In a region so digitally diverse, what can be done for teachers and students in the fast-evolving digital age?

According to the World Bank, largescale national efforts to utilize technology in support of remote learning, distance education and online learning since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic are emerging and evolving quickly.

Asia is a hugely diverse region – in terms of language, culture, technological advancement and government regulations. With some cities still under lockdown, and more still enforcing social distancing measures, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to providing remote or hybrid learning environments for schools, colleges, universities and other learning institutions.

What are the key edutech trends, challenges and opportunities in the region, particularly South-east Asia? What can be done to enhance existing initiatives as we adapt to the new reality?

DigiconAsia sought out some insights from Olivier Croly, Senior Vice President, APAC, Barco:

Olivier Croly, Senior Vice President, APAC, Barco

What are some key trends you’ve observed in edutech in APAC?

Croly: We anticipate that remote learning and training is a trend that will continue to prevail in 2021. Remote participants can engage and collaborate in real time with their peers and teachers, similar to a physical classroom, from anywhere in the world.

Distance learning can complement traditional teaching and open new ways of improving the experience for the trainers and learners. Additionally, hybrid teaching models offer the flexibility to fulfil obligations at home and in the workplace while pursuing education remotely, creating valuable opportunities to provide superior classroom experiences.

The future is going to be a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning, meaning a mix of instructor-led learning and content to be consumed at one’s own pace. Virtual learning is going to be about content, training and teaching methods.

To remain competitive in the higher education market post-Covid 19, virtual classroom solutions that enable synchronous learning will become essential for the region’s higher education institutions in the coming year.

In the wake of school lockdowns across the region, and with 2021 government budgets announced, what do you think governments can do to boost technology aids through all levels of education in S E Asia?

Croly: Across South-east Asia, parts of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are still in lockdown and home-based learning for students will be a norm in the next months. Other countries which have done better in their fight with Covid-19 such as Singapore has seen the government implementing two to three days a week of remote learning sessions in secondary schools and junior colleges. The government will also give support for personal learning devices.

Meanwhile in September 2020, a Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) directive called for all Malaysian universities to conduct complete online training and learning sessions due to the risk of Covid-19. Malaysian universities were asked to take every measure to ensure that students’ learning process would not be disrupted due to connectivity problems.

When the Covid-19 situation improves, public schools and private institutes are likely be faced with the challenge of social distancing in the classrooms. Physical classes can no longer accommodate the full capacity of students and teachers would need to repeat their lessons. Schools and governments are not going to build new campuses to accommodate the need of larger classrooms.

However, schools can invest in technology to enable educators to teach a full class size through a hybrid model which will provide interactive learning experiences for both trainers and schools. They can also prepare instructors and trainers to understand the abilities and functionalities of emerging education technology tools to better prepare lessons and curriculum.

What do trainers need to do to create an engaging virtual learning environment?

Croly: People are social by nature and need emotional cues to encourage curiosity and an openness to new ideas and concepts, which can only be achieved in a fully interactive setting with peers and educators.

Video conferencing software can be beneficial in keeping meeting participants engaged through non-verbal cues aside from audio. Specialised conferencing solutions have installed engagement analytics functions that allow meeting hosts visibility into who has lost focus during the lesson. Interactive tools such as questionnaires, polls, quizzes, and screen sharing also help to ensure engagement from participants in meetings.

Ultimately, the trainer can encourage each student to contribute and ask for feedback to make learning interactive. Trainers can also assign learners specific tasks in each virtual session to encourage participation.

Trainers and key decision-makers need to rethink their manpower allocation for hybrid working in the long term, in a way that will be most productive for all learners. Trainers should also think about gamifying learning experiences and creating great remote learning experiences.

How can organizations be better prepared for challenges in training, education and collaboration, as well as to ensure their readiness for new opportunities leveraging digital technologies?

Croly: With economic difficulties looming around the world, organizations have an opportunity to rethink how technology can enhance learning and training experiences. The ‘new normal’ in education is digital and flexible, spanning the globe, transcending spaces, and overcoming cultural barriers. There is not one single way of learning, but a myriad which will be delivered in various blended ways: face-to-face, remote or hybrid, synchronous, or asynchronous.

Hybrid learning is here to stay, so it is critical to create safe and interactive spaces for trainers and learners that combine the proven merits of both virtual and in-person learning modes. Trainers must shift their mindset from having a quick digital replacement to long term digital transformation.

Trainers also need access to spaces designed to teach, coach or mentor a mix of local and remote participants. Designing programs that include high levels of interaction and collaboration is necessary to make distance learning and training work, and to harness the full capabilities of new learning solutions. This will ensure that high-quality education continues and that institutions can adapt quickly to any potential disruptions the future has in store.