Distance learning has gone from a recruiting tool for some of the most tech-savvy colleges and universities to a necessary piece of every educational institution from kindergarten all the way through that final walk to grab a diploma at your college campus.
And, what’s amazing is that the transition happened almost instantly as soon as the pandemic began sweeping across the U.S. and around the world in March 2020. Integrators responded quickly last spring and have continued to perfect their methods as they’ve gotten more experience installing the systems.
In a recent Almo E4 Evolution virtual roundtable on distance learning, NSCA’s Tom LeBlanc notes “distance learning used to be a cool offering, but over the last year it’s become a mission-critical necessity for colleges and universities.
“It’s been elevated in a really big way in terms of importance to customers and as an opportunity for AV integrators. At the same time, the limitations of distance learning become exposed and the challenges for integrators have become amplified.”
“There were a lot of trade schools and higher education institutions that were doing distance learning before the pandemic, but we still have a lot of K-12 schools just doing the basics in terms of their setups,” said Samsung’s Thomas Gadbois.
“It’s all about problem-solving. We think hybrid and asynchronous learning will continue. It’s about getting rid of the problems that exist and that comes through buy-in by administrators. Not every classroom can rebuild. Synchronization of video and audio is something every integrator can work on. It’s about solving all those problems with a complete solution,” he said.
More About Distance Learning’s Future
Many integrators were “blindsided” by how quickly distance learning took effect after the pandemic “and how big of an issue this would become” said Trox’s Terra Norine. She and her staff talked to superintendents and school officials about what they needed and wanted.
Most of the requests included document cameras and other “basics,” but many of those gadgets were in short supply because of the high post-pandemic demand.
“We wanted to make sure we were supporting these districts,” said Norine. “This was a huge burden they had to bear.” The pandemic, she said, “shed a lot of light on the issue of inequity.”
“We were in panic mode last year and now it’s about thinking about outcomes and training. It’s about helping to create the solution,” she said.
Many educators have had to plan in-person plan and at-home lessons for students for the last year-plus, said Almo’s Rob Voorhees. They are finding some financial relief through the CARES Act and COVID-19 federal legislation, with several billion dollars earmarked specifically for education.
Many educators are thinking more about improved audio and proper mics among other considerations.
“It’s about being able to adapt to trends,” said Voorhees.
Virtual reality and augmented reality solutions for classrooms “are being worked on right now,” said Gadbois, but there’s “nothing really tangible coming this year.”
“Just throwing VR at something doesn’t fit the immediate needs we have today or fit into many budgets,” he said.
Norine sees VR as “a bigger push now than it was a year ago” and expects the momentum to continue. It’s all part of adapting to the market, she said.
“Pre-pandemic, it was a lot of creating strategies and bundles to deploy,” she said. “Post-pandemic, we want to make sure we’re creating case studies for a lot of the solutions we provide and also making sure we’re staying front and center with our vendors, partners and the market.
“We’re on top of anything new that comes into the market,” said Norine.
Trox spends “a lot of time” on professional development “to allow teachers to maximize the investment they made,” said Norine.
“It’s the responsibility of the integrator to be able to provide solutions and training the people who are going to be using them, how to implement it and how to get the most from it,” she said.