In a little more than a decade, distance learning has made a rapid climb up the pedagogical ladder, from being a novel to an entrenched tool.
In the K-12 arena alone, "the number of high school students who have access to online learning has tripled" over the past three years, while "twice as many middle school students are now learning online," according to one recent survey. The upward trend holds true in the university and corporate environments as well. With its unparalleled ability to erase geographic boundaries, distance learning has proven to be a productive, cost-effective way not only of imparting information but also encouraging collaboration, a critical skill in the workforce today.
Distance learning will soon be indispensable at just about every facet of education. A Hacienda company is playing a leading role in advancing the progression. Last summer, Elluminate, which specializes in live, online communication, collaboration, and education, was acquired by Blackboard, a global leader in enterprise technology and innovative learning solutions. Founded in 1997 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., Blackboard simultaneously purchased Wimba, another provider of synchronous learning and collaboration technology to the education markets, merging the two companies into a new stand-alone division, Blackboard Collaborate.
"We brought together two industry leaders in the education space and are now integrating their platforms," says Bebe Nayyar, Director, Inside Sales, at Blackboard Collaborate Inc., which occupies offices at 4305 Hacienda Drive. A new multipurpose, multimodal platform, combining the features and advantages of the two organizations, will be announced soon, but the focus has not changed.
"Our goal is to improve every aspect of education by offering software and other services that connect more and more students, facilitating collaboration and keeping them engaged," Nayyar continues.
Synergies of the acquisitions evident in the new Blackboard Collaborate 11 range from Elluminate's web conferencing technology to Wimba's enterprise instant messaging and voice authoring capabilities. The latter feature is especially productive in language classes - enabling teachers to record pronunciation exercises and students to take oral tests, for example. The platform it is also useful for one-on-one tutoring, virtual office hours, group collaboration, and meetings.
For universities, the benefits are "increased enrollment, decreased cost, and improved student retention," Nayyar explains. A course at Berkeley could have 50 students in a brick-and-mortar environment and half a dozen in remote locations. Thanks to Blackboard Collaborate, online and face-to-face contact are blended into a single session, where participants can chat, collaborate, go into breakout rooms, create white boards, take polls and quizzes, and so on - the epitome of highly interactive, real-time learning.
While Blackboard does not sell hardware, its Java-based architecture makes the tool set interoperable with devices like servers, webcams, and noise-canceling headsets. "Our platform can be used on its own or integrated with learning management systems," Nayyar points out. "All you need is a low-bandwidth Internet connection." To learn more, visit www.blackboardcollaborate.com .
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