Over the past year many Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) across the globe had to change their style of delivery due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And many adopted the Blended delivery approach. If we look at the stats for this before and during the pandemic it is clear that change was needed to accommodate customer (students) demands primarily to provide them with a quality of education.
While Blended Learning was getting used extensively across HEIs, there were concerns raised in terms of students engagement.
A Learners Journey
When a student is enrolled on a course in an institutions they would have followed a set of steps which in essence is a journey for them in terms of pursuing their education.
And while the learners journey consists of several stages, most of you would be in agreement that the key stages for an institution or the learner itself are
The reason Engagement is important in a Blended Learning delivery mode is that it allows you as the academic or Subject Matter Expert (SME) to understand how the learner is accessing your materials and what impact it could have on their final results.
How UI & UX play a part
One thing with Blended Learning delivery is the use of Learning Management Systems (LMS) also increased. Across the UK within HEIs the most commonly used LMS are:
While each LMS provide different functions, tools and capabilities that you can make use of in designing the materials. The User experience (UX) for accessing the learning resources is key.
UX is a term that is used around a lot in digital marketing firms when discussing websites designs. We could argue that LMS are no different as they are similar to websites but just in a closed network which requires learners to login using their credentials.
The move to Blended Learning made HEIs using LMS while also adapting the way in which they would label the materials for their respective topic, however from a learners perspective if they can’t find the materials easily , there is a possibility they just give up using the LMS which has a negative impact on engagement. And while teaching delivery is different to website design one can still make use of Peter Morville’s UX Honeycomb as a starting point.
How can you make use of the UX Honeycomb
Using the Honeycomb the SMEs, Instructional designers or Learning designers can look at their materials and see how that is placed in the LMS and check whether it fits the above criteria.
Ideally using the Honeycomb model I would recommend the following of how you can design or place the content within your LMS
1. Start by defining what will be covered in the week, with the key learning outcomes and how they fit with the overall objective of the topic or module
2. If the lecturers delivered live via Zoom, WebEx or any other application provide the links for that clearly labelled.
3. Provide a short activity that is made available after the lecture is delivered so that the learners can check their understanding about the topic and also have the option for them to ask Questions via a forum which can be made available for week before the the next session.
4. Finally have a recorded summary of what was covered in that week stating the key outcomes and also point the learners towards additional reading.
5. Repeat the same for the following weeks or other topics
Taking this uniformed approach within your LMS could allow the learners to navigate through things easily, and they can also get used with the actual User interface (UI) of the LMS allowing you to get a better UX and engagement for your topic or module.
There are many institutions still struggling to get the best out of their use of LMS and provide the quality of education learners prefer to have, hence I think using some sort of model or a process to ironing out the UI & UX concerns for their LMS could play a key role for increasing engagement.
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Isn’t it good to have options for things based on your needs, skills or requirements. For example When you go to a restaurant you can select what course you would like to eat, what wine you would like to drink, you also even have a choice of how you would like to pay.
Imagine if similar could be applied to your learning. In recent times the terms Learning Experience Platforms (LXP) has become quite popular, while the term sounds familiar to Learning Management Systems (LMS), they are different in the context of learning delivery, education, training.
How things have evolved
If you are into Education delivery or have delivered eLearning courses or have been involved in the designing of some, you would be familiar with LMS and to name a few Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas etc. While Moodle is an open source system with a “minimum fee”, Blackboard and Canvas are sort of the industry leading LMS’s that you can get by paying a premium.
Over the years LMS have also been popular within organisations in developing their teams, employees via delivering online learning that employers can engage in at their own lesiure. However the struggle has always been in keeping the content relevant, accessible and engaging. This is where Learning Experience Platforms (LXP) can play a part.
What is LXP
LXP are essentially applications or softwares designed to help users discover new learning opportunities by providing them access to a variety of resources from various sources that is driven by artificial intelligence.
During COVID-19 many organisations that made use of LMS for their workplace training would have struggled in getting their employees use the LMS for achieving the skills required to prosper, and this could be due to the narrow learning formats, cluncky or a boring User Experience (UX). A survery done by Centre of Learning & Performance Technologies, UK shows how people at workplace prefer to learn.
Looking at the above data, one could aruge that organisations have changed and how they support or develop their staff should change as well and LXP could help achieve this.
One good example of an LXP is Linkedin Learning, which is geared or designed in a way that allows the user to decide what they want to learn and based on their interest or skills, Linkedin Learning would suggest you relevant courses.
Features that LXP offers
1. Self-service Learning & Adaptive Learning paths
2. Content expansion
3. Open ecosystem & Social Learning
4. Measure engagement
While there is no harm in using LMS, LXP just offer a better solution within organisation to improve workplace learning and development.
Can LXP work in education delivery
While there is not much data to prove that LXP could work in education delivery, I certainly think having a system that could define a learning path for a student when they enrol on a course to help them achieve basic set of skills beneficial of their years of study could hugely encourage students in learning the content with more enthusiasm and it could also allow to monitor any student struggling to achieve the skills.
Before March 2020 it seems everything had a purpose not that there isn’t one now, but the images on the right show how things used to be before the pandemic.
What did 2020 bring?
Since March 2020 across the globe dynamics for each organisations changed in terms of how they deliver their services. From a consumer perspective it also changed how we work, shop, socialise etc. The pandemic led organisations across the globe change the way they deliver their services to perform efficiently. Global economy had a significant dip and governing bodies for each country had to provide the necessary support for organisations to survive in this pandemic. In contrast to that there was a boost in e-commerce due to organisations investing increasingly into digital technologies compared to the previous years
Digital Technology has became essential
With the chaos and panic in the pandemic, organisation had to make use of digital technologies to perform their tasks, applications such as Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft teams and Google meet are getting used extensively for virtual meetings, education delivery and other. With the pandemic not out of sight the use of digital technology is going to evolve faster than before.
Digital applications such as Zoom, WebEx, Google meet or Microsoft team did exist, but the urgency created due to COVID-19 made these applications getting used extensively across the globe. Technology has also proven that work can be carried out remotely without been physically present in the office, in 2021 we could certainly see organisations considering to implement working from home policies as digital technologies have made this possible.
Without the pandemic digital technologies such as Virtual reality (VR) or Augmented reality (AR) were always in the long term strategy for businesses to invest, however it could be argued that it won’t be long until these technologies are implemented within organisations. Also not to undermine the use of artificial intelligence (AI), Machine learning, Analytics, Learning portals etc. as the environmental disruptor of COVID-19 will makes businesses invest more in these. The image below shows the predicted growth in the market share for VR/AR technologies beyond 2020.
Change in the education delivery and pedagogy
Global education like other businesses also experienced significant impact by moving online. The impact on student globally is in billions and the graph below highlights that.
With the closure of schools, colleges and universities everyone had to adopt online delivery, there were few that struggled with this, due to their IT infrastructure, estates etc, while some implemented digital technologies due to the urgency created in delivering education. Being in the education sector for several years, I think 2021 will help education institutions in using digital technology more effectively based on lessons learned from the past, however it will also require educators to be creative thinkers, invest more time in developing their content and constantly evaluate the same to ensure students are getting the quality of education similar to traditional teaching .
The change in teaching delivery meant rethinking the pedagogical approach for online teaching. In a recent blog post published by Eric Gardiner of his conversation with Josh Eyler (University of Mississippi), Josh talks about having a resilient pedagogy which is a trend starting to getting picked up among educators. Planning lessons for online or blended delivery requires time, creative thinking and knowledge of the digital tools being used. Based on my experience the last 12 months have shown how much time/effort an educator has to devote to prepare for a online lesson and this does have an impact on their existing workload. Josh defines resilient pedagogy as something where an educator could design their course or topic for once, which can be flexed easily with the changing environment, instead of emergency planning which is what most educators would have done when the pandemic hit.
A model I have used with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) is DEDE model. This model is refined by myself compared to the already existing pedagogical models, and it could allow an educator to have more resilience in their pedagogy in this new trend. I think in the coming years we could see digital technology driving a pedagogical approach instead of the other way around.
What the future holds
I know that 2021 has just started, but with COVID-19 still not gone and the uncertainty on what will happen going forward, I think digital technology and pedagogy will play a key role in reshaping how organisations work and education could be perceived in coming years. It will not be long for Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) to be used by universities for conducting preview day events, as with VR/AR attendees will be able to get a similar experience that they would have when attending physically. Businesses could also greatly benefit with VR/AR where sectors such as constructions, aviation, medical could make use of this while keeping adhere of social distancing to perform their jobs efficiently. Finally, analytics, machine learning, learning portals etc. across businesses will also be crucial in gathering or enhancing employees performances.
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