Events of the past year have truly tested the education sector. Never before have schools, colleges and universities rolled out such extensive digital transformation programmes in such a short space of time. While institutions have made great strides in these extreme circumstances, with most staff delivering online learning for the first time ever, there have been inconsistencies.
Even from the start of the first lockdown, addressing the digital divide was considered a top priority. As indicated in a report by Ofcom, an estimated 9% of all UK children did not have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home towards the end of last year. Whilst the government extended its support package, delivering 1.26m devices as of March this year, the disruptions of the past 12 months have affected students’ education, leaving serious gaps in their learning.
The digital divide has raised concerns about accessibility across the UK, and the impact barriers to technology access can have on individual students. Early reports have shown that those from disadvantaged backgrounds have likely been most affected, but the unprecedented nature of the crisis makes it hard to predict the actual long-term effects.
Now, as schools have reopened, teachers are faced with a new challenge: the great catch up. As the education sector strives to recover the lost time in the classroom, it’s vital staff take every student’s circumstances and learning pathways into consideration. Teachers need to address the learning gaps of all students, especially those whose education has been most affected. Staff must use all data and digital tools at their disposal if they are to gain sufficient insight into individual students’ progression and needs.
Data-led teaching programmes
This will become particularly important in the months ahead. Whilst the UK government has issued its recovery roadmap for the reopening of society, schools are still in an incredibly tough position where they may potentially have to isolate classes, or particular year groups. As the pandemic continues, we may find ourselves in a situation once again where some students are onsite, and others are learning remotely.
Modern blended learning solutions are effective and can provide the flexibility to cope with these extreme circumstances. However, teachers will need continuous insight into how students are getting on both at home and in the classroom. They simply need more data and real visibility into students’ performance, particularly when it comes to identifying specific areas for development.
Current learning analytics can provide teachers and lecturers with real-time insight into the location and extent of learning gaps – whether a student has particular strengths or weaknesses, or the number of courses they have completed online. This insight will prove vital in the coming months – particularly as teachers try to account for those who did not have access to online learning for months. By using data to drive their teaching or courses, staff can plan more extensive learning programmes that account for all students’ learning needs.
“Current learning analytics can provide teachers and lecturers with real-time insight into the location and extent of learning gaps – whether a student has particular strengths or weaknesses, or the number of courses they have completed online”
The ‘one size fits all’ approach is simply no longer viable; what works for one student may not work for another. By leveraging learner analytics, or live learner data, teachers have greater insight into individualised and group learning paths. They can see specific student’s learning goals and achievements, meaning they can identify a particular student that may be struggling or behind in their work, and assist far more proactively.
With this level of continuous insight, teachers will be able to truly connect the online and offline experience and fill the gaps in students’ learning over the last few months. In fact, they will have the ability to create personalised learning pathways to help ensure that the needs of individual students are constantly being met.
Edtech vs continuing professional development (CPD)
COVID-19 has proven that digital transformation within education is critical, but not necessarily easy to implement. Education technology can only help teachers, and ultimately students, if all parties know how to use it effectively and the solution complements clearly defined learning objectives.
“With this level of continuous insight, teachers will be able to truly connect the online and offline experience and fill the gaps in students’ learning over the last few months”
It’s often the case that edtech is implemented without enough support from senior leadership, meaning teachers may not necessarily fully understand how to use the tools at their disposal, let alone adapt them to their own courses or programmes. Moving forward, institutions must prioritise CPD for all teachers regarding technology, especially if they hope to make their lives easier and help fill the gaps in students’ learning in the coming months.
It presents a significant opportunity for our education sector to learn and improve. With the necessary support in place, teachers can then have the confidence to explore new ways of learning.
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