What the 2020/21 academic year holds and how to embrace it

Dominic Traynor, education evangelist at Adobe, on what lies in store for the sector in the next 12 months

This year, COVID-19 instigated the biggest shake up our secondary education system has seen in decades. While students and teachers have been gradually increasing their use of technology for years, the pandemic forced a complete shift to online learning which will no doubt leave a lasting legacy in schools.

With students having returned to school for the Autumn term, and what will be a very different school year to usual, educators have more to deal with than ever before. But there are many positives that can be taken from these enforced changes.

Digital tools can be used to augment traditional teaching, personalising student experiences and increasing engagement

School closures during the second half of the last academic year highlighted that the UK education system is still very analogue. Despite a plethora of different technologies, many schools haven’t truly figured out how to integrate technology into their teaching and whilst some thrived during lockdown, others struggled.

Keeping student engagement high naturally proved difficult for teachers when running classes remotely, with a study from the NFER revealing that 90% of teachers felt their pupils were doing less work than normal. This spotlights a problem that already exists in schools: student engagement is sometimes difficult to achieve even in the classroom.

“Today’s students understand the importance of digital media and they want personalised approaches to learning”

Today’s students understand the importance of digital media and they want personalised approaches to learning. Key to achieving that engagement is to provide students with ways to be creative and where there is a shareable end product. Incorporating digital tools into the curriculum allows students to engage with traditional learning and be creative with it, whilst also facilitating a wider range of learning styles.

An increase in flipped learning approaches will better cater for different learning styles amongst students

While COVID-19 is unlikely to lead to a complete reinvention of current teaching methods, there’s no denying that the world is becoming increasingly digital. In the future, we’re likely to see a blended learning approach consisting of both face-to-face contact and a greater emphasis on digital technology – given its power to reach students outside the classroom and address different learning styles.

Autumn term timetables are naturally different to previous years to facilitate some continued off-site learning, and schools have had to adapt their teaching approach to one which is more similar to the university-style system to cope with social distancing. This is where having the right digital technology in place becomes key to ensuring that educators and students can easily learn and work together on collaborative projects.

This shift is likely to impact teachers, whose roles may transition from ‘lecturers’ to ‘facilitators,’ focused on supporting students to engage with experts online in a flipped learning approach. Using video tutorials to support students’ learning can be a really positive tool, as educators can go through the learning process simultaneously and think about any sticking points which students may need help with. Evidence of increasing interest in this ‘flipped learning’ movement can be seen in YouTube’s commitment to provide £15.3m of funding for ‘EduTubers’ – creators who make learning content. In addition, TikTok recently announced plans to commission hundreds of experts and institutions to produce educational content for the platform.

Prioritising the student learning experience and focussing on life-long learning will better support the future workforce
COVID-19 will bring about a bigger role for digital in the years to come. As we look towards a more digital future, this may well bring a portfolio approach to assessment. The impact of breaking down subject boundaries, with a focus on design thinking and innovation, and incorporating project-based learning could be hugely beneficial to students and help upskill them for the future by encouraging them to think about their studies more creatively.

Schools using project-based learning will also be better placed to nurture skills such as critical thinking, creative problem-solving abilities and resilience, which have been identified by the World Economic Forum as vital skills for the workforce of tomorrow. This is echoed by research recently conducted by Adobe which found that communication, creativity and collaboration are the most highly sought out skills by UK employers from an analysis of 50,000+ in job postings across 18 career fields.

COVID-19 will force young people to think differently about higher education and jobs, causing a shift in focus towards life-long learning. We will see an increased emphasis on bringing students in as co-creators for the curriculum so that young people leave school with an understanding of who they are and retain the desire to keep learning. Today’s students will need to continuously master new skills as technology rapidly reshapes the way we work and learn.

Ultimately, producing creative, resilient workers will require a change in how we educate the next generation – prioritising the student learning experience and building a much bigger role for digital. It will be an approach that demands greater collaboration between education and industry, and one that gives students a voice to express their opinion about what they’re learning, and how they learn. It’s a change that would have happened without COVID-19, but the pandemic has accelerated those conversations – in my opinion for the better.

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