Theis Mørk, Vice President, Global Product Management at EPOS

Delivering quality audio in the shift towards hybrid learning

Theis Mørk, Vice President, Global Product Management at EPOS looks at how audio technology has become vital to the education sector and remote learning.

A recent report conducted by EPOS: Reimagining education with high-quality audio, highlights the need for educators and institutions to recognise the role audio plays in the remote learning experience and why utilising high-quality audio tools can help to alleviate learning fatigue and optimise concentration and comprehension for teachers and students alike. Here Theis Mørk, Vice President, Global Product Management at EPOS explains more about the key findings and what is needed.

Can you tell us some of the key findings and takeaways from the report?
In the last year, billions of students suddenly found themselves learning in a remote setting dependent on technology solutions. For millions of students and educators, the sudden transition to online learning has been far from ideal. What’s also become clear is that good quality audio is indispensable for the learning experience.

Just as in the world of work, bad audio experiences are impacting the education sector. This includes interruptive sounds, poor audio quality and interference. All of which can drastically affect students’ ability to learn. Effective learning depends on student engagement, regardless of where learning takes place. While video and content sharing are foundational parts of the education experience, audio quality is often overlooked. Good audio technology plays a crucial role in keeping students focused and engaged, while poor audio can in turn have negative consequences – including exacerbating learning fatigue.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the education sector?
At the apex of the pandemic, 1.6 billion students around the world were taught outside of the classroom – the shift represented an unforeseen pairing for many parents who suddenly found themselves balancing remote working with managing home-schooling.

Providing an education for young people during the pandemic has been a massive undertaking for teachers and education institutions – particularly from a technology perspective. While prior to the onset of the pandemic the sector had been making progress in its digitalisation journey, the pandemic has acted as an accelerator – as we’ve seen in other industries.

However, as educators continue to invest in tech solutions online learning is becoming enhanced and some long-term benefits are emerging. Online education and collaboration can help prepare students for the kind of organisational acumen, emotional intelligence, and self-discipline required for modern professions.

How important is good audio to remote learning?
Audio is often overlooked when it comes to collaboration tools. When people think of platforms like Teams and Zoom, they think of video quality and cameras first but it’s important to remember that underpinning all of these is audio. Students in a remote learning environment can still engage and understand what’s being discussed if they can hear – even if there are video issues. Students can’t be expected to focus on learning while operating remotely without clear audio. Similarly, teachers and educators require quality audio solutions to allow them to hear and engage with multiple students at once. Without good audio, both teachers and students risk missing out on crucial information and the effectiveness of the learning experience suffers.

What is the impact of bad audio on the remote learning experience?
Bad audio causes a myriad of problems, from a technical perspective it can interfere with the experience through miscommunication or cause students and teachers to miss vital information. Meaning that time is wasted as teachers have to revisit topics for clarification – ultimately disrupting the flow of the virtual lesson.

Aside from technical issues, bad audio experiences can have an impact on emotional wellbeing. EPOS found that 35% of end-users often feel a sense of frustration, irritation, and annoyance due to bad audio, while 25% experience moments of stress and 15% feel embarrassment or a lack of confidence.

What are the current issues or needs in regard to tech and education?
As in professional settings, there is a clear need for solutions with clear voice pick up, background noise mitigation and solutions that are high quality and simple to use.

Overreliance on consumer-grade products has also had an impact. Consumer-grade solutions often deliver sub-par audio experiences and are inappropriate for use over an extended period of time, like a full day of learning. With students using their devices for longer than ever before, they require audio solutions that are ergonomic, comfortable, and portable enough to wear for hours at a time.

Students and teachers are grappling with multiple devices and technologies, whether its smartphones, tablets, laptops, or tricky headsets. So there’s also a clear need for simple and easy to use equipment that can pair with multiple devices. This way, virtual learning environments can edge closer to the physical in-class experience.

How can the channel help the education sector more? What is needed?
The channel sector has an important role to play with helping to plug an emerging awareness gap. When it comes to the technology solutions currently available on the market many educators over the past year have struggled to identify which solutions are best suited for their student and teacher needs. The channel sector can help address this gap by demonstrating which products work best for different learning environments, styles, and demographics. Increasingly, the channel will have a greater role to play with IT departments in the education sector.

Is the hybrid-learning model here to stay?
The benefits of hybrid learning are abundantly clear; students and teachers have greater control over their schedules, time spent travelling has been reduced, and learning materials can be updated digitally as and when needed. While the move to distanced learning was initially disruptive, many teachers and students are welcoming a more hybrid approach in the post-pandemic future.

Research from Chegg found that in the US alone, 61% of students feel that when properly organised and designed, online courses are just as legitimate as face-to-face ones. Furthermore, two-thirds of students said they would welcome more online education post-pandemic. It’s clear that the future of education will be hybrid.

How have educational institutions prepared themselves so far for this shift, what do they need to do next?
At the onset of the pandemic, educators were struggling to secure the equipment and infrastructure needed to support the shift to remote learning. Some mistakes were made as a result, in terms of suitable devices and solutions. But the pandemic has also presented a learning curve for education institutions; today many are looking for the right solutions that meet the needs of their students and teachers. Education institutions today need to take a no-compromise approach and invest in the right solutions that make optimise hybrid learning.

What new technologies can we expect to start seeing in the hybrid learning space?
Newer solutions designed for hybrid environments have already been developed, for instance, our ADAPT 100 series, which comes in 22 different variants. This means, whatever your need, there is a solution that can help.

We will also see greater integration with tools like Microsoft teams to ensure a coherent and seamless experience for students and educators alike.

Similarly, emerging technologies like AI are becoming prevalent in audio. These solutions are being developed to ‘learn’ how to separate human voices from other extraneous sounds – a valuable feature outside the classroom. The hybrid-learning trend is set to persist into the long-term and likely will only continue to improve as further innovations and technologies become available en masse.

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