Some perspective on the last few years and a direction forward.
GUEST COLUMN | by Brad Koch
It’s hard to believe it’s been more than two years since higher education institutions across the world were scrambling to shift their courses online as the globe braced for COVID-19. This led to many colleges and universities quickly pulling together materials and uploading them to an online platform and holding their classes on Zoom to attempt to keep students on track as they finished out their academic year.
This same method spilled over into 2020 fall term classes as reality set in: This was the new normal for education. Many institutions learned that they needed to increase their investment in faculty enablement, instructional design, and content development to provide an effective and engaging experience for its students.
This new possibility in higher education comes at a time when many institutions are taking a hard look at their bottom line and trying to figure out what investments they can make to try to attract and retain students. This includes reaching out to a whole new pool of learners who may be outside of a university’s geographic region and serving learners who may be juggling multiple responsibilities like a full-time job or family. Let’s face it, growing enrollment via online learning is much more cost effective than building a new dorm or building on campus.
‘Let’s face it, growing enrollment via online learning is much more cost effective than building a new dorm or building on campus.’
As we move further into a post-pandemic world, we know that barely functional online courses and haphazard classroom recordings don’t cut it. To succeed in today’s higher education climate, you need to invest in three key areas: faculty enablement and training, great-looking courses and content, and a reliable learning management system.
Faculty enablement and training
Investing in a learning management system isn’t only about the dollars spent on the software itself. Colleges and universities must also consider the time it takes to onboard faculty and staff into the new system to ensure they know how to use it properly and can take advantage of its features to create engaging and effective online courses. When choosing your next LMS, look to see if the platform offers effective training sessions for instructors to help educate faculty and staff about its functionality. Transitions can be tough for any organization, but investing time in training staff how to use your new system upfront will save you plenty of headaches down the road.
Additionally, you will want to designate a person or team within your college or university who is the go-to person for your online learning platform. This person will be an extremely valuable resource for your institution as they can help keep faculty and staff in the loop about updates coming to the program, troubleshoot any issues they might have, and be a liaison between the LMS and the college and university.
Great-looking courses and meaningful content
You only have one chance to make a first impression, and your course content is no different. Uploading a bunch of PDF documents to a webpage and expecting students to read it isn’t going to cut it anymore. Your content within your online courses must be engaging and present information in a clear and concise manner. Instructors must also consider using interactive content like videos and graphics to help students stay engaged throughout the course and ultimately show their mastery of certain topics in order to move on to the next.
Because each course offered at colleges and universities can be vastly different from one another, institutions should consider whether or not they should host their online courses on an open-source platform. Doing this, they can customize their online classes using resources like a personalized learning designer tool to shape and mold a course that best meets the needs of learners.
Reliable learning management system
With any major investment, you want to ensure it’s reliable and ultimately functions how you need it to on a day-to-day basis. However, as with any technology, we know there can be some hiccups that need to be addressed. When shopping around for learning management systems, consider how responsive their customer service is to client inquiries. Are they able to not only quickly respond, but also find a solution to your problem?
In today’s day and age, colleges and universities are having to move quickly through course material and cannot afford to be bogged down with technical issues with their LMS. Knowing this, institutions must find an online learning provider who can integrate services, support, consulting, content and product to become a partner that can help your team reach its learning goals.
The massive shift to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic showed us what is possible when it comes to providing learners with a pathway to higher education. However, in order for it to be an effective and engaging experience, institutions must be willing to invest in key areas to make it worthwhile for both students and faculty.