With large parts of the world going into a lockdown due to COVID-19, business organizations and educational institutions are facing stiff challenges in conducting their regular learning activities. We have seen the closure of institutions, cancellation or postponement of exams across the globe. Organizations too are struggling to provide essential information and learning to their employees. If classrooms have halted, should education and learning also halt?
Obviously not. Therefore, we have seen organizations and academic institutions quickly moving to video-sharing platforms to conduct virtual classes. Should we be satisfied with putting an Educator and a Learner in a video engagement? Does it result in effective learning? Or is this an opportunity to transform learning and education forever?
I believe it’s the latter. I believe now is time to go beyond the constricted pedagogies being used in brick and mortar classrooms and Video sessions. It is time to shift to digital tools that will allow educators to innovate new pedagogies. These pedagogies, in turn, will ensure enhanced learning. It will assure learner’s assimilation of the subject.
Let’s consider some facts. According to a teacher survey, only 55% of school students in India are actively engaged in learning. In the Corporate world, this is no different. Some studies show that only 10% of corporate training is effective. Obviously, the traditional methods of learning are not providing the expected results.
Research indicates that there’s much more to learning than just going through textbooks or charts or viewing a video-class. That is just one-sided delivery of learning. There are several factors which contribute to how the learning happens. It varies from learner to learner as each individual has a different learning style – some are visual learners, some are auditory learners while others need to use their hands to feel and make things in order to completely grasp a piece of learning.
Any learning approach, be it digital or physical, needs to be more than just a teacher/platform plus content (textbook/Charts/Video) solution to be really effective. There are other aspects – like discussion, clarification, reinforcement of learning using different stimuli, opportunities to practice learning, assessment, etc. that finally determine the effectiveness of learning. Virtual classes that have taken the classroom to a digital world should not be any different.
Going by learning theories too, we need a far more comprehensive approach to learning. The Cognitivist Learning theory developed by Jean Piaget, which is more applicable to young learners, views the learner as an information processor, acknowledges the mental processes inherent in learning, and seeks to capitalize on them. Cognitivist strategies promote mental processing and stress upon the entire knowledge acquisition process to ensure meaningful learning.
When it comes to adults, there are two principle learning theories – Andragogy by Malcom Shepard Knowles and Constructivist Theory propounded by Jerome Bruner. Andragogy states that adult learners learn best when the learning is contextualized. Constructivist theory states that reality is constructed and ultimately determined by the learner; the role of the learner is primary while the teacher designs the learning situation. Examples of Constructivist strategies include discovery learning, personalized learning, problem-based learning and experiential learning.
What all these theories indicate is that learning is not a uni-dimensional process. There are multiple dimensions to learning which can be addressed using the right pedagogies.
Successful educators understand the appropriate use of pedagogies. Take Dr Abdul Kalam for example. His teaching strategies motivated students to learn. Rabindranath Tagore created an entirely new environment for Learning at Viswabharati Shantiniketan. Every educator has a different style and needs to find the right avenues and tools through which they can explore their ideas.
To enable the educators, we need to provide a toolbox which will allow them to innovate pedagogies much beyond the constrained pedagogy of a video session. They should be able to create healthy discussions and debates to explore a topic from different perspectives. They should be able to create assignments, both individual and group, and assessments to evaluate the learners. They should be able to track learner performance on a real-time basis and come up with interventions that address learner needs. They should also be able to create content easily with visuals and sound to address different learning styles and use that to engage learner attention.
However, the platforms that provide a video-session based classes fail to put the teacher at the centre with adequate tools. Imagine a virtual classroom that not only enables content delivery but also allows continuous interaction through questions, debates, group assignments for problem-solving, polls, surveys, conduct experiments, etc. The teacher has the freedom to either jot down her notes and run a class or use the media capabilities of the platform to create charts and videos, thus taking care of different learning styles among her students.
The classes themselves can be scheduled at the touch of a button through an intuitive interface. Besides interaction between teacher and students and between the students themselves, the platform allows the teacher to run a quiz, give assignments, conduct classroom tests, give feedback, evaluate or mark handwritten notes, etc. Teachers can also run remotely proctored assessments for high stake exams.
And while the teacher has a whole set of tools to innovate and achieve the best learning outcome, Principals or Deans as well as Parents, have a completely transparent view of what’s happening in the virtual classroom. This will ensure better governance and peace of mind for Parents.
Therefore the current challenge created by Covid-19, actually provides an opportunity for the industry to transform our teaching and learning approaches for better outcomes. Virtual classes should not be about posting text and videos. We must provide a holistic experience of a classroom augmented by best-in-class learning pedagogies with digital tools to ensure learning is transformed like never before.
It is not enough, if we enable Learning as Usual. We should introduce Learning Unusual – a transformative approach to learning to get better results.