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What’s next? Lessons from the lockdown on traditional education

At this point, you’ve probably heard enough of the recent changes brought about by the pandemic. While it’s important to discuss what is happening right now, we’ve had enough time to also think about the future. Specifically, many teachers are wondering:

What’s in store for the future of education?

As usual, these things are hard to predict and nobody has a definite answer. However, we can make at least some educated guesses about what needs to change from now on.

The biggest shift that we’re seeing is that online education has the potential to drop its “online” part and that more and more people will see it for what it is: simply education. The problem might stem from the fact that in general, we view traditional, teacher-centered education to be the best way to teach. Online learning is student-centered by default, having its own advantages and pitfalls.

That’s because in online environments students are:

  • responsible for managing their time: they are not constrained to a time and place to learn; even in synchronous online courses, it’s on them to be there
  • responsible for selecting their materials: teachers curate and create courses that are highly relevant, but in turn, they get to do their own research even more than in a traditional setting
  • intrinsically motivated: external motivation works up to some point, but intrinsically motivated learners thrive in any environment

Moving towards student-centered learning requires a monumental shift in how we perceive education. As we can see, students need abilities such as time management, to develop their self-efficacy and become more independent learners.

Lessons from the lockdown on traditional education

What this pandemic has shown us is what many teachers — and remote learners — have known for years: that it can work, once you figure out what works best for your circumstances. Here are some lessons that we can all learn from this abrupt switch to online learning:

We need to push to remove barriers

There’s no secret that a digital divide is creating barriers between students and learning. In a crisis, this becomes so obvious that it’s impossible to ignore. Access to a good enough internet connection and a device should be a right and not a privilege. That being said, when we remove those barriers we still see a gap when it comes to having functional knowledge on how to use said devices.

That’s why it's important to start early and integrate technology into teacher training. While there are programs that do this currently, many others lag behind in this area. It’s also important to have a coherent digital strategy that everyone can get behind. That is, a strategy means giving enough thought to having the right foundations, a plan for evaluating and implementing edtech in your school, and how to make everything clear and easy for everyone, not just those who are fluent in technology.

Read more: 6 Building blocks for a successful edtech strategy

Attitudes towards online teaching are changing

Our behavior is shaped by many different factors and we resist change because it’s uncomfortable and sometimes unsustainable.

Teachers that don’t feel OK with online teaching are now in a position in which they have to adapt fast. That means that they need more support and interventions at a school level. Now is the time to adopt a bottom-up approach, in which teachers drive technology adoption by making suggestions and asking for what they need. School leaders’ roles will be to take note of what they say and create a plan.

The role of an edtech strategist or coordinator has become essential at this point. A coordinator that focuses on edtech and the best ways to help teachers and students, ensures that this project is a durable one. Just how a principal ensures that teachers have a class plan and that they are following the curriculum, an edtech coordinator tracks how well teachers and students are doing with technology and where they need more help.

Learning could be about spending time differently

If some traditional methods don’t work online, what are the alternatives? Let’s imagine that most lectures or teacher-centered activities are replaced with asynchronous learning. That is, students learn in a blended environment, where they do research on their own or in groups.

Read more: Adopting the asynchronous mindset for better online learning

What does that leave time for? Depending on whether we’re talking about K-12 or HE, this means more time for project-based learning (PBL), research projects, exchange programs, attending events that are connected to the main subject, lab work, or internships.

Teachers and professors will focus on creating better and more engaging e-learning, with the possibility of working remotely from time to time, and of course, more work/life balance. That is to say, they will still be the facilitators and trusted advisors. Their role in creating a great environment for learning is still valid, it just looks different.

Read more: What is the role of the teacher in the online classroom? Connectivism might provide an answer

There will be some changes in what we teach future generations

This is a pretty controversial one, so bear with me. Practical intelligence is different from academic intelligence. They also mean different things for different cultures. Now, in this sense, there are many people who are extremely intelligent, but not in a way that is widely accepted by society (what non-experts would call book smart). While academic knowledge is important, and should not be dismissed, there’s a need to teach at least some more practical skills as well, at least at the K-12 level.

Read more: Teaching students specific technical skills

Sure, we assume that children get this from their parents and extended community, which is true to a sense. However, even adults struggle to comprehend subjects such as ecology, health literacy, and even personal finance — yes, even the academically accomplished. It pains me to admit this, but I am one of those people who valued academic excellence over pretty much everything, and as an adult, I now see things from a whole new perspective.

I also believe that there’s a need to prioritize wellbeing and adopt a social and emotional learning approach in the classroom that is taken as seriously as the other subjects.

Read more: Can edtech enable Social Emotional Learning (SEL)?

We can begin to see learning in a new way

We’ve talked about disaster-proof education before, which means that teachers and students should be prepared for disruptions in the future. Once they are unable to meet face to face, classes continue online with minimal disruptions.

However, being prepared for disasters means wanting to avoid a negative circumstance. Looking into the future, we now have the opportunity to adopt a positive approach, in which learning becomes accessible for more people, is student-centered, and edtech evolves to extend to all kinds of learning situations.

For example, through VR/AR students can go beyond the classroom to learn, and will in the future replace at least some activities such as educational field trips. That could also be true for seminars and lab projects.

Read more: 5 Benefits of including VR in classroom activities

What we need to understand is that we’re in the middle of changing paradigms, and while actions seem motivated by fear (not missing out on classes, not losing our Internet connection in the middle of an exam), they can also be driven by curiosity — how can I collaborate with teachers to create a richer learning experience?

Time will tell

This is a time to reflect on what is working and what we could do better. Also, it’s time to evaluate what our core beliefs about education are and how accurate they are in preparing us for the future. Continuing to perfect and adapt edtech for everyone is a must, not a “nice to have” option.

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