Considering various trends, learning forward needs a stronger network.
GUEST COLUMN | by Aimee Rullo
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, educational institutions at all levels were forced to shut their doors and shift their focus to remote learning. But what began as a response to a crisis has become a preferred option for many students. According to BestColleges’ Online Education Trends Report for 2022, 60% of remote learners say they are likely to enroll in online courses or programs after their campuses return to in person learning.
The need to adopt remote learning on a massive scale highlighted the impact of the digital divide on students and compelled institutions to rethink their network infrastructures. However, it also prompted schools to leap into a world of digital technologies and broadband applications that brought a diverse range of benefits, including greater inclusivity for disabled students, global learning opportunities, new ways to meet and collaborate online and more flexibility around how, when and where students can learn.
‘The need to adopt remote learning on a massive scale highlighted the impact of the digital divide on students and compelled institutions to rethink their network infrastructures.’
As pandemic restrictions continue to lift, the evolution of online learning and collaboration continues apace. Institutions are searching for opportunities to use technologies such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance in-class studies and present compelling new online learning opportunities to students.
Opening up new worlds with AR, VR and the metaverse
Some colleges and universities are using the metaverse to develop immersive environments. Within the virtual world of the metaverse, an instructor could teach an astronomy lesson under a canopy of stars, lead geology students to the heart of a volcano or help medical students explore the inner workings of the human body.
The metaverse also makes it possible to meet and collaborate in virtual spaces. Instructors and students can enter the metaverse from the classroom or the comfort of their own homes.
Additionally, AR and VR can play a role in helping college or university students develop technical skills that will help them succeed in their future careers. For instance, AR/VR tools could provide students with opportunities to practice and get expert input on anything from welding to aircraft maintenance or surgery. Haptic technologies and holographic images could complement these tools by mimicking the look and feel of a welding torch, torque wrench or surgical saw.
The metaverse isn’t just for higher education institutions. K-12 schools could use the metaverse to teach STEM or language classes, conduct virtual field trips into distant places or add a fun twist to physical education. The leap into the metaverse may not even be a big one for the large number of K-12 students who are already spend time in virtual worlds such as Minecraft, Roblox or esports.
Learning with help from algorithms and AI
Applications driven by AI and machine learning algorithms are gaining traction with institutions at all levels. In K-12 schools, teachers can use algorithm-based applications to introduce adaptive learning and tailor instructions and resources to the needs, prior knowledge and capabilities of each student. In higher education institutions, AI-based intelligent learning systems and chatbots can provide students with highly adaptive, personalized learning experiences.
The combination of AR/VR and AI-driven algorithms also opens the door to gamification and game-based learning applications that can make it easier to engage and motivate students. Gamification enhances learning activities by introducing game elements such as points, goals or badges, and makes learning more game-like by introducing concepts such as competition and role-playing.
Why the network matters
Networks will play a critical role in enabling K-12 and higher education institutions to realize the potential of online learning and technologies such as AR/VR, AI and the metaverse. They must also help schools ensure that all students can access and benefit from these technologies.
Private wireless networks based on 4G/LTE and 5G technology make it easier for institutions at all levels to embrace and meet the demands of innovative education technologies. These broadband networks combine high-bandwidth connection speeds with scalable multi-user capacity, ultra-reliability, strong security, pervasive coverage and seamless mobility. They are simple to deploy and can operate in free or shared spectrum.
Fixed–wireless access networks enable institutions in rural areas to support remote learning. Combined with private wireless networks, they meet the performance demands of more advanced applications.
IP/optical and microwave transmission networks complement wireless access by enabling institutions to scale up capacity for data-intensive applications, adapt to new traffic patterns associated with online learning and extend coverage to homes and schools over longer distances to ensure that everyone can participate. Optical LANs provide campuses with fiber-based networks that can deliver gigabit speeds.
By providing teachers and students with advanced education technologies and the broadband connectivity required to power them, K-12 schools, colleges and universities will be able to close the digital divide and provide richer learning experiences now and in the future.
Aimee Rullo is Head of Education Segment, North America, at Nokia. She has a passion for helping communities bridge the digital divide to ensure everyone has access to broadband internet. Aimee has been a leader in the technology industry for more than 20 years. She has extensive experience selling and helping to design networks for global and regional carriers. She has worked with government, education and enterprise customers, helping to solve their complex business challenges. Connect on LinkedIn.