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The Rise of Digital Distance Learning

As the pandemic recedes (sort of, in some places) and our lives resume a semblance of normalcy, a quick survey of the educational landscape shows that digital distance learning is having a moment. New approaches to the classroom, massive funding rounds for the latest modular courseware startups, video-first curricula that emphasize self-guided learning – the signs are everywhere that this segment is at the early stages of explosive growth. But to quote the esteemed Levar Burton, you don’t have to take my word for it. Read on for a round-up of the latest distance learning developments:

Educator Reflections on Teaching

In his recent Tech & Learning article “4 Ways My Teaching Has Changed Because of Remote Learning,” Erik Ofgang reflects on the ways in which remote learning forced him to change his approach to teaching in terms of tools and technologies, as well as the priorities he brings to the classroom. Drawing on lessons learned about individualized instruction, active learning, and ways to incorporate educational technologies and video platforms, Ofgang provides a helpful array of best practices for supporting student success. Educators and educational game developers alike should take note – these tips should be carefully considered when approaching instructional design for remote learning. 

edX: Out with the Non-profit, in with the For-profit

Ages ago, yonks ago, or alternatively, nearly 10 years ago, Harvard and MIT launched edX – a nonprofit alternative to for-profit MOOCs. I was personally very excited by that development at the time, but have admittedly neglected to use edX for the budget Harvard education I imagined, and it appears at this point that I’ve missed my chance entirely. As of yesterday, Edsurge reports that edX is now one with the financiers, having been acquired by online courseware contender 2U for a cool $800m. The move was driven by a superheated market for online courseware funding, with edX falling behind in terms of utilization compared to industry leaders like Coursera. That said, the orgs have indicated their commitment to a continued version of some version of the edX platform, while the for-profit arm will pursue scale alongside the other leaders in the online learning market, who are benefitting from a broader trend…

… OPMs are Taking Over

EdSurge also reports a rapid rise in universities and schools partnering with online program managers (OPMs) to provide their digital infrastructure. Digital learning is changing how students enroll with universities, and many institutions have been caught lagging behind as online learning offerings become a core differentiator. Technologies like student collaboration tools, multimedia authoring, educator-driven courseware, and even semi-professional videography tools are increasingly critical as the distance at which we learn sprawls out in all directions. It will be interesting to see how firmly the OPMs will hold this market – institutions could very well turn to creating their own custom software as the market evolves and the specific distance learning needs of their college or university become more apparent in practice.

Asynchronous Video Collaboration, with Robots and other Gizmos

The competitive robotics wizards at FIRST Robotics were faced with a serious dilemma in 2020: how does a globally recognized, in-person robotics competition persist when travel bans and quarantines have rendered their normal approach totally impossible? Their brilliant solution was the 2020 Connecting Communities Global Challenge. Through a series of weekly challenges that included both written and video submissions, FIRST engaged teams around the world with robotics challenges using the power of social media, maintaining a sense of community and activity while international travel was not an option. My personal favorite was the Glorious Global Motion Machine (sponsored by Fedex), in which each team was tasked with building a Rube Goldberg-style device that can transport a ball from point A to point B, with the ultimate goal of transporting that ball across the world. The result is an inspiring video that captures the culture and character of each team, and shows the possibilities for playfully collaborating over huge distances:

If this video is any indication, the future for remote learning holds a lot of promise. We’ve written before about how this new paradigm of remote instruction is a great fit for educational games, and would love to talk more about how we can support your remote instruction goals, whether you’re a content provider, OPM, or a university – drop us a line for a free consultation!

Learn more about distance learning:

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