Starting out from two options:
Synchronous (same time): For example a webinar, or live lecture/presentation via video
Asynchronous (any time): For example an online course, discussion board, recorded lectures
Each has advantages/disadvantages.
Synchronous learning activities can be captured for reuse in asynchronous settings. Lectures can be integrated into online courses, etc…
Ideally it would be a cycle of content creation, capture and re-use.
Videoconferencing – High end = polycom or similar. Low end = Skype, WebEx
High end has higher costs and more intense bandwidth requirements (generally speaking) with specialized equipment.
Low end videoconferencing is less expensive, often desktop based, quality can vary wildly.
Interactivity may or may not be a feature of videoconferencing (can participants ask questions or is it a lecture)
Learning content management systems (Moodle, Blackboard) – Allow for the presentation of learning content that can be accessed by participants at any time. A LCMS integrates tools for content creation, assessment and presentation into a common application.
Asynchronous learning can be either interactive (integrating discussion forums, peer discussion, etc) or non-interactive (tutorials, recorded lectures)
Capturing content for re-use
Video can be an effective method for capturing and re-presenting learning opportunities. Whether it is a lecture or a demonstration of a specific technique, video can extend the reach of an expert to a larger audience brining new knowledge and content to underserved audiences. Video can stand alone to function as a tutorial, or be integrated into a LCMS as part of a structured learning experience.
Video capture has become much more affordable, and it is possible to produce high quality video for instructional use with fairly inexpensive equipment. Key to producing good quality video is a familiarity with the equipment and good audio quality. Someone who is comfortable using a video camera can produce more usable video with low end equipment who compared to someone who has expensive gear but doesn’t know how to use it.
This is a fairly universal lesson – knowing the tools and how to use them can produce effective and meaningful results. Deploying new, expensive, fancy tools and technologies for the sake of ‘using’ the latest and greatest will not have the same impact if you do not know how to use them effectively. This may seem like stating the obvious, but where technology is concerned it must be said- over and over again.
PowerPoint can too often be deadly. However, when used properly they can help structure material for discussion or content dissemination. Being able to capture a PowerPoint with narration can create effective modules for learning use. There are effective software packages that make the creation of narrated PowerPoint easy and potentially interactive. Again, one of the key elements to creating a narrated PowerPoint is the audio quality.
Webinars can be recorded. This can be an effective means of capturing content, if the quality is high enough. Audio problems can be an issue with webinars. Inexperienced users can also make it challenging to produce high quality content for re-use.
Jus to re-emphasize – knowing the tools and how to use them can produce effective and meaningful results. Spending time working with any potential instructors who are going to be using Webinars so that they feel comfortable with the tool is time well spent.
Digital literacy – the key to unlocking distance learning
Regardless of how much technology we throw at an issue, the measure of effectiveness comes down to people knowing how to use the technology to accomplish tasks. This is universally true. In order for distance learning to have the desired outcome digital literacies must be present in both the instructor and participant.
At this point in time, with rare exceptions, any effort to use distance learning technologies as a tool for outreach and engagement must include elements of digital literacy training. I would argue that this is more important than any given technology choice. Tools, a variety of tools, can be used to create the end result – but no tool can do it on its own. Developing the necessary skill set to effectively use distance learning technologies will be the make or break factor in any effort.
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