The Expanding Role of Technology in Education

Brandi Yates, Sr. Director, Workforce Solutions, Ultimate Medical Academy

Brandi Yates, Sr. Director, Workforce Solutions, Ultimate Medical Academy

Brandi Yates is Sr. Director of Workforce Solutions at Ultimate Medical Academy. In this role, she focuses on new hire training, continuing education, and continuous advisor development to help ensure that advisors and graduates are equipped to succeed. Yates also oversees the UMA Graduate Engagement and Interview Prep teams.

Technology used in education provides rich, immersive, and highly effective student experiences. Those who specialize in digital learning know that simply transferring an existing classroom lesson online is not digital education. A successful digital learning program is purposefully designed for online instruction with clear goals and outcomes and the student experience at the center. Educators offering online learning need to design with digital in mind, rather than designing a course and then determining the delivery platform afterward. 

Digital learning: From records to billing to empathy

Digital education is attractive because of its flexibility -- it can typically be accessed from anywhere, at any time, enabling education to fit into people’s busy lives: working, caretaking, or managing personal health. As those in online education are aware, quality digital courses consist of multiple online elements that consider the learner’s course experience and are intentional about learning goals and outcomes. Traditional classroom experiences may also be enhanced by digital methods like smartboards, e-textbooks, and gamification. Increasingly, brick-and-mortar schools as well as workplace development courses incorporate technology to supplement the classroom environment and create a blended learning model that complements student education.

Digital is ideal for teaching hard skills such as computer programming, using proprietary software, and sorting data for the purposes of analysis and retrieval. Within healthcare, for example, students need practical experience interacting with electronic health records and entering codes for medical billing. The use of trial and error in mock simulations and receiving instant feedback makes this an effective learning method.

Digital tools and platforms also effectively teach soft skills, or “essential skills,” as we like to call them at Ultimate Medical Academy (UMA). Teaching patient and customer interaction doesn’t always require an in-person approach. Adaptive learning technology can be used to create compelling scenarios and simulations, where student choices along an experiential journey deliver guidance and feedback reinforcing emotionally intelligent and empathetic behaviors. Artificial intelligence (AI) may provide capabilities that study human behavior during a class and proactively suggest messages in simulation settings. Also, badging provides for positive reinforcement. Students may be awarded badges for actively demonstrating skills within the online classroom, such as successful peer interactions or effectively de-escalating a heated discussion.

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are showing up in digital education environments for learning both hard and soft skills – from VR in biology labs to AI for analyzing a student’s past and current in-class performance to predict future success. High risk tasks are also being taught with simulations, such as training medical students to perform surgery or the military’s use of flight simulation technology to train pilots.UMA is exploring VR modules for future learning with students and for our employer partners. In September 2020, UMA hosted its annual Spark Summit with healthcare employers and used VR to reinforce emotional intelligence and empathy skills. During this program, participants helped to solve a customer issue in a simulated pharmacy setting and engaged with a benefits call center.

Digital learning depends on both humans and technology

As digital education evolves, don’t assume that anything seen online is inherently good. Many struggles faced by students and educators throughout the pandemic are a result of classroom lessons being forced onto online platforms. For online learning to be effective, curriculum developers and educators need to purposefully plan the learner’s course experience and be intentional about goals and outcomes.

Specializing in online education for a decade, we have learned that digital tools, course design and the role of human facilitators and teachers, are essential components for effective digital education. Quality instructors play a pivotal role in student success. As it is with in-classroom learning, instructors need to facilitate online conversations and be comfortable in the learning environment. Digital learning is not a replacement for learning from people. At UMA, instructors teach the courses, grade assignments, speak with students on the phone, and serve as facilitators to help elevate student conversations and steer away from groupthink. Online learning also requires a high level of self-discipline from students. They need to take initiative to complete necessary course materials and activities and actively engage online to benefit from the experience.

The future: working and learning without boundaries

Online education is becoming more natural as our culture shifts ever more to a “digital first” mindset. Traditional interactions increasingly occur online – banking, grocery shopping, car buying. People are seeing that education can be effective and more accessible online as well. Learning without boundaries creates opportunities to learn from leading institutions and instructors without having to be physically present. Seamless integration of technology with existing software and hardware can further streamline the online experience and promote ease of use.

As adoption of digital communication and online applications continues to grow, we are already seeing a change from a “work from home” to a “work from anywhere” mindset. When education is also accessible from anywhere anytime, a broader range of learners have a chance to grow, fulfill their potential and find promising career paths, lifting our communities and society in the process.

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