IIHS successfully overcomes the teaching hurdle with a realistic Digital Learning System during the global pandemic

Sri Lanka’s pioneer healthcare education provider, International Institute of Health Science (IIHS) has proven to be a role model for Sri Lanka’s education industry by successfully facing the challenges of COVID-19 with an effective Distance Learning System. Being a responsible educational institute in Health Science, IIHS has implemented a remarkable Learner Management System (LMS) in order to overcome the obstacle of reaching out to students during the pandemic. Dr Kithsiri Edirisinghe (MBBS, MSc, MD (Medical Administration), who is the Founder/ CEO/ Director Academics, Strategy and International Affairs – at IIHS briefly speaks on that.

Q1. How did the COVID-19, a global pandemic affect the education sector?

As we all know, COVID-19 locked us within our houses and it restricted our lives due to the inability to move out for day-to-day activities. Such social isolation affects people in many ways, mainly the students who were preparing for their higher educational hurdles. Being a leading health educator, IIHS also faced a major challenge in continuing lectures and examinations, since we had an immeasurable responsibility to complete our academic year on a high note. So we decided to expand our existing
Learner Management System (LMS) to defeat this unexpected challenge.

Q2. How did IIHS manage to reach students without a barrier during COVID-19?

I feel it was one of the positive outcomes of COVID 19. This pandemic made people realize that they could utilize the technology at their fingertips with ease to achieve their tasks. Especially the education sector of Sri Lanka took off in a major way by migrating to Digital Learning or Distance Learning from Traditional Learning during this lockdown period. As staff and students of IIHS were already using the LMS prior to the pandemic we felt that we could incorporate our previous guidelines for the delivery of
education during the pandemic.

If we speak about what an LMS is, its a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, automation and delivery of educational courses, training programs, or learning and development programs. This system ensures that students can step out from their traditional learning habits of being in a teacher-centric environment. Through this system, educators who are involved will transform the control to the student and make the learning environment a student-centric one.

As a premier leading healthcare education Institute in the country, we always maintain our standards by using the best and top technology for education, and therefore deploying a Distance Learning or a Learner Management System (LMS) was not a fresh effort. Years back, we initiated innovative solutions to engage with the students and we created a versatile Learner Management System (LMS). It’s a very basic technological method of studying-in, where lecturers broadcast lessons via a digital platform and
students have easy access without having to attend lectures physically.

IIHS believes that delivering skilled professionals with multiple knowledge segments is essential for this era and I am proud to say that we always utilize compact learning methods inspired by international learning practices. With that mindset, as an educator, we use a professional LMS platform which has been awarded at the Commonwealth Digital Health Awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018 continuously for its proven and qualified learning features. This system ensures the accessibility to education for students and provides access to all the required learner materials.

Prior to the breakout of the pandemic, IIHS provided access to study content for all nurses completing the Bachelor’s program in Nursing. Back in 2017, as an initiative to improve accessible, affordable education IIHS provided tabs to the nurses enabling access to the LMS from home or their workplace which led to an increase in the levels of satisfaction and improved IT literacy skills among the nursing students whilst giving them the option of not having to travel long distances for education. Currently
approximately 1500 state sector nurses utilize tablet devices to access the LMS, thereby adhering to the contemporary modes of learning whilst staying up to date with the latest evidence in health care.

In addition to the mentioned advances in online delivery, IIHS also created an independent LMS for the state sector nursing training schools to allow similar access to content for students and tutors. This initiative whilst reducing the workload of the tutors will also allow nursing students to access learning material from home during the pandemic.

Q3. How successful it is to defeat the pandemic through a Learner Management System (LMS)?

Using LMS for education can be considered as ‘a baton changeover’ to the student. This system allows the teacher or lecturer to be ‘a moderator’ and not ‘a controller’. LMS creates a student-centric environment for learners where students can expand their knowledge on their own accord. It grants a stress-free space for students to access study materials and prepare for the online class in the safety and comfort of their home. This platform has been set to international standards to ensure that students maintain autonomy while achieving the desired outcomes.

So at IIHS, we are very glad to say that we have been able to conduct all the scheduled academic lectures and other educational meetups online through this distance learning platform and that lifted us to another level of quality education. We are extremely proud to say that we have catered our best to the students who are keen on education.

Q3. What are the key features of this Digital Learning System which made students’ life easy ?

The LMS which we were using for the last few years was initiated by a team of IIHS nurses a few years back. So that system comprised of all the important features which were essential for distance learning, as it was our own development. I would say that system is not actually based on rocket science but furnished with user-friendly features.

This system fundamentally has all the options to deliver online lectures and the lecturers can record their scheduled lectures and easily upload them to the system. Then the student could access those data by following quick steps, within their own framework and the system has in-built features which help us to track attendance and the engagement of students. Also we have set up guidelines and criteria to accomplish the syllabus, so it automatically paves the path for student to work on time while enjoying
their day – to – day life. It doesn’t burden the student as he/she will always have the ownership of allocating time for learning. I would like to stress that this system only augments our current delivery methods to provide more support to tutors and students.

Furthermore, this distance learning system has more features to ensure students’ attention is drawn towards additional study materials and we have successfully conducted examinations via this system, and those experiences were fabulous.

Q4.Since Health education is more related to practical learning, How did IIHS overcomes the challenge of conducting practical sessions?

That was the biggest challenge we had. But luckily we managed to offer practical presentations for students, with the involvements of our experts. Not only that, on a weekly basis we host Clinical sessions which are moderated by a student and have proven to be very effective among our students. Furthermore, within two weeks of the nationwide lockdown, we organized webinars for students and have managed to complete six (06) webinars thus far with the participation of professionals in the field.
Another exciting fact is that our students were able to hold an online Avurudu festival called ‘E Avurudu’, which helped them to rejuvenate their friendship.

Q5. Do you think you have successfully overcome the situation?

Yes, of course. I would say that this was the most practical season for us to utilize our existing LMS since most of the day – to- day work were digitalized. We believe that we have achieved great progress using
a distance learning method and our students have had the maximum benefit. We should emphasize the fact that we are still able to manage approximately 2000 students via the system with the majority being Sri Lankan students. I am glad to say that we have a young and energetic 7 member technical team comprising of our past graduates who timelessly dedicated themselves for the betterment of this system and have managed to keep track of the progress. Nevertheless, we have identified some areas
that we should improve on so that technology would more convenient for students in the future.

Our technical team has maintained a good rapport with students and parents and thus based on their opinions, has been able to recognize some features which need to be incorporated. We will consider them in a timely manner and have plans to execute them at the earliest.

Q6. Can we see a future for LMS even after COVID 19 Pandemic ?

I think this should be the way of offering education for students who are willing to change. Implementing such technologies in a country like Sri Lanka is quite difficult, but is achievable with a mindset that is open to changes. I think COVID 19 taught us a valuable lesson which should be recalled when we plan to execute something fresh and big. Further, if we are planning to move with Global trends of education we must have sound IT literacy to face globalization. As an institute we will definitely continue this learning system parallel to traditional learning for the betterment of our students.