Pandemic or not, people learn differently. How can technology help to bridge social distancing mandates while keeping learners engaged?

Even before any pandemic hit us, higher education institutes such as universities and polytechnics had started to embrace the use of digital platforms to facilitate teaching and learning.

However, now that teachers and learners have experienced the benefits of Home-Based Learning (HBL) in schools, ‘blended’ classroom and digital online learning will become the norm when schools reopen. Enrichment and tuition centres have also experimented with ways to implement online learning in tune with national school policies.

To facilitate hybrid online classes, offering a differentiating experience on engagement is crucial. Keeping the connection between teachers and learners in both adult training sessions and schools is quite simply impossible without the appropriate technology.

In face-to-face meetings, learners and teachers benefit from the physical learning space where body language and close interactions support the synchronous learning process. However, teaching in a digital mode involves various limitations and different ‘rules’.

The benefits and opportunities to support online learners are significant. This includes flexibility in time, space and how analytics can support learning. It is important to ensure that teachers get a chance to experience the pedagogical opportunities and limitations in different learning modes and evaluate how these modes can build on different staff strengths to support learning. The willingness to approach and explore these opportunities through trying, failing, and learning together itself is a much-needed shift in mindset to cope with new learning normal.

One way to make this happen is to build teaching teams in which they can share practices and experiments with online tools. Developing an online course and measuring its impact could encourage the faculty to analyze and reflect on what students are doing with the course content.

Tweaking pedagogy for digital

Another way in which teachers can enhance the learning experience is to deliver the same materials in a variety of formats. For example, learners could listen to podcasts while commuting or exercising, whereas others may prefer to learn from visual materials that could be accessed via a laptop or tablet. Other learners like to combine audio and visual components. Accessible, flexible learning attracts a diverse range of students; learning institutions should aim to cater to their diverse needs. This can be achieved through regular feedback sessions and module evaluation questionnaires.

Schools can also track student engagement with the different materials via the current virtual learning platforms as compared to face-to-face tutorials and workshops. Besides, the adoption of subscription-based presentation solutions that include cameras and software to evaluate engagement levels has been on the rise—these can enhance the level of interaction between learners whether they are on-site or online. For example, the engagement analytics function allows teachers to have a clear indication when which student has lost focus during the lesson.

Blending the strengths of classrooms and HBL

There will not be a widespread and extensive shift from face-to-face training to online training in the future, because body language and emotion are still important aspects of enabling interactive and productive learning.

Some people communicate better in person, and may not have the technology to enable them to rely solely on digital platforms for their educational content. However, there is no doubt that traditional face-to-face methodology will become increasingly integrated with digital tools in the future.

For example, there will be more blended training models and ‘flipped classroom’ approaches in which the transfer of knowledge takes place with asynchronous digital tools. This transformation into skills and their socialization take place in a physical context, building teamwork.

With the pandemic still raging, learners are expecting more flexibility in their lives, and online teaching will allow those with personal or professional commitments to study by a more flexible schedule.