We have been in lockdown for several weeks now, and along with the common struggle we are all going through, one thing is becoming increasingly clear to us: when this is over, when we get through this crisis, and when we look back, we will see that the world before the Coronavirus was very different. I am not talking about what the world will look like immediately after the pandemic, but a few years later.
By then, we will have acquired new habits that seemed impossible before 2020: we will work differently, travel differently, pay differently, interact differently and also, this time, educate ourselves differently. These new habits, once acquired, will be difficult to stop and will change many aspects of society. So how will this impact on education?
What will education be like after COVID-19?
The first change is, of course, that we have become more digital. In education, the technological dimension will become much stronger than before and this will force us to rethink our methodologies. The masterclass will make less and less sense (although it won’t disappear completely), and will derive into asynchronous formats. Students will expect that, if the teacher is going to give them a monologue, they will be able to pause, move forward and backward in the class as they wish, just as they already do with videos on Youtube or other platforms. What’s more, in a world where we are increasingly busy and bombarded with stimuli, it will be common to see the most tedious lessons being played at 1.5x or 2x the playback speed. If you find this surprising, consider that there are already people demanding to be able to change the playback speed on services like Netflix. If this happens with entertainment, be sure that we will also do it in other types of content.
The first few months after confinement, classes may not be 100% full, so teachers will need to be prepared to teach both face-to-face and online. Therefore, digitalization will also lead to a more fluid education, alternating and combining face-to-face phases with non-presential phases and synchronous methods with asynchronous methods. Flipped classrooms will become even more important and, hopefully, increase their adoption. This will require teachers to adapt to new methodologies to which they were not accustomed. First, they will have to become digital content generators, and second, able to create and manage dynamic activity sessions in the classroom. Students who attend classes in person will expect these to be memorable moments with experiences that are worth investing their time in.
Life-long learning was already in place, but now it’s here to stay. We are in a VUCA (Volatile, Unknown, Complex, Ambiguous) world and the pressure for constant improvement and upgrading will be stronger than ever. The increasing pressure to digitize companies and organizations will only accelerate this process. And this is where MOOCs and other similar initiatives will have to take up the challenge. So far, despite the great promise, they still face huge dropout rates and reducing them will (already) be their next challenge.
Probably the direction to take will be to move towards smaller and smaller modules where the student will be able to acquire specific skills in a very short time. This is in line with two current trends: the first is the immediacy that we all demand in this hyperconnected society, while the second is the skills-based market, a consequence of changes in the demand for profiles in companies (they no longer look for candidates to fill their positions, but look for specific skills to cover needs).
Open and collaborative
Education will be more open and collaborative. Before the Internet, the book and the teacher were the only source of knowledge. Now students have to learn to filter information from a sea of abundant, not always reliable, sources. But the Internet has not only brought more sources of information. It also has allowed us to be permanently connected with colleagues, friends and family. So, let’s be realistic, in a hyper-connected society we don’t expect students to be happy when their teachers ask them to disconnect from the world to “learn”. Ask any teenager you know how they “stay virtual” in Whatsapp and other instant messaging applications to solve exercises together. It is paradoxical that we expect students to solve their work and exercises individually when the world of work greatly values the abilities of collaboration and teamwork. Instead of banning these practices, we should encourage them!
The test will lose its strength as an evaluation tool. In a fluid, highly asynchronous and deeply collaborative educational environment, the test loses its meaning and will give way to other assessment methodologies. Among others, peer review and automated assessment systems, capable of giving feedback in real time to the student, will become increasingly important.
To this end, tutors and trainers will have to design educational experiences whose evaluations will allow the student to correct and improve almost at the same time as he or she is learning. Other more qualitative and, depending on the type of education, self-evaluation aspects will also gain strength.
Many teachers are skeptical, but I guarantee that there is life beyond exams. When I’ve taught at university, I’ve never tested my students with these kinds of tests, and now that I’m teaching in a business school, I don’t plan to do so either. But don’t think that this applies only to university or post-university education. My daughters go to a school without tests, and every term I receive a full report indicating where they are strong and where they need more development. Not using exams doesn’t mean not evaluating or not knowing how well students are doing but doing it differently. And in the post-covid world this should no longer be the exception.
Challenges to be addressed
The digital divide is real in many countries and governments will have to fight to ensure that it does not affect the equal right to basic education. This will have less weight in tertiary and corporate education, but primary and secondary education will be especially important. It has already happened during confinement and will be one of the challenges to be resolved. Providing technology and connectivity to classrooms is key, but it is also necessary to guarantee access to connectivity and technological means for all students in their homes.
In any process of digital transformation (and the process of transformation of education is one) it is of vital importance to ensure that the workforce acquires the appropriate skills to be able to carry out this transformation. Digital literacy will be more important than ever, requiring teachers to become experts in multimedia content creation, web publishing and administration, digital community management, etc.
In the educational field, teachers will not only have to learn new tools, but more importantly, they will have to learn new methodologies. Technology is the basis, but we should not think that we can solve a problem by just throwing technology at it. When electricity came into the factories, one of the first criticisms it received was that it did not provide any benefit over steam. It was not until several years later that it was understood that this technology allowed the layout and arrangement of machines in the factory to be reconfigured, allowing huge gains in productivity and efficiency. With education the same thing will happen, the best teachers will not be those who have the best technologies, but those who discover what new methodologies can be applied in this new educational model.
Sir Ken Robinson, in one of the most famous TED talks, assures that we have an educational model that dates back to the industrial revolution. The time has come for us to modernize it by jumping from the industrial revolution to the digital revolution. We have an unparalleled opportunity and the time is right. Those who think that everything will remain the same, know that your clients, your students, have changed their habits, have discovered a new world, the digital world, and have already migrated towards it. Rest assured that they will not return. It is time to decide whether we migrate with them or stay in the old world… for another century.