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Friday, November 15, 2013

Higher education is currently going through some major transformations as it embraces the technological age. From smartphones to tablets, blogs and wikis, today’s digital environment makes collaboration, communication and information sharing a lot easier. Teaching and learning take place on a whole new level that mixes personal instruction with state of the art technologies. This shift has made education much more accessible to people worldwide.
Statistics clearly highlight that higher education institutions are struggling to meet the increasing demand. The Sloan survey of Online Learning that took place in 2010 showed that enrollment rose by more than one million students per year. Also, approximately 30% of all university and college students take minimum one online course. Online learning makes access to education easier than ever. Students are now able to customize their learning experience, their schedule, and their courses. This is what makes online learning so popular among the young generations.
Apart from the benefits, the incredible growth of online learning presents several challenges. It has brought a new series of expectations and demands from various stakeholders including instructors, students, advocacy groups and regulatory institutions.

Accountability & Transparency

Academic transparency and accountability are two of the biggest catalysts in the conversion of online learning into higher education. Since more and more individuals sign in for online courses, degree programs and certificates, the need for a common standard of quality is of foremost importance. At the moment, online programs need to adhere to a specific set of standards. However, the level of academic quality and rigor offered differs from one school to another.
Furthermore, research has demonstrated that online education can be just as effective as in-classroom instruction. A report carried out by SRI International for the Department of Educations showed that on average, students learning online tend to perform slightly better than those who receive traditional instructions.
Striving to meet these needs, academic institutions have become keen on implementing efficient tools that support transparent academic assessment and reporting. Consequently, offerings like learning management systems quickly become extremely important for institutions that offer online education.

Courses and Quality of the Content

The increasing focus put on transparency and accountability will inevitably result in enhanced content quality and improved courses. This is a significant factor for all institutions. Anyhow, you may wonder what will actually facilitate this improvement. Many experts agree that assessment solutions and academic analytics on online learning environments will soon be vital tools in amplifying content quality.
In the future, higher education institutions will rely mainly on learning management systems that support prescriptive content. This means that the systems will define appropriate content for all students, according to their learning strategies they employ, their abilities and techniques. This innovative method of online learning challenges students, while allowing them to progress naturally. It ultimately results in increased satisfaction and academic success.
By assessing students in several key areas, including task, time, answer confidence, grades, satisfaction and information retention, learning management systems completely eliminates old days of cookie cutter content. By using these tools, instructors are now able to constantly track and evaluate their students. They can optimize the course content so as to aid individuals overcome all academic hurdles. Consequently, the quality of program content and courses will improve greatly.

The Instructor’s Role

One of the most significant factors that influence a student’s success is the instructor. However, many professionals are still afraid that their role will become insignificant as technology becomes more and more deeply integrated in the modern day’s learning environment. The reality is that technology will never be able to replace the teacher.
On the other hand, some instructors believe that technology will increase their workload. That’s not true either. In fact, efficient education technology tools offer instructors a myriad of new ways to connect students and teachers, and improve the overall learning process.
As online learning grows, instructors will be able to raise the standard of excellence by increasing the demand for tech-savvy instructors. This new generation of education leaders will change the way courses are taught these days. Instead of requesting memorization and feedback, teachers will employ cutting-edge tools that enable application of real-life issues and real collaboration with peers.
To supports teachers in these efforts, administrators are allowed to use assessment tools and academic analytics to test their performance and find in what areas they could improve. Through ongoing assessment, institutions will soon be able to a set a much higher standard for teachers and will cultivate an innovative learning environment defined by quality.

Cooperation and Multi-Modal Content Delivery

The adoption of teacher-to-student and student-to-student cooperation tools is a reality. It has a huge impact on the evolution of the teaching and learning processes. Web 2.0 collaboration tools like user-generated content, social-networking, wikis and blogs, video conferencing are changing the way universities educate their students. These numerous changes include professors teaching in various mediums, students collaborating for projects, printed textbooks being replaced by eBooks and paper-based testing methodologies changing to embrace new learning strategies.
Because learning management systems are extremely important for online learning, it’s vital to note that the majority of the systems already offer a wide range of collaboration tools. This new level of availability is aimed to create new opportunities and engage students in a more pleasant, flexible and accessible environment. Similarly, learning management systems will convert from simple platforms into real learning environments, where students will be able to cooperate and study together.
Technology transforms education every day and its impact doesn’t stop growing. By creating and embracing a solid structure for online learning, and using various state-of-the-art learning management systems, higher education institutions can greatly improve student outcomes now, and in the future.

Author Bio:
David Miller is an educational researcher who has vast experience in the field of teaching, eLearning and online training. He is associated with prestigious universities and many leading educational research organizations. He's also an ed-tech veteran, currently pursuing research in new eLearning developments, and is a contributing author with ProProfs.

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