Toumi opens her Skype software account at her home in Finland to begin teaching a German language program at a community college in Minnesota.”
The Community College Times article goes on to report that the delivery method works “very well.” Assisting Toumi is “lab assistant Darin Flansburg -- who previously taught English as a second language in Germany -- and two German exchange students. Several aides are also available to handle any Internet and computer problems.”
Immersive Scenarios: Companies like Toolwire are helping universities boost retention rates in engineering and the sciences by providing interactive computer software. This also allows universities to host and develop engaging online lessons. Rather than remaining passive consumers of information, students learn by actually solving real world problems as modeled by Toolwire’s software, which allows them to work through real-world scenarios, and actively control live equipment.
The potential to enhance the online learning experience through this software is immense. Toolwire itself says that “experiential learning is proving to be the fastest, most effective way to teach students rapidly changing knowledge and skills in technology, healthcare and business.” The effectiveness of Toolwire’s approach is attracting attention: The company was recently selected by Microsoft to co-create a distance learning product using next-generation instructional design.
These three distance learning technologies, which promise to blaze bold trails in education, are but a mere inkling of what 2011 has in store. When the lighted ball drops on the new year, e-learning innovators will be off and running.