In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic saw education establishments and training providers close their doors to most students en masse. Sadly, this disrupted the prospects and lives of millions of learners and apprentices, while creating countless strategic, logistical and financial issues for education providers and their staff for the best part of a year.
Pretty much overnight, remote teaching, learning and digital platforms took over from bricks-and-mortar delivery. Whilst this initially created a plethora of challenges, 12 months on, many educators and training providers have successfully transitioned to a world of remote delivery and realised that it brings many benefits. Indeed, many have thrived - seeing it as a catalyst for innovation. Far from being the ‘stop gap’ to tide us over, remote teaching and learning has cemented its place in the education landscape.
Before lockdowns 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0, learning technology was already a huge growth area, estimated to be worth upwards of £12 billion globally and projected to reach £260 billion by 2025 (likely now higher as a result of the innovation that facilitated remote delivery during lockdown). Despite its growth and potential to enhance delivery, there is still a definite ‘marmite’ effect (particularly in the physical activity sector) whenever remote / digital delivery is mentioned - almost like it’s the poor relation to ‘proper’ teaching and learning.
I’ve worked in education for two decades in a number of roles including frontline teaching. Whenever online / remote / digital delivery is discussed, I’ll often hear statements like “Learners don’t like online learning…”, “It’ll never replace traditional classroom teaching…”, “You don’t get the same interaction with learners…”, “There’s no effective way to teach practical and soft skills online…” and, my favourite, “We’re a practical, hands-on industry - this will never work…”. I completely empathise with each of these views - particularly for anyone who has been averse to dabbling with ‘edtech’ and digital education in the past. Change always presents challenges that we may not be comfortable with, and when it’s enforced – as it was in the pandemic - things can feel rushed and ill-prepared. Put more simply, it’s like we’re winging it - something with which no educator is comfortable.
Schools and colleges started to open their doors and welcome back learners from 8 March in what is expected to be a return to classroom-based delivery - albeit with new checks and measures in place. So, what will this mean for remote / digital delivery across the education landscape? Will we cast it aside as quickly as we had to adopt it? I, for one, hope not and argue that whatever your stance, digital learning is here to stay. Too much innovation and creativity have taken place over the past 12 months to simply let the clock strike midnight and see the ‘magic transformation’ and hard work slip away into the shadows.
Digital learning asset
We know that in the traditional model for education, we fill a classroom with learners who, through the use of a range of teaching methods, differentiation and support are all expected to be learning in the same order at a pre-ordained pace to hit simultaneous targets and assessments. In reality, even with the best planning, skills and intentions, some will be pushed too fast while others will be held back. Some will struggle to grasp even the most basic of concepts in silence and doing whatever it takes to cover this while others absorb knowledge like a sponge and have a thirst or craving for more, despite this not always being possible in the time allotted. This is where I see digital learning as an extremely valuable asset - allowing learner-centric, individual pacing, enabling learners to take longer over content and technical aspects they find more challenging, or make swift progress in areas that come more easily - supported through signposting to extended learning and resources. An essential piece to the teaching and learning puzzle - not necessarily a replacement of bricks-and-mortar education, but a truly blended approach – incorporating something many of us know as the ‘Flipped Classroom’.
You wouldn’t be the first to say “that’s all well and good but we don’t have the … (insert any of the following: time, resources, training, expertise, content, technology, platform, support, buy-in etc. - the list could be endless) and I would happily listen to your concerns. However, we’d end at the same point every time - the reality of what we have gone / are going through means this is one of the most prolific periods of adaptation and change we’ll likely see in our lifetimes. In the words of Vivien Greene instead of “…waiting for the storm to pass…”, we learnt “…how to dance in the rain”.
Making it work
So, my call to action is, yes - get excited about opening the doors to your learners and doing what you do best as the ‘sage on the stage’. But don’t forget, far more learning occurs outside the traditional classroom. Embrace the piece of the educational jigsaw that is digital and use it as the ‘guide on the side’ to give your learners an experience that exceeds what you offered pre-lockdown.
If you already fully embraced digital - how can you take it to the next level? If you didn’t, start small but start now - you can refine and perfect things later by seeking support where needed and leveraging shared best practice. I will be sharing some insight into learning technologies in a webinar titled ‘Learnings from Lockdown: Exploring the potential of remote teaching, learning and assessment’ on Wednesday 24 March. Feel free to join me – you can register via this link.
James Clack is Head of Digital Learning at ActiveIQ