“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”Albert Einstein
As the world changes – in ways we may have never imagined – we’re constantly finding ways to catch up. In 2020 the world of learning had to change almost overnight. Undoubtedly this has been a challenge, but could there also be opportunity?
In our #MTtalk Twitter chat last Friday we discussed the future of learning, and we were joined by Sanna Zahoor from Emerald Publishing.
In preparation for the chat, Sanna contacted educators from her network to hear about the challenges they’ve experienced over the past few months, and to get their thoughts on where learning is headed.
Dispatches From the Learning Front Line
Professor Robyn Ramsden at Deakin University in Australia told Sanna about the surprising benefits she has experienced as a result of recent events, and her thoughts on the future.
“I have always used a form of blended learning with my Ph.D. students, due to the distances between where my students and I live in Australia,” explained Robyn. “This approach involves some face-to-face meetings, combined with the use of video conferencing and email communication. In the future, individualized online sessions will continue to complement face-to-face learning and supervision for efficiency.”
Robyn continued, “Having a defined time for the video conference has resulted in the communication being very succinct and well-planned via a clear agenda. Preparation occurs before the meeting to ensure we are more productive. Video conferencing is far more engaging than the telephone and has enabled us to continue to build a good rapport.”
Flexibility, Support and Community
Professor Ka Ho Mok, Vice President at Lingnan University, told Sanna about the need for increased flexibility with regard to learning, which comes as no surprise.
“I think we will adopt a more flexible approach in engaging students,” he said. “A mixed mode of delivery (online and face-to-face, plus other e-learning and outside classroom activities) is going to be popular for enhancing student learning.”
Professor Ramsden also mentioned the importance of creating learning communities. “My students have been mature-aged, resilient and self-directed learners,” she said. “However, beyond the current situation, it will be important to establish formal mechanisms for students who are not so self-directed, or who miss opportunities to network, for example via learning communities, online chats, and study groups.”
Sanna also spoke to Barbara Wejnert at New York Buffalo University, who discussed the need to try and create some sense of interpersonal connection in these learning communities. She pointed out that important social cues like facial expressions and spontaneous discussion are lost when learning remotely. But Wejnert affirmed a belief that technology will catch up eventually.
The Best Laid Plans
It was fascinating to hear these insights from people working at universities and across education. I believe that normalizing flexibility, establishing learning communities, and embracing blended learning approaches will be key to overcoming the challenges of learning in the future.
I recently had my own experience of this. In March 2020 I was preparing to continue my annual role as an external lecturer at my local university in South Africa.
Then came the shock announcement. Despite low levels of infection, our government wanted to prepare for the inevitable and in a few days’ time South Africa was to go into total lockdown.
My course was now totally impossible and I had no way of teaching it remotely. I couldn’t help but think of Robert Burns’ words, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Our plans at the faculty didn’t just go awry – they were ruined.
Switching to Online Learning
Students and organizations had already paid deposits, and my course for the end of March was fully booked. We could have simply canceled, but we didn’t feel that was an option.
After much discussion and debate, the faculty decided that we’d postpone our courses by a few weeks and put them online. Of course, it’s easier said than done!
It took three weeks, buckets of creativity, and a precipitously steep learning curve to take my course online and get it loaded onto our learning management system – but that was just the first step.
My First Virtual Class
I was extremely nervous when the first group of students showed up to my now entirely virtual class. How was I going to build relationships with them remotely? If they couldn’t keep up, how would I know? Could I support them as much as I wanted to?
In the end it couldn’t have gone better. I was able to spend more time with the students individually in video calls than I normally would have in a lecture hall. They were also able to hear others’ questions, share reflections, and learn from each other.
What My Students Loved (And What They Didn’t)
As a result of the feedback after each course we were able to get a clear picture of what worked, and what people had found challenging.
Counterintuitively, students loved how connected they felt to me and to each other, even though it was an online course. Some had to get used to video calls (I refused to do voice only!) but many eventually found ways to engage.
Most delegates enjoyed that the schedule was flexible, and they could log in when it suited them. However, for a significant minority, self-directed study was a huge struggle, especially maintaining motivation.
The blended approach proved a huge hit, from videos to presentations to online study guide activities. It’s much the same as we with Mind Tools articles, infographics, videos, and podcasts – something for everyone!
We also made a discussion forum available to students, which proved popular. They asked questions, shared ideas, gave input on issues, and connected with each other, outside of designated hours.
When it’s done well, online learning gives us the opportunity to not only bring learning to laptops or tablets, but to do it with the human touch still firmly in place.
Your Thoughts and Reflections
During our #MTtalk Twitter chat last Friday, we talked about change and opportunity in the world of learning. Here are the questions we asked and some of your most insightful responses:
Q1. What skills for life and work do you think are the most important for everyone to be learning now?
@WonderPix Skills needed especially today – being open to change, adapting, trying new things, and staying as positive as possible!
@SizweMoyo Anything that can make you more independent and influential in your own life path is worth learning right now.
Q2. What skills are employers looking for from college and university graduates in particular?
@JYLearn High on employer’s list of sought-after skills I think are problem-solving and communication. And the two go together; they want team-players who can improve results through collaboration.
@temekoruns Candidates should be well-rounded and be able to be flexible with assignments. They must be individually and independently motivated. Babysitting is OUT!
Q3. How do you make sure your own knowledge, skills and capabilities are relevant?
@ProducerNurse Relevance is related directly to our desire to be diverse. Leaders will never be relevant if they are not inclusive.
@Yolande_MT I find LinkedIn a great resource to see how things are shifting in the world of work. Be connected – it works!
Q4. What strategies do you use to identify the learning/courses you will pursue?
@BRAVOMedia1 When pursuing learning new materials, I take on courses that will enhance and uplift my vocation as well as further my personal knowledge – those that I am truly interested in.
@MicheleDD_MT Leverage feedback, follow what’s trending to determine current, hot and projected knowledge skill requirements; tap into my network for insights.
Q5. What surprising benefits have you noticed so far in the way learning has changed over the past few months, whether for providers or learners?
@PG_pmp People are now more focused and open to learn and understand the improvement areas within themselves.
@J_Stephens_CPA Courses and seminars I could never attend before (cost, location) are now available to me. I look forward to the weekly summer #IndianaLeedsTaxWorkshop with a bunch of lawyers; our course attendance is way up. People are taking advantage of training while working from home.
Q6. Do you think a mix of learning online and face-to-face will become a permanent change? Why/why not?
@carriemaslen I think learning and working will forever be changed to hybrid: live/in-person and remote/online.
@lsmurthy99 Currently we leverage the only possible option and it’s still uncertain about the future. Many have confided that a mix of online and face-to-face sessions are preferred and rewarding because of the kind of connection it establishes.
Q7. What do you think are the benefits and challenges of self-motivated learning?
@ColeenWarden I think when you take the time to learn something for yourself and no one is pushing you, it makes you feel proud. I sometimes listen to webinars online just to hear people in my industry talk about a subject so I continue to grow. It’s empowering to learn!
@Midgie_MT Benefits include people working at their own pace and own time that suits them. Challenges include the self-discipline to maintain progress and progression.
Q8. In your opinion, what will/should change in the way that learning is assessed?
@sanna_zahoor Increasingly important traits like creativity and problem solving should be recognized.
@ColfaxInsurance Testing should, and I imagine is, going to change, and the systems for tracking cheating will become more sophisticated for online learning.
Q9. How could you engage someone who is reticent about participating in virtual learning?
@aamir9769 People gain interest when you combine work with joy in learning. Make it mandatory for all to show their presence at virtual learning by building the notion that it is the future of learning and one has to accept it.
@JKatzaman People respond to outcomes. If they can see how others benefit from virtual learning, they will more likely embrace the program.
Q10. What do you think will be the biggest shift in learning going forward and how can you/your organization benefit from it?
@yehiadief Non-seasonal timetable and the role of information in learners’ lives.
@PG_pmp The biggest shift is people to learn more life skills instead of only focusing on other domain-specific learning. This pandemic has shaken the world to move out from its comfort zone and [for people to] realize their potential.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat.
Whether we’re engaged in learning, working from home, or working at the office, staying focused can be challenging. Our next #MTtalk is going to be about focus and attention, and in our poll this week, we’d like to know what has the biggest impact on your focus. See the poll and cast your vote.