Virtual school, or e-learning, is a growing global trend. Despite humble beginnings in higher education, online classes have become a popular offering for K-12 students as well. As students and teachers take on a home-based education, the need for a self-service portal for support has emerged.
In the U.S. alone, over 2.7 million students took part in full-time online education programs in 2019, and the number is only growing. Globally, millions of students who currently reside in locations which would have traditionally faced challenges offering an in-person classroom setting, are now able to reap the rewards of a quality education at home.
There are several benefits to e-learning for both students and teachers. For students, online courses offer flexibility and adaptability to self-pace, which can help those who may need more time to learn a particular subject. For teachers, online courses offer a better work-life balance and enhance the opportunity for more one-on-one time with each student.
However, with these benefits come opportunities to create new solutions, such as self-service portals, which can help with widespread issues. When the kitchen table becomes the classroom, it is important to be sure that all of the proper tools are in place for success.
What are Some of the Challenges of Distance Learning?
The barriers to distance learning as a teacher or faculty member
As with any remote workplace, communication is a major obstacle that teachers and other faculty members in a virtual school setting face. Sharing information with students and parents, as well as the ability to connect with, and share, knowledge among fellow teachers or faculty members can pose new issues.
Another unique dilemma teachers face is the expectation to rapidly learn and implement new software necessary to facilitate online classes. For example, teachers may be expected to quickly learn the ins and outs of tools like Zoom Conference or Canvas with little (or no) time to undergo proper training. This, combined with the increase in technical support needed in an online learning environment, can lead to a surge in tickets to the IT help desk along with major frustration for all parties.
The barriers to distance learning as a student or parent
Just as teachers experience difficulty with communication, so do students and parents. Difficulty communicating can lead to missed assignments. Communication breakdown can also lead to frustration when the student has questions which the instructor is unable to address directly. Missed emails or messages may cause a student to feel that their questions are not being heard, resulting in the student falling behind or being unable to keep up the pace of the course online – even when they may have excelled in a traditional classroom setting with the ability to simply raise their hand and ask the question.
Students and parents may also face limited understanding of complicated technology needed for e-learning. For example, if the student has an older piece of hardware, such as a dated desktop computer, it may become increasingly difficult to download and run the necessary applications, which can lead to difficulty fully understanding the functions of those apps. Like teachers, students and parents may also have limited time or resources to complete training on the necessary programs.
Despite these challenges, all parties in an e-learning environment may still be able to excel when given the proper tools and resources.
What is Self-Service and How can it Help Distance Learning?
With the understanding of the unique circumstances facing teachers, students, and parents, self-service technology is a clear solution.
How can a self-service portal support e-learning? A self-service portal typically offers a variety of self-help capabilities and technologies to users in any location. It’s one of many ways to provide self-service, self-help, and ideally self-care capabilities to those who need assistance, without requiring input from support personnel.
A self-service portal typically includes the ability to self-log incident requests, chats and chatbots, automated service delivery, broadcasting and notifications, and ticket status checking. These capabilities don’t need to be limited to IT support. In fact, several departments including human resources (HR), facilities, legal services, and even education can benefit.
In distance learning, self-service can give all parties, from students to teachers and everyone in between, access to knowledge and assistance without the hassle of waiting on hold for help or waiting for someone to respond to an email. It can also eliminate the need to read through lengthy Wiki’s and PDF guides. Self-service also provides students support even when teachers are not available, and provides support for teacher when fellow faculty or support staff are not available.
Additionally, self-service makes knowledge sharing easier for all parties. All of this can amount to less time wasted waiting for responses and fewer calls into the school’s IT help desk for technical issues.
How to Implement Self-Service Quickly to Support Virtual Schools
To start with implementing a self-service portal, it is important to build a new or improve your existing knowledge base. Having a knowledge base of information that is not only correct, but specific, will help eliminate confusion and reduce the amount of time spent understanding the information. Little should be left up for interpretation. You can also use this opportunity to consolidate any information that may be the same for both students and teachers in the existing knowledge base.
Once you have built or updated the knowledge base, it is important to utilize a self-service portal that is user friendly. Implementing a self-service portal should not require extensive training (for which time is already an issue) and should not detract from the overall goal of helping teachers interact with, and educate, the students. A user-friendly portal will also help ensure that both teachers and students feel comfortable using it to access necessary information and will keep them using it in the future.
Self-service portals can be made easier with the use of chatbots as well. Chatbots can make for a more user-friendly experience, specifically when it comes to accessing non-classroom related items. For example, a chatbot can help guide parents to information about admissions, school updates, or additional resources. Chatbots can also be integrated into your existing tools!
Perhaps now, more than ever, sharing knowledge is vital and when shared through virtual school opportunities it can keep kids on track and learning.
With the quickly evolving distance learning environment combined with the implementation of self-service, it is important to stay patient with teachers, faculty, staff, students, and parents. Although there may be an increase in calls to the IT help desk and an increase in questions from students and parents, with a little patience and time the eLearning environment will begin to run more smoothly.