Three views on digital learning over the past year

The last 12 months have provided an opportunity to rethink approaches to digital learning. Three professionals share the lessons they’ve learnt

1 Andy Lancaster, head of learning and development content, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

We’re just processing some current research which shows only one in five expect resources and learning strategy to return to what it was. Most people are saying this has changed for good. Many organisations, while valuing digital learning, now see it as a necessity. Previously, face to face might have been seen as preferable, but now leaders say digital is vital, particularly for dispersed workers. It’s not going back. 

There’s also been a real emphasis on wellbeing. Homeworking and the whole coronavirus pandemic scenario has brought to the fore that we need to consider the wellbeing of staff. There’s also been a real trend around helping teams work in a flexible way. We’ve seen a shift in strategy.

Organisations are prioritising the digital learning they’re offering. In the pandemic, there’s little room for luxury. In the past, we may have had a broad offering of learning, but under COVID there’s a laser focus on what is needed. The use of virtual classes and online communities mean a shift towards creative digital learning. There are not many good things that have come out of the pandemic, but the drive for transformation in digital learning is very welcome.

Organisations have also had to reconfigure the way they use and develop online networking. Those that have done really well during the pandemic have managed to capture the sense of online communities of practice; the sharing of information and support in the moment of need is beginning to happen.

Everyone has unique circumstances: homeschooling children, caring responsibilities. We need to recognise one size doesn’t fit all and think about that in our learning approach. Diverse teams need diverse solutions. One thing coming out is a more human-centred approach to learning.

2 Dr Kyungmee Lee, lecturer in technology-enhanced learning, Lancaster University

When the pandemic hit, that spring term was very difficult because many colleagues had to start from scratch without any previous experience. There was a huge shared force and urgency to make that change possible. It was amazing to see academics learn so much within a very short period of time. As a researcher I’ve been talking about online learning for ten or twenty years now, but it was very new to my colleagues in other disciplines.

The second semester was better; colleagues had done one semester of trial and error, and realised where students were listening or paying attention. Some of the data from learning analytics was useful because they could track if students were engaged. On a case-by-case basis, and it’s different across disciplines, they learnt how to best accommodate students.

This year, I’ve noticed a lot of my colleagues enjoying teaching online. They’re starting to find the way they can teach for their own convenience. They have enough basic technical skills now; Zoom and breakout rooms aren’t really a problem. Now they can think about how to play around with their daily schedules. They can find a flexible way of working and talking to students.

People will try to figure out, at some level, how to keep the things they like that will make all face-to-face courses blended. How they’re going to blend things will be very different. The students’ experience will be very different. They’ll walk into a module and each module will be quite different, because academics, based on their experience during COVID, will design their own module and choose their pedagogy in a way they find useful. Whether that’s going to be too confusing to students or not, I’m not really sure.

3 Sarah Koratzitis, teacher, Cramlington Village Primary School

Moving to online teaching was difficult. It was a learning curve for everyone. We spent a lot of money getting Chromebooks, then did online training for the parents to access Chromebooks and Google Classroom. We supported the children and the parents to be able to access those platforms. We were learning what worked best for the classes, how to engage children properly and how to make sure they were providing the best work they could.

The children became really independent in scheduling and accessing learning, and managing their own workstream. Google Classroom had a really good function in terms of being able to give feedback to the class. One thing that revolutionised how I teach is the marking section. Though we used that before, during online learning that was a lifesaver and something I will integrate into my teaching as we return to face-to-face teaching. It’s a collaborative tool where you can use it to share.

The children are keen to come back to school and want to use the technology to decide independently whether to use a piece of paper or type something up. Because they’ve had time to hone their skills using the software, they are really good at being able to select what works for them and the best media for different things.

I spoke to some of the children and asked what their thoughts were. Many of them said they feel more organised and independent, and able to see what works for them. It’s improved their confidence to feel they know what they’re learning. Children have had to become really independent and know how to complete a piece of work.