AWS Public Sector Blog

The power of positive disruption: four ways cloud-based learning is transforming the global classroom

In 2020, Canvas, the first Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud-based learning management system (LMS), gained thousands of new customer institutions and saw a three-fold increase in concurrent users, from 2.2 million to more than 6 million. This surge in cloud-based online learning was “positive disruption,” said Melissa Loble, chief customer experience officer at Instructure, the maker of Canvas. She believes online learning has transformed the classroom on a global scale—in many ways for the better.

To highlight these positive changes, Loble sat down with Vivian Faustino, faculty and program lead at the City College of San Francisco, and volunteer with Jesuit Worldwide Learning (JWL). In their chat, Faustino shared four ways that Canvas and other cloud-based learning platforms have disrupted the educational landscape, both for traditional colleges and universities and global programs like JWL.

1. Making learning more accessible

Access to education is a central motivator for Faustino, who volunteers with JWL to offer “higher education at the margins.” JWL is a global learning program tailored to refugees and displaced populations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar, the Congo, and other regions around the globe. JWL relies on Canvas to provide asynchronous learning in remote regions; without the platform, many of these students would not have access to higher education.

Faustino admits that the pandemic highlighted just how much work there is to be done around access and online learning. “It really showed us the difference between the haves and the have-nots,” she tells Loble. Faustino’s assertion is supported by a recent study by McKinsey on COVID-19 and learning gaps, which indicates that students of color are falling farther behind than their white peers, often because they lack access to reliable devices and the internet. Platforms like Canvas are a great first step toward improving access, Faustino explains. But to fully realize the “democratization of education,” we need to ensure students have the tools and devices they need to take advantage of these powerful platforms.

2. Empowering cross-cultural relationships

Faustino has seen, first-hand, how online learning has globalized our classrooms. She teaches students across the world with JWL, and her students at City College also benefit from cross-cultural knowledge thanks to Canvas.

For example, in one of her business courses, Faustino’s students are working with a multi-national corporation based outside the U.S. Her students collaborate with learners and employees from across the globe, all via the Canvas platform. In this course, students learn essential business skills and build relationships with people from other nations and cultural backgrounds. With cloud-based learning, any student can get a multicultural education–not just students with the time and money to study abroad.

3. Expanding educational partnerships

According to Faustino, one of the biggest challenges for community colleges today is competition with external certificate programs, like business incubators and work-based training programs run by Google and Amazon. Many outside certificate programs include internships, hands-on learning, and on-the-job training, making them more appealing to recruiters than a traditional community college degree.

However, cloud-based online learning offers opportunities for community colleges and business leaders to work together. For example, at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Faustino works closely with Amazon’s Pathways program, which trains students from diverse backgrounds for leadership roles in technology. Faustino relies on Canvas to streamline collaboration between the college and business leaders so that students can access these robust programs in conjunction with more traditional college courses.

4. Enabling self-directed, “life-wide learning”

Finally, cloud-based learning is transforming the education landscape by promoting self-directed, “life-wide learning.” Similar to life-long learning, which encourages students to see learning as an ongoing process, “life-wide learning” is an approach to education that centers personal development—essentially teaching students how to learn, whether they are in a classroom or not. This approach to education doesn’t just build “skills and competencies,” says Faustino, “but also capacities and mindsets.”

According to one study, 80% of the learning we do in the workplace is self-directed and informal. In these situations, individuals are responsible for their own learning. Asynchronous online education on platforms like Canvas encourage students to self-motivate and take charge of their own success. This skillset will serve them well in the workforce and beyond.

A new era in higher education

Faustino and Loble agree that change in higher education isn’t coming—it’s already here. As Faustino says, “Technology plays a huge part. It’s a major driver of everything that we do today in higher education.”

Faustino’s vision of higher education is accessible, reliable, and global. And with platforms like Canvas leading the charge toward even more “positive disruptions” in the years to come, it’s clear that we are entering a new era for higher education across the globe.

As an AWS Advanced Tier Education Competency Partner, Instructure helps educational institutions scale to support students worldwide. For more information, go to Instructure’s partner page. You can read more stories on the changing world of education on the AWS Public Sector Blog.

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