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Can online Web and learning content companies keep up?

Google Capital has invested $40 million in online Web and learning company Renaissance Learning, according to Venture Beat. Jack Lynch, Renaissance’s chief executive officer, says over 20 million students already use the cloud-based education system and Google’s investment “opens the door” for further growth opportunities. As student needs and teaching methods evolve, the company will have to answer a crucial question: How can it deliver content quickly to children worldwide?

Big money

While Lynch wouldn’t confirm specific revenue numbers, he noted that Renaissance was valued at over $1 billion. Part of that valuation comes from the company’s use of big-data analytics to bolster student success. Using desktops or tablets, teachers are able to access the online Web and learning firm’s cloud to input student data. If students are having difficulty with concepts such as fractions or algebra, the system automatically seeks out content that may be of use to them.

In addition, educators are able to perform group searches to determine whether certain grades or classes are falling behind national averages. Lynch describes the process as “strategic intervention,” which permits teachers to assist children on demand and based on particular learning needs.

Evolved learning

The advent of cost-effective cloud computing combined with widespread mobile device use has led to a shift in education techniques. Students are accustomed to online Web and learning content on demand, from pictures and music to videos and interactive applications. As a result, the U.S. government has created a set of guidelines for learning management system (LMS) technologies called the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM). Developed under the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative of 1999, SCORM focuses on creating “accessible, interoperable, durable, and reusable content and systems.”

According to the Renaissance Learning website, its Accelerated Math and STAR systems were recognized in 2009 by the U.S. Department of Education as valid and reliable tools built on performance-evidenced strategies for student learning. In other words, the cloud-based education company has been keeping pace with government expectations, and its data center now hosts information from over 3,800 U.S. schools. However, with increasing investment — European company Permira acquired the firm in 2011 — and a worldwide focus, can the company’s existing LMS keep pace?

End-user efficacy

A study conducted for the Trans-European Research and Education Networking Association (TERENA) illuminates a crucial point: the perception of end users in learning systems. Educators and students typically view their school networks and content providers as connected by a single, unbroken pipeline of Internet that delivers content on demand. In fact, the route is much more complex, beginning with Internet Service Provider (ISP) access to the World Wide Web at large and limited by both ISP and intranet capacity. What’s more, cross-connections are required across the Internet backbone at high-traffic peering points before content ever arrives at a local loop and makes to the “last mile” of school networks.

If databases are too far from school networks or traffic isn’t handled properly, application performance suffers, streaming media content isn’t a possibility, and teachers simply won’t use the service. Should local servers spend more time querying instead of delivering content, it’s all too easy for schools to cut out LMS access to reduce costs. As Renaissance Learning and similar cloud-based educators take their services worldwide, the gap between user expectation and actual network efficacy can quickly widen. Ultimately, it’s not the job of educators and students to understand the difficulty of content delivery, but the work of providers to ensure user perception appears true.

Passing the test

According to the TERENA research, content delivery networks (CDNs) are the most effective way to ensure reliable delivery of curriculum materials with no perceptible slowdown. The association points to a combination of the “pull” and “push” models of caching and content delivery to create the ideal user experience. Caching grabs frequently requested content from edge server nodes and stores it closer to home, then reactively “pulls” it to users on demand, speeding up the request process. Meanwhile, intelligent content delivery proactively pre-populates content by “pushing” it from edge nodes before it is requested. This allows teachers easy access to frequently used materials and pre-loads materials they will need in the near future.

For Renaissance and similar online Web and learning companies to effectively serve the global market — even with Google’s backing — they need reliable CDNs. Beyond having server capacity and worldwide distribution, these networks must be easy to implement, scale up on demand, and provide real-time feedback to identify areas where software and content downloads aren’t performing as needed. Full technical support is also necessary, since educators cannot be called upon to dig into the Internet service’s mechanics; their time is better spent creating individualized learning plans for students and developing new ways to engage classrooms.

Renaissance has a sound learning model, one recognized by the Department of Education and now funded by Google. To realize their full global potential, cloud-based educators need to ensure the quality of their innovative content is matched by speed quality.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Mobile technology in education promises to shape our future

Student tablet

Modern technology is rapidly changing the world around us, especially the classrooms that shape the minds of the future. Technology in education is poised to take on a much bigger role than it has in years past. With the help of today’s high-speed content delivery networks (CDNs), teachers and students are moving past traditional electronic textbooks and into the realm of fully-integrated digital lessons.

Embracing mobile technology in the classroom

Classrooms across the world today look very different from those of even ten years ago. Mobile devices permeate virtually every aspect of a typical school day. Though not all of these devices are officially integrated within curriculum, they nevertheless represent a unique opportunity as potent platforms for education. According to the National Survey on Mobile Technology for K-12 Education sponsored by Amplify, tablet sales have grown almost 70 percent from 2012 to 2013. A full 23 percent of teens now own a tablet, while more than 33 percent own a smartphone.

Not only are the youth in our schools adopting mobile technology at an increased pace, but the schools themselves are quickly following suit. In the Amplify survey, nearly 60 percent of responding K-12 districts reported adopting mobile technology in education throughout at least 25 percent of their schools, with over 15 percent likely to make a move to mobile in the next one to two years. In addition to school-funded technology initiatives, more than 23 percent of respondents encourage a bring your own device (BYOD) culture to augment their digital classrooms.

Digital classrooms taking shape

Piggybacking on this proliferation of mobile technology among today’s youth — and the classrooms they occupy — companies like Amplify are paving the way to innovative digital classroom experiences. These new classrooms of the digital age will use tablets and smartphones as all-in-one teaching tools. From classroom activities to assigned homework, students and teachers alike will be able to utilize their mobile devices to leverage the limitless information and resources on the Web.

In Amplify’s solution, the tablet becomes a student’s “digital backpack,” providing all classroom resources in a compact Android device. Based on a custom Android build, this tablet provides an affordable, SaaS-based approach to the digital classroom. Teachers can manage all students in a centralized manner while also maintaining the ability to tailor classroom resources to an individual student’s needs on a one-to-one basis. This is accomplished with a central portal that allows the teacher to apportion class materials to individual students. Amplify isn’t alone in the arena, either; competing solutions from companies like SmartTech and ClassTeacher provide equally compelling products.

The keys to success

Though the advancements made in mobile technology and the proliferation of such devices have laid the foundation for a digital classroom revolution, there remains one other key ingredient: a reliable way to deliver these digital classroom resources in a quick, easily manageable fashion. Enter the modern CDN. Much like the impact these content delivery networks have had on our media consumption, this technology will pave the way for mobile device adoption in the K-12 classroom.

In a world where many children learn how to navigate a mobile device before they learn to read a book, capitalizing on the opportunity for interactive learning using such a familiar and appealing tool is a no-brainer. School districts are certainly privy to this trend and are quickly making the necessary changes to adopt digital classroom strategies. As mobile technology and the networks that serve their content continue to mature, instructors will have even greater opportunities to shape the minds of our future in meaningful ways.

Photo credit: Flickr

Advantages of online learning with CDN capabilities

There are many advantages to online learning such as allowing anyone from around the globe to attend the online courses.

University courses are no longer just for students preparing to start their careers. Today, many professionals are taking courses to further their education and advance their career; in many cases, this is happening through online courses. There are many advantages of online learning that have allowed institutions of higher education to flourish on the Internet by offering innovative programs geared toward a variety of types of students.

Online courses allow the virtual classroom to expand and teach students across the globe while keeping costs and overhead in check, since online institutions don’t require the same types of physical amenities that traditional universities use. Additionally, by using a content delivery network (CDN), online institutions can ensure that they are able to handle large amounts of traffic without breaking the bank.

Why is a CDN important?

One of the biggest advantages of online learning is that students from around the globe can participate in the same course, but because many online courses require streaming video, image galleries, and file distribution systems, ensuring that all students are able to access the course materials they need can be a challenge. This is why working with a reliable CDN vendor is important for any educational institution that offers online courses.

How does a CDN work?

A CDN is designed to complement your existing server infrastructure with affordable servers across the globe. This ensures that when a student logs into a course, the content they need is served from the data center nearest them. CDN providers allow customers to choose the regions in which they most need resources and to pay only for the access they require. For example, if a college’s enrollment is mostly comprised of American students, the CDN can be configured to enhance performance for users in the United States. Similarly, if a college is offering classes to students across the globe, the online resources can be steered to the regions where the most students reside.

This may sound complicated, but many content delivery network vendors have in-house experts who can set up a CDN to ensure that students are not delayed by lag or downtime.

Photo credit: Flickr

Online media usage drives modern education and schooling

A Collaborative Classroom

These days, education isn’t only limited to the classroom. Modern teachers are leveraging online media usage to provide students with an interactive and mobile platform to learn any number of subjects. Because of these new, innovative content delivery methods, educational websites need to provide a superior technical infrastructure to ensure the best possible learning environment for students.

Slow loading images and substandard video performance hamper the educational mission. Teachers and students will quickly get frustrated if an interactive teaching session gets bogged down due to a poor website. Smart educational institutions need to explore partnering with a content delivery network (CDN) to ensure the online classroom thrives.

Content delivery networks are a must for online education

Whatever the format online education takes, be it audio podcasts, interactive media, or video classrooms, top rank technical performance is a must. Learning becomes very difficult when the process is hampered by less than optimal rich media delivery. An industry leading content delivery network (CDN) is a vital partner for online schools and any educational entity with a Web-based presence.

The best content delivery networks offer features that optimize online video and audio for students. These features include access to the Internet’s most important peering points, ensuring fast delivery of content no matter the location. This is a must for online colleges that market their offerings to potential students all over the country.

Integration with all the major media formats makes sure compatibility issues won’t be a problem for students and teachers. Top rank security features keeps access to educational content under tight control. A 100 percent service level agreement ensures downtime stays at an absolute minimum.

In today’s changing educational landscape, online media usage plays a large role in how teaching gets done. Any educational institution looking to make a Web-based presence needs to explore a partnership with a content delivery network. The process of learning thrives online, provided the technology is there to support the experience.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

The growth of e-learning websites

E-learning websites have seen tremendous growth in recent years as more and more people look to gain knowledge in new, nontraditional ways. Providing courses and degrees to many people over the Internet rather than in a classroom has become an increasingly popular practice for both universities and private companies, but this approach carries unique challenges—many of which are structural in nature.

The unique challenges of online learning

While assuring that information provided via e-learning websites is high-quality and relevant is one challenge, the modality of the information used can also cause problems. Rather than yesterday’s static text files, many companies are finding that the use of video or multiple high-quality graphics is a more effective means of teaching and learning. The files needed to store this kind of information can be enormous in size and can bog down the performance of sites of all sizes. Contention for the same file by multiple users can cause massive degradation of delivery, and storing multiple copies of the same file to avoid this can drive storage costs through the roof.

Ensure a seamless learning experience with a CDN

Wide dissemination of files that are large in size is a problem faced by many companies. E-learning sites are just now realizing the need to adjust their technology to accommodate the increase in demand as their popularity grows. A simple solution is to optimize both performance and storage costs with a content delivery network (CDN) that is optimized for a site’s particular parameters. Through a CDN, one file can be accessed by multiple users without requiring the storage of multiple copies of the file. A website will be able to handle a geographically dispersed user base without incurring high latency and performance degradation from the connecting network. User satisfaction increases with good performance, and students will find content to be much more engaging if they do not experience unplanned halts and disruptions.

Optimization of network-delivered content is more than just a bells-and-whistles item that is added on to a site. It is a method that guarantees that the user will gain the knowledge they seek without unneeded distractions.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons