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Guest Blog - The Learning Pandemic

Sep 27, 2021 10:41:26 AM

Sarah Brady

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Duncan Pederby, of Learn from Anywhere discusses the opportunity for EdTech to change education delivery around the world. 

Corporate workplaces have undergone a cultural transformation in the last twenty years with the acknowledgement that pay alone is no longer enough to attract the best talent. Research proves that companies who place the needs of their employees at the heart of their operations derive higher levels of engagement, productivity, and retention.  Generally we now want to work for organisations that our own values align to, and who offer flexible working, provide engaging workplaces, and with leadership that emanate a culture of trust and value.

Since time immemorial, campus-based universities have required their students to be on campus for their teaching. Throughout most of that time there was no credible alternative, but for at least fifteen years, technology has provided an abundance of tools that could have enabled a more rapid development of student-centric models that don’t require physical presence just for the sake of it. For example, lecture capture technology offers students an opportunity to catch up if a class was missed, or to review content for reinforcement of teaching and revision prior to exams, but has not been embraced as a student choice of when or where to access a class in real time. Pedagogies have developed; small group active collaborative engagements have shifted the emphasis from teaching to learning and thereby improved both academic and social outcomes and reduced undergraduate discontinuation levels.

Campus investments have supported a rich and varied development of social and self-directed learning spaces outside of classrooms and lecture spaces, but these still require students to be on-campus. EdTech developments have been a great frustration to visionaries and students alike. With no requirement for professional development, the opportunities for EdTech to be a driver of positive change are often missed, and installed technology not being used, or being used poorly, remains a constant criticism throughout many years of local and national student surveys.

In other words, the potential of EdTech to improve the student experience, to make students feel like they were the ones that mattered in their studies, has all too often been held back by conservative leadership at a local level, and nationally by a ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ philosophy where actions don’t match rhetoric and where there is no appetite to look outside of 136 ivory towers for visions of better.

Higher education requires an innovative digital mindset in order to capitalise on the opportunities for the internet to support student-centric advances in learning and teaching. Student fees and the Teaching Excellence Framework commercialise higher education and position the student as a customer, and the pandemic has shown students and faculty alike the many variations that a classroom can now look like. In fact, a paradigm shift has taken place; learning that was recently restricted to on-campus buildings has left the campus, and many students have found that a more productive and a better experience.

The last eighteen months have all been about survival skills. Using Zoom and Teams would only be a short-term requirement after all, and then when we weren’t back on campus in September, maybe, we thought, this would all be over by Christmas. And indeed it will be; we just don’t know which year, and 2021 is not looking the favourite right now.

Essential EdTech Skills

The pandemic has created some interesting variations in our behaviours. On the one hand, when there have been difficulties with technology, faculty haven’t given up at the first sign of difficulty, and students have been more forgiving of initial failure. But then you could argue that with students not on campus, there was no default position without technology to fall back on. So both faculty and students have persevered in situations that they may have given up on if technology had ‘failed’ in normal times.

And neither should we be limiting our thinking to how technology can just replicate the on-campus experience for remote learners. Now that the pandemic has forced us to recognise EdTech is the opportunity to create a new world of higher education that puts students first – in the same way that the knowledge-based employers that they will join after graduation puts their employees first – we should be pushing forward the boundaries to find how we can leverage our people, processes and EdTech to create learning opportunities and engagements with a new digital-first mindset.

A true digital transformation cannot be achieved with traditional constraints rooted in historical values. Under the guidance of a transformational leader, a diverse team by age, gender and race, and which includes students, support staff, learning technologists and not just academics, must be built to deliver the innovations that will drive digital-first strategies and a continued relevance.

For campus-based institutions, digital-first does not mean digital-only. Students will continue to benefit from human interactions of being in the same place at the same time, and campuses are still needed to support co-curricular sporting endeavours along with the charitable and political activities of their students. All part of a rich undergraduate experience that differentiates campus-based institutions from online-only providers.

Post Pandemic

Anecdotally, faculty at many institutions crave a return to fully on-campus learning and teaching when Covid is behind us. Students on the other hand, want more flexibility in how and where they study, and, as consumers with the full knowledge that technology can support their requirements, those universities that go back to the ‘this is how we’ve always done this’ will not only lose out on their traditional intakes, but miss out on widening their appeal to a new generation of mobile students.

And recording what used to pass as a lecture for online consumption in advance of applying the learning will no longer cut it either. A digital-first approach should see broadcast-quality production that incorporates images and rich media content that will better engage students. Why? Because it will lead to increased engagement and outcomes and because it’s something you can achieve simply in house with the support of brilliant learning technologists.

Double Triple Dutch

Before the pandemic, the Dutch were already putting students at the centre of their learning developments by enabling a flexible education path for completing their modules with three different universities (Eindhoven, Utrecht, and Wageningen) based on a single sign up. 

New competitors and thinking can soon unbalance markets, and ultimately it will be the consumer [student] who will decide what is best for them, and universities who can uncouple the people, processes and systems from their physical campus will be able to adapt and change fast.

Going back to how things used to be is not standing still; based on the experiences and opportunities that have been accelerated by the pandemic, it has to be a backwards step. And selecting people with experience of how things once were to lead digital transformations will also hold you back. Instead, choose someone who wants to experiment. Someone who has a digital mindset, who possesses the curiosity for innovation and is ready to break new ground to give students the confidence that studying with you is going to be their first choice. After all, in a world where work supported by technology is going to be increasingly flexible in time and place, preparing students with real world experiences of studying in this way is the very foundation of new employability skills!

Climate Change

Whilst keeping effective learning going in the event of a future healthcare pandemic will now be on the risk assessments of every leadership team, it is highly conceivable that using technology to restrict travel due to a global necessity to combat rising temperatures becomes even more restrictive on our movements than Covid19.

But unlike Covid, we have some warning that this is coming and adopting the use of better connecting technologies as part of robust digital-first strategies will no longer be a nice-to-have or an inconvenience in some peoples’ eyes.

Find out more:

Join a one-hour experience of the Vscene Teaching Wall for hybrid and virtual classrooms and discover the differences that provide students with an equity of learning and a sense of belonging. The next experiences available to book are on 12th October 2021.

Author: Sarah Brady

Sarah is our Marketing Manager who, responsible for creating and delivering engaging content and bringing customer journeys to life. Passionate about digital marketing Sarah drives results through innovative ideas.


Digital Teaching & Learning - Lessons from Lockdown

This webinar, hosted by FutureScot, in association with Vscene, discusses digital teaching and learning – lessons from lockdown.

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