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Last updated: 28.07.12

Virtual learning environments 'allow teachers to help students'

While e-learning technologies will never completely replace humans in school education, they should make the work of educators easier. This is according to Matthew Horn, co-founder of non-profit think tank Innosight Institution and executive director of its educational practice, who argued the job of teaching expects a "super-human" performance from educators. Innovations can therefore "automate or improve on certain tasks", he remarked, stating this enables teachers to increase their focus on other activities. These include mentoring, deeper analysis of topics, answering complicated questions and encouraging conversation, the specialist stated. "No serious advocate for the ability of technology to transform our education system suggests that technology will replace humans," he continued. While virtual learning environments and similar innovations are not a "silver bullet" for problems in academia, expecting every classroom to be able to meet the distinct educational needs of all of their pupils is a "pipe-dream", especially when considering how challenging the job is nowadays, the expert declared. Mr Horn said using digital learning as part of a thoughtful transition in the education system will result in a sector in which educators have different roles to play than they currently do, although these professionals will be "no less vital". This will support every child in reaching their "highest hopes and most daring dreams" by bolstering their education, he stated. The education specialist pointed out there are numerous ways in which students and teachers can communicate with each other through an online learning environment, with these often "far more robust" than the contact pathways seen in lecture halls and traditional classrooms. He claimed that in all of his years researching e-learning, he has found that teachers who are using online training courses to teach their classes report that they actually get a better knowledge of their students' needs than they do in face-to-face classrooms. Furthermore, teachers argue they are better able to address the questions of their pupils effectively, the expert noted. The Innosight Institute aims to theorise how some of the "most vexing problems" in society can be answered through innovation. It was founded in May 2007 and has published books on both healthcare and education.

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