The digital learning experience – are we on the right track?

Education has to adapt to the increasing presence of technology in our classrooms and lecture halls, but, says Hema Tank of The London Institute of Banking & Finance, digital learning offers us opportunities as well as challenges:

We’re living through an age of great change.

Technology is advancing exponentially and the skills that employers need are arguably evolving more quickly than they have at any time since the industrial revolution.

Universities and colleges need to react quickly to keep up. And that, in a climate of funding crisis, is a tall order.

Then there is the generation gap, and the fear that students are more tech-savvy than those teaching them. Some lecturers may be intimidated or offended by the sight of students using mobiles during lectures.

But research carried out with business students at the London College of Fashion in 2017, showed 80% were able to concentrate for 30 minutes or more while using their phones, yet only 30% could manage that level of focus without!

We surveyed our own students at The London Institute of Banking & Finance, and asked how they studied best. 55% of undergraduates and 83% of masters students responded, “on my own and at my own pace”.

Which brings us to the wider e-learning market and where it’s going.

Last year, Forbes reported that globally e-learning is set to be worth US$325bn by 2025, having reached a value of $107 bn in 2015.

E-learning is big business and it’s not difficult to see why – it offers flexibility to individuals who want to keep their skills up to date. And there is no reason why the university sector shouldn’t take a bigger slice of the e-learning cake.

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The challenge for universities is to provide the same benefits through e-learning that students get when they study on campus. That is, networking, one-to-one tutoring, and sharing notes and opinions with fellow students through discussion.

At The London Institute of Banking & Finance, we’re increasingly supporting students who are typical of a demographic we’re likely to see more of in future – people who are looking for a change of direction or career boost in their thirties or forties, or those who aren’t taking a traditional university route – for example those undertaking apprenticeships or doing a masters later in life.

Degrees and post-graduate and professional qualifications are increasingly available online and this likely to increase in future. As well as catering for a broader market, they satisfy the need we know students have to study “on my own and at my own pace”.

We teach our Masters in Banking & Finance through a combination of independent study, group activities and real-time, one-to-one tutorials with lecturers.

Online discussion forums also give students the chance to debate with lecturers and other students in their cohort. Webinars offer further opportunity to work closely with fellow students and lecturers. These are core to the course and ensure that students never feel too distant from us or their peer group.

This way of teaching also means we can extend our reach because our students no longer have to be based in London to study with us.

And as long as there’s a reliable internet connection, a combination of independent study, group activities and real-time, one-to-one tutorials with lecturers, can be available to anyone anywhere in the world.

Online discussion forums can give students the chance to debate with lecturers and other students in their cohort, just as they would in a tutorial on campus. Webinars offer further opportunity to work closely with fellow students and lecturers. Perhaps more importantly, they help to ensure that students never feel too distant from their university or their peer group.

And having developed a sophisticated digital learning infrastructure, providers of higher education are better placed to tap into that lucrative digital learning market. According to research from Deloitte, today’s employees are “overwhelmed, distracted and impatient”. But they too need to keep up with the ever-evolving digital world and update their skills in this age of great change. What better way to provide flexible learning, than to make it digital?

Technology will never replace teachers. But teachers – and institutions – who know how to use technology effectively will replace those who do not.

Hema Tank, Associate Dean at The London Institute of Banking & Finance

Copyright © 2019 FE News

About the author: Hema Tank is Associate Dean at The London Institute of Banking & Finance, a leading provider of financial education and qualifications. We’re the only professional body in the finance sector with Degree Awarding powers. We’re a specialist university college providing undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. And we’re an awarding body for professional qualifications in the sector, both in the UK and internationally.

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