I have been extremely busy over the last couple of years, so have taken a break from regular blogging, but with what is happening in the World at the moment, thought it was a good time to start blogging again, in a hope that my opinions will help other people to navigate through the minefield that lays ahead.
On the 23rd March 2020, the UK (finally) entered lockdown as a measure to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. Although many expected lockdown would happen at some point, the dithering of the Government and the mixed messages they sent out in the days and weeks beforehand, meant no-one knew when or what lockdown would look like, and when it was finally announced, it caught some people out, as education providers had to rapidly adapt and deliver ’emergency learning’.
Firstly, I think that school teachers, in particular, deserve a note of praise – they often didn’t have the platforms and resources available that FE and HE has (or should have), nor have school teachers had many opportunities for training in this area of work – so this was very much uncharted waters for them. Using my kids’ school as an example, I think the teachers have done brilliantly. They haven’t got everything right, and took a few weeks for them to work out what does and doesn’t work well when delivered this way, but generally, they have provided an educational experience to the learners that isn’t as good as being at school in a classroom, but given the circumstance was as good as could be expected.
There will be similar stories around the World, and I am aware of many tutors at school, FE, and HE levels who have surprised themselves, in what they have been able to do, and how effective it has been for them and their learners, and I expect that as things return to some level of normality, some of these educators will make more and better use of online learning options than previously – as a result of this, which is a good thing.
However, (and this is a big however) we have to be careful, for some educators and many students, their only experience of online learning will be this ’emergency learning’ and this is a very different experience to well thought out, planned and executed quality online learning. There are various risks going forward:
- Some people will be put off from engaging in online learning (either educators or learners) – because they may not have had a wonderful experience during this emergency learning phase.
- Just because teachers managed to cope with delivering emergency learning often without the tools or the support, does not mean that they can continue that alongside the face to face delivery that is starting to open up.
- The expectations of what quality online learning, is going to be warped. Some people will think that sharing a few weblinks, uploading a PowerPoint to the web and replicating the lesson by delivering it via a webinar, is good quality, and not be aware that there is a lot more to online learning than this.
- There will inevitably and sadly be some people either losing their jobs, or choosing to leave their jobs (to protect themselves) – I expect that some of these people will set up as freelancers either delivering online learning on behalf of others, or advising/training in this area of work. If these people are skilled and good at this area of work, then not a problem, but I predict that there will be many who don’t have the skills/knowledge required – and that can be very damaging for organisations who cannot tell the good freelancers from the bad ones.
We don’t know exactly how the coming weeks and months (years?) will play out, but once the dust has settled, and we have become comfortable with the ‘new normal’, it is almost certain that online learning will play a bigger part in education than it did before, and it would be prudent for the decision-makers in organisations to be thinking about contingency plans for if this (or something similar) happens again. It is important that the online or blended learning part is given proper investment, and not just brushed aside (as we worry about the physical issues of getting too many students in too small a space, whilst social distancing). I hope that the decision-makers value and reward the people within their organisations who are skilled and capable in this area of work. I hope that they invest in high quality staff development and CPD, and I hope that they look critically at their own systems and practices and make changes (possibly difficult decisions) to make things fit for the ‘new normal’ and fit for the future.