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Over the years the flirting relationship between technology and education has certainly born examples of innovation and progress, promising educators that we’re all on the cusp of a seismic shift in the sector brought on through ‘digital transformation’. There has no doubt been successes and advances in education technology over the years, yet the fundamental models for education and training have not strayed too far from the tried, tested and trusted norms of class-based learning with technology often in the peripheral. The start of 2020 hit us all with the ultimate disruptor to normality in the form of a global pandemic. All of us, I’m sure, have a similar story to tell in how we responded to the overnight need to teach remotely. The sudden surge in technology adoption, encompassing a vast range of digital tools and platforms to maintain continuity of education presented a real catalyst for longer term, sustainable and meaningful change for teaching, learning and working. Fast forward several months and education continues to respond to lockdowns, self-isolation and regional restrictions. But how do we shape a forward-thinking model for education at a time when the immediate workload and challenges could hasten ‘digital burnout’ before we can fully realise the ‘digital transformation’ we’ve been promised?
"It would be straight forward to select a range of units from a qualification and identify these as ‘blended learning’ with face-to-face components continuing in pre-pandemic fashion"
For leaders in education who are considering this point, the good news is that the raw ingredients have been rapidly assembled to instigate this change. Our workforce has not only levelled up in digital capability, but also recognised the necessity of these skills and are showing an appetite that we can harness in our forward planning. In support of this, Jisc recently announced that 81 percent of teaching staff in Further Education and 79 percent of teaching staff in Higher Education are feeling motivated to use technology in their teaching (based upon the teaching staff digital experience insights survey 2020). The challenge is in how we adapt and improve our delivery, moving from the emergency remote teaching into a model for education that is accessible, industry relevant and delivered in the most appropriate way for a new generation of learners.
It would be straightforward to select a range of units from a qualification and identify these as ‘blended learning’ with face-to-face components continuing in pre-pandemic fashion. A time for rethinking needs a different starting point. Let’s instead consider the careers these qualifications are preparing our learners to enter. How will they be expected to work? To communicate? To solve real-world problems and challenges? Are there technological disruptors occurring within these industries that might influence new skills and knowledge? Does our education experience prepare our learners for this environment? During the pandemic, our staff have experienced digital ways of working out of necessity, providing valuable insight for understanding the skills and behaviours required to survive and thrive within a digital workplace. This has also given us a renewed respect for the time we spend together in person and how this is best utilised, recognising the irreplaceable value of human interaction in developing well-rounded learners. We also understand that critical, reflective and creative thinking alongside independent learning and micro-credentials will form key aspects of future careers and progression. What opportunities might we provide for learners to develop these skills and behaviours through a more digital experience? Let’s also consider the generational differences in new cohorts of learners and their preferences for media consumption. Are we planning our programmes of study to appropriately sequence multimodal learning and assessment using a range of media types? Are we investing in learning resources that are in a format that is relevant and engaging to the current generation of learners? As we consider these questions, we can start to shape the structure of educational experiences, with technology fulfilling the role as an enabler, an enhancer and hopefully a means for innovation. If you’re seeking a magic proportion of learning hours or a standardised template that can be applied broad-brush across a faculty, you won’t find it here. The reality is that we must work with teachers, employers, learners, policy and decision makers with a healthy dose of horizon scanning, creativity and optimism in order to realise long-term sustainable change.
This is no small challenge; our teachers will need to continue elevating their digital skills and capabilities, we need to expand our research, experiment together, share what effective digital pedagogy looks like and we must maintain empathy for the learner, tackling the issues presented by digital poverty and accessibility. But there has arguably never been a more opportune time to harness the motivation, compassion and creativity of our teachers to create a truly flexible, accessible and innovative model for education in a post-pandemic world.