Organizations around the world pivoted en masse to remote learning last spring when the novel coronavirus spread to nearly every corner of the globe. As teachers, students, and their parents scrambled, various methods were tried on the fly. Initial attempts were made by using easily available software, such as Zoom, to provide a meaningful learning experience to the students in their suddenly non-physical classroom environment. Globally speaking, over a billion students were forced to make a rapid shift to remote studies as governments abruptly shuttered schools.
Despite initial hopes that the virus would either recede in the summer or that a vaccine would be found, it seems fairly certain at the current juncture in time that remote learning is here to stay. Parents who had hoped for a return to normalcy come the day after Labor Day have since resigned themselves to the likelihood that they are not going to be packing lunches and sending their kids out of the house off to school any time soon. Many parents nevertheless hope that the education system and individual schools have used the summer months to prepare for the implementation of improved methods of remote learning and that they have made them better, more effective, engaging, and ultimately rewarding.
Online Learning—A Growing Trend That Predates COVID-19
For many people who were accustomed to the traditional physical school setting—teachers, students, and parents alike—the transition away from the brick-and-mortar classroom felt almost revolutionary, for better and for worse. In fact, though, remote learning is part of a broader trend that began to gain traction well before the onset of COVID-19. Admittedly, remote learning had been used less in elementary and high school, but it has been increasingly employed for other types of learning.
For example, Massive Online Open Courses, otherwise known as MOOCs, have become vastly popular among adults seeking a post-high-school education. HolonIQ, which aspires to build what it describes as the “world’s smartest source of global education intelligence,” published a report this summer noting that MOOCs had attracted close to half a billion people globally within a one-month period. According to the study, that is 250% the number of people who had similarly logged into MOOCs in January—just a few months earlier but before the pandemic struck. E-learning has also become much more the norm in the private business sector. An increasing number of companies have shifted away from classroom training for new and existing staff and now train personnel with videos as well as interactive online methods.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Remote learning has several advantages, the most prominent being better accessibility. Since people no longer have to make their way to a physical building in a particular geographical location to attend a class, more people can log on and join in the experience. Many forms of remote learning also provide for greater flexibility than would be possible if attending a class with an in-person teacher. Watching educational videos online allows students to begin and end their studies when it is most convenient for them.
Remote learning has some clear disadvantages, though. People tend to drop out more, and the absence of the classroom dynamic often leads to loneliness. Furthermore, teachers do not have the same “feel” for their students as they do in a physical classroom, which results in many students not receiving the attention they need.
The Best of Both Worlds
Naturally, the hope is that elementary and high schools this autumn will be able to learn from online learning professionals around the world who have found ways of combining the advantages of what remote learning has to offer while integrating positive “classroom environment” features that are so sorely lacking in many of the online options.
Annoto, an Israel-based company, has found an innovative way of doing just that. Designed for use with educational prerecorded video content, webpages, e-books, and even live-streamed material, Annoto provides students with a platform that fits as a superimposed layer on top of the video material. The platform then becomes a venue for student interaction with one another and with the teacher, creating a stimulating and dynamic “classroom” discussion even though everyone is physically isolated from one another. It brings all the advantages of a physical learning environment to the online virtual learning environment, covering a wide range of use cases from peer review to a fully collaborative environment.
As an example of one of the platform’s remarkable features, participants can post a question or a remark on something that either is said or occurs at a specific moment of the video’s timeline. As opposed to conventional ways that students ask questions online, the entire class here can see and learn from the question and the answer, precisely as in a physical classroom.
Annoto quickly and seamlessly integrates into the learning management environment without changing the given workflow. The increased interactive engagement contributes not only to a better understanding by students and teachers but also mitigates two of the biggest underlying problems that have continued to plague remote learning—the students’ sense of loneliness and their passivity as consumers of content. These are two critical issues that have been shown to increase dropout rates.
Lastly, as opposed to other online settings in which teachers only can tell how well their students have assimilated the material through exams, the fact that students can post specific questions, comments, and insights which are pinned to specific moments during the lesson itself lets teachers gauge how well the students understand the material and provides them vital feedback in real time.
Gil Smolinski, an investor and advisor to Annoto, commented: “The company really provides a revolutionary ed-tech solution in a field that has not had much progress in the last few decades. Ed-tech is a field where much improvement is still needed for it to be where it should be in the 21st century. Annoto’s success really means success for students and teachers.”
Making the Best of Things
Annoto and other education technology companies have already done much creative thinking needed to maximize the benefits and minimize the negatives from remote learning. Hopefully, organizations will begin to embrace those platforms to make the new schoolyear a rewarding one for all students despite the challenges of our times.