The Power of Distance Learning: Cutting Down Physical Barriers at Hdemy Group
Throughout my career, my one overarching goal has always remained the same: I want to help improve people's lives. One of my major focuses to that end is in training—something that can be valuable to people in every sector.
When I started roughly 15 years ago, education was mainly carried out in the classroom. Over time, I began to realize that people could actually achieve higher levels of training not only in schools, but in their own homes and offices as well.
Thankfully, that turned out to be a vision shared by the people at Hdemy Group as well.
Hdemy Group is a team born out of the solid union of professionals from a wide range of different sectors. Based in Italy, all of these people are focused on the exact same thing: to bring world-class training to those in fields like architecture, visual design, and fashion. When we combine that with effective academic counselling, we believe our students are better positioned for the real world. It’s truly a holistic approach to education.
But at the center of this education needs to lay a solid foundation for communication. Without that, learning simply won’t happen. When education happens only in the classroom, communication is easier. But what happens when it’s difficult to get to class?
Digital Solutions to Physical Problems
Not too long ago, we began to take a closer look at some of the challenges that our students at the Nuova Accademia del Design (New Academy of Design) were facing. The school itself was in excellent shape, but due to our remote location and traffic, it made the process of physically getting to school a chore for most people.
Unfortunately, we can’t change the physical infrastructure of Italian roads—that’s a bit beyond the scope of our powers. However, through technology, we can limit our students’ need to come into the classroom in the first place.
Initially, we started to look for a solution that would let students learn remotely. We wanted IT to bridge the gap between the student and the teacher. But without the right communication technology, student learning would be impacted. That went against everything we stood for at Hdemy Group.
If we were going to do this, we needed to do it properly. We wanted more than just an online portal. We were interested in exploring opportunities that integrated technology in a way that would create better, more immersive, and interactive lessons that students could access from home.
In the beginning, I looked at a number of different options, including TeamViewer, GoToMeeting, Anymeeting, and Zoom. I have nothing against these options—they do what they do very well. It's just that they didn't do what we needed them to do.
They weren't as immersive as we required, or they were too dependent on hardware resources that we didn't have (and the solutions didn’t natively offer). Then, I discovered Cisco and their Webex solution. Instantly, I knew we were on the right path.
Bringing Students and Teachers Together
One of the major factors that made me so enthusiastic about Cisco was that they combined hardware and software into a single solution. Instead of passively observing a lesson, students would be an active participant in it. This is something the other platforms could not provide.
Initially, we started off slow—first embracing the software side of the platform using Webex Teams (at the time called Cisco Spark). Webex Teams allowed for both video calling and desktop sharing. From my point of view, this let us do more than just deliver theoretical knowledge. We were finally able to deliver something tangible: practical training, right into a student's home.
With desktop sharing, all you need is an internet connection and you have the resources necessary to learn. Other solutions were able to do this, but none of them were able to do it quite like Webex.
With Webex Teams, you can go beyond just sharing files and slides. With the right approach, it feels like the teacher and student are in the same room. If anything, it enables students to do more in their own personal, intimate environment than they could if they were in a class with a dozen other people. They're more in control over how they choose to learn in a way that other platforms—and even traditional instruction methods—cannot replicate.
Soon after we deployed Webex Teams, the response was overwhelming. Students loved that they were able to learn from anywhere.
The Need for Better Hardware
While the initial results were incredibly promising, we knew we could do better. To empower our teachers and students, improved hardware needed to make its way into the classroom.
First, we needed better audio and video quality—a place where Cisco’s hardware could help. This would allow us to create a more realistic experience for students. But, on top of that, what if we could also give teachers more creative freedom in how they deliver their lessons?
This is where Webex Boards came into play.
Through the use of smart boards, teachers were able to better demonstrate applications like Adobe Photoshop and AutoCAD. Our instructors could teach real-world tools to students without being hindered by the constraints of a laptop. And since Webex Boards integrate seamlessly with Webex Teams, teachers are able to teach lessons in a way that combines visual, auditory, and interactive teaching to address every learning style.
A Brave New World
Today, our students love the new level of education they're able to get from Webex Boards and Webex Teams. Before, collaboration used to mean getting in the car and driving to and from a library or campus to work on a project. For some, that could mean an extra hour back for every learning session.
One student that we're exceptionally proud of even recently won a design contest. The best part of all is that the hard work he did was completed entirely at home. He didn't set foot inside Nuova Accademia del Design at any point, because he didn’t need to.
But the benefits of our new style aren’t only felt by students. The teachers also love our new approach. If the teachers need to travel for a conference or guest lecture, the learning doesn't have to stop. Cisco’s Webex technology means our instructors can teach from anywhere in the world.
All told, our new approach to distance learning has been an overwhelming success. Today, we can offer learning to students anywhere in a way that’s equal to what they’d get in the classroom.
Commuting around today has become not only problematic, but also expensive. But at the same time, both young people and old need to be able to invest in continuing learning to reach levels that cannot be otherwise achieved without training. That’s where technology can make a massive impact.
Thanks to our collaboration with Cisco, bringing kilometer-zero training into everyone's home, regardless of where they live or their economic status, is a dream come true. Today, all roads lead to education.