Will Digital Learning Tools be the ‘Next Generation’ in Online Learning?

How will students experience the ‘next generation’ of online credit courses? What will push online learning to the next level – change the minds of reticent students – prompt some of the 70% of college students who’ve yet to take an online course? [According to a 2010 report by Sloan Consortium, 30% of college students have taken at least one course online].

Mind Tap at Cengage.com/mindtap

The noise about e-textbooks this past week after Apple launched iTextbooks is significant for good reason, yet it is digital learning objects [aka digital instructional resources] within higher-ed publishers ‘vaults’ that (potentially) will bring the online learning experience to the next level. What we’re talking about here are instructional tools – academic content available to educators in ‘modulette’ form, using the latest  technological applications to create a student experience that is interactive and engaging. Think of the digital learning tool as a worksheet, study guide or homework assignment; but in a different format – interactive, colorful, even 3D, accessed through a device of the student’s choice – iPad, tablet, PC or laptop.

Watch the Demo of Pearson’s Course Connect:

Digital tools are designed to integrate with Learning Management Platforms

Digital Tools: Potentially powerful
Pearson’s Course Connect,  MH Campus and Cengage’s MindTap offer digital tools in the form of: power point slides, interactive lessons, quizzes with feedback, animations and learning videos. Each publisher customized applications to adapt to iPad and/or tablets, handheld mobile devices for MindTap and all for PC’s and Macs. Most importantly all integrate into virtually any Learning Management Platform. However – caution…

Warning…tread carefully my fellow educators
Let us tread carefully however – at least one of the publishers promotes the tools as a way to enhance [agreed] and customize [red flag!]  the student’s learning experience, even create a personal learning environment. There is a risk to the personalized, student center approach in this context – we can’t lose site that it is the instructor that guides the student, creates the environment and structure for learning, essential in the online courses. Digital tools used haphazardly and for ‘edutainment’, won’t work. These should not be considered stand alone courses, but as learning tools (just as the traditional paper study guide or review page are).

The potential problem(s)…
I see tremendous potential for using these digital applications in online learning courses. I stress potential, because I see barriers to successful integration. Professors, instructors and curriculum designers may have challenges sourcing and implementing, and using these applications for a number of reasons.  Why?

  1. Sourcing the appropriate digital content is a challenge. Each publisher mentioned above, has several different websites, different names for numerous products that each sounds similar – it’s just plain confusing – here’s an example using Pearson: Pearson Learning SolutionsPearson Higher Ed,  Pearson Success.net and Course Connect (the course connect is the one for the digital learning tools).  The first site Pearson Learning Solutions (provider of Course Connect) does not even mention or link to Course Connect! This is a serious disconnect!
  2. Registering to gain access to one of these sites (if you can find the right one), even as a faculty member is challenging – though  McGraw Hill has launched a ‘free’ program for faculty from any institution using any LMS to access MH Campus with a single sign-on, streamlined registration process.
  3. Accessing content outside of the LMS may be challenge for students  – they will need to buy access through either their e-textbook or by buying a ‘single license’ for access. Some content may be open source, this is yet to be determined.
  4. Implementing the digital learning application appropriately using sound curriculum design principles needs to happen in order that learning outcomes are met. My fear is that, these applications are viewed as the built-in curriculum design – again they are a tool not the solution!

Let me finish with on a positive note. I am very enthusiastic about these digital tools, I look forward to implementing these digital objects in the online courses at my workplace. I often use OER resources to effectively support or reinforce a concept in an online course. Often times there are open resources linked to a given textbook via a web link address [usually] provided in the [print] textbook. The student can gain access without a code or having to register. :).  I’ll write on how to find appropriate OER in a future post.

I’ll leave with with a YouTube video about MindTap, which impressed me the most. Keep Learning 🙂

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