It’s time to embrace technology and societal transformation

Jeremy Shulman, chief editor of subscriptions and product at Edology.com, discusses the impactful role of edtech in these troubled times

The UK government ordered all schools to close until further notice from Friday 21 March. This move fell in line with governments around the world, all of whom are attempting to curb the spread of COVID-19.

You’d be hard pressed to find those who didn’t support the move from the perspective of health and wellbeing. But what becomes challenging is finding a means to maintain the rigour of a regular educational routine at home.

A history lesson

Historically, we’ve been forced into physical spaces at agreeable times to learn from those in our localised region. Looking back to the foundations of learning, this makes sense. Without much mobility or communication, our ancestors were more or less stuck with what was available to them. This led to the evolution of regional speciality and the variation of form within similar subject areas, among other disparities. But what made us special, also kept us ignorant to outside influence, oblivious to alternative means and methods. We became rigid in tried and tested ways of teaching and learning. From the cradle of civilisation to today’s university classrooms, education has done little to evolve over the course of humanity’s existence.

The information era

Things have changed over the last millennia. We are increasingly mobile and able to navigate all corners of the globe with relative ease. We are primed to learn, with formalised education and industry experts leading the way in our own backyards. And, perhaps most significantly, we are inundated with information. The rise of the internet over the past few decades is quite clearly the catalyst that’s given rise to the accessibility of knowledge. Yet, with all this innovation, education itself has largely remained unchanged.

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For years, the e-learning community has worked to develop a solution to the inflexibility of the industry’s main model. What once began as a novelty has become much more prevalent as the desire for online education continues to surge.

The age of accessibility

The current student generation is already one which has never experienced life without the internet. Since their formative years, everything, everyone and everywhere has been easily accessible; we’re able to find immediate answers to questions with simple search engine queries, we video chat with family, friends and colleagues and we fly across the globe in mere hours for important meetings.

Now, as we stand at the edge of an unknown future, with schools closed for the foreseeable, educators and students alike are left wondering how to proceed. For now, home schooling practices are in place for many younger students, though these are merely stopgap measures. What all schools are currently looking toward is a beacon of hope. What all schools should be looking into are long-term e-learning solutions.

Universities have been working over the last two decades to bring their courses online. Some have done so with varied success, while many still seem reluctant to begin the process. In truth, done right, converting live lessons to online modules is a demanding and lengthy task. Though worthwhile, the concerns in doing so tend to revolve around the decline in valued contact time between teachers and students, the maintenance of educational rigour and the likelihood of academics working themselves out of a job.

Though these concerns may hold some validity, what the current pandemic makes painfully clear is the necessity of established e-learning options; nothing short of academically sound and rigorous content that puts academics in the driver’s seat when it comes to its production and presentation.

The only way forward, especially in light of our present circumstances, is to embrace technology and societal transformation. The only way forward is to revise the current age-old model by making the decision to accept the inevitability of innovation for the good of students around the world.

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