As we look back on 2020 as a year of rapid and relentless change, I have been thinking about how long some of these changes might last. When will I feel comfortable sitting next to a stranger at the movies? Will I ever lose the reflex to back off when somebody coughs? It hasn’t all been bad though. Whether it’s newfound skills or a renewed appreciation of friends and family, I hope that some of the changes stick. And, in my opinion, the future of education is no different.
A profession that has seen some of the biggest changes – and challenges – during the pandemic is education. This inspirational group of people have had to remain resilient, flexible, and adaptable to a constantly changing situation. Here are five areas where we learned a lot during 2020, and where I think we will see an impact into the future.
1. Hybrid or Blended Learning
The current generation of students consider themselves to be consumers far more than their predecessors, and protests this year about cancelled lectures, seminars, and accommodation show that an on-campus experience is still part the expectations and aspirations that many students have for their education experience.
Simultaneously, The Open University in the UK is celebrating 50 years of delivering online learning to over two million students in 157 countries. And in 2018, nearly 7 million students in the US were enrolled in distance education courses at degree-granting postsecondary institutions, clearly demonstrating that remote education is not new and, with social distancing here for the foreseeable future, here to stay.
So, what does the future of education look like beyond COVID-19? Will we see students learning online more than in the classroom? I believe that the most likely outcome is a blended learning experience, one that combines the benefits of face-to-face teaching and social interaction with the added flexibility, accessibility, and functionality that technology can deliver.
2. Widespread Technology Adoption
Much like remote learning, education technology was already very much in play before 2020. The pandemic has certainly accelerated the adoption and acceptance of technology by teachers and students, including learning apps, virtual learning environments, and video conferencing software. By April 2020, over 90,000 schools across 20 countries were using Zoom to deliver education remotely.
This move was largely supported by educators. In a recent global survey to determine the state of technology in education, over 80% agreed that technology helped them do a better job this year. What’s more, 84% of educators identified that technology is a great way to improve engagement. Showing that, while many schools were forced to rely on technology to deliver lessons during 2020, the technology available to facilitate this has come into its own.
The growing need for technology in education is supported by a 2019 McKinsey survey showing that teachers were working an average of 50 hours a week, an increase of 3% over the past five years. This increase highlights how important it is for teachers to become familiar with time-saving technology to avoid the high attrition and burnout rates associated with the profession and to reallocate time to activities that support student learning.
3. Resilience and Flexibility to Achieve Continuity
On April 2, 2020, there were nearly 1.5 billion learners in 172 countries, from primary to tertiary level, who were impacted by school closures caused by Covid-19 (UNESCO 2020). Educational institutions have had to quickly adapt so that students can continue their studies with an unprecedented shift to online learning.
While the whole sector has struggled this year, the agility and resilience of many schools has been impressive. And while there has been little choice in the current move online, the ability to adapt will also be essential for ongoing survival. Education is a competitive environment. As international travel is limited and young people weigh the financial costs of continuing education versus entering the workforce, student numbers may decline further and budgets are likely to be tight.
Education providers need to develop sustainable and agile business models if they are going to survive and thrive through COVID-19 and changing future demands, which include forward-looking strategies that are based on providing an outstanding student experience and the digital transformation needed to deliver it.
4. Upskilling and Reskilling the Workforce
Resilience in education is important at every level, from organizational and technological resilience, through to the individual resilience and preparedness of students. Modern education is more than passing exams. It is about teaching our citizens to learn and equipping them with the life skills they need.
Soft skills such as resilience, emotional intelligence, and adaptability are increasingly valued by employers. As a consequence, there is a growing expectation, from students and employers alike, that soft skills that soft skills development be an important part of any education. The use of technology can be applied to important people and management skills, helping students develop the abilities they will need to thrive in the workplace – whether online or offline.
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At the same time, according to 86% of educators, technology is a necessary part of everyday life, and this should be reflected in lessons. And this opinion isn’t only held by teachers. Students engage with technology constantly outside of the classroom, so learning through technology is now a given for digital natives. Because technology is a requirement in almost every career and profession, students who are proficient will be more likely to succeed in the workplace.
5. Remote Assessment
With the need to educate remotely has come a requirement for more online testing to assess what students have learned and their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, it’s critical to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by teachers to target areas that need work. Again, online testing is not new. Computer grading of multiple-choice questions has been used for many years. And natural-language processing now makes it possible to automate assessments, and give feedback, across long-form answers.
We are constantly exploring different methods for more innovative assessment in education and the workplace. This includes simulation and problem-based assessments, such as multimedia Situational Judgement Tests, as well as performance-based assessments. However, there is still a need for high-stakes, summative assessments that can be conducted in a consistent and secure environment. That’s where online proctoring comes in.
Online proctoring technology allows educators to remotely assess students with a seamless approach to authenticate a student’s identity, identify possible misconduct during exams, and answer student questions or concerns in real time, thereby replicating as closely as possible the experience of a traditional onsite proctor. The latest online proctoring options use artificial intelligence to increase test security and efficiency even further, while still involving human proctors to maintain student experience and comfort levels.
Here to Stay
COVID-19 has been a catalyst for enormous changes in education, and for better or worse, there will be no going back. However, fears remain about the loss of face-to-face teaching, human interaction, student privacy, and security. Rapid adoption was necessary in 2020, and we know that it was not always perfect. Equally, the narrative that education was somehow broken, and only technology will fix it, is both unhelpful and wrong.
Now is the time to review the changes we have made, take the time needed to ensure the technology is appropriate, and educate students and teachers on the new tools they are required to use. By doing this, we can cement the lessons we have learned from 2020 to develop technology-rich, personalized, blended learning and assessment experiences that equip students for the modern workplace.