Learning in the time of COVID-19: business almost as usual

Evgeny Shadchnev, CEO of software e-learning company Makers, on how coding bootcamps are creating a new generation of tech talent

We live in a digital world – and our role as a software bootcamp is to train and shape the future workforce.

While we enjoy training a full cohort, we also know that life can present challenges to that outcome.

This includes the unprecedented arrival of COVID-19. We’ve acted swiftly to protect the wellbeing of our students – and started distance learning. But we’ve always offered this option because long before the outbreak, we needed to help those who couldn’t come into the classroom due to their personal responsibilities. They included – and still include – the mid-career changing stay-at-home mum who needs to work her training around childcare, as well as the individuals who simply can’t afford to study in London for the duration of the programme.

Diversity is about widening the net in search of talent, and because diversity is at the heart of everything we do, we’ve always used technology to help people cope with the challenges of their circumstances, and to give them the chance to learn on their own terms. From apprenticeships, to video delivery to childcare facilities, this is what all 21st century learning centres should provide. We should be prepared for flexibility – and shouldn’t have to wait for a pandemic for it to come into its own.

Of course, we cannot downplay the significant threat posed by the virus and the strain it’s having on the NHS and mental health, largely thanks to the ongoing news flow that brings a daily dose of morbidity, mortality and response.

But there’s also an urgency to continue as best we can, and to view this time of crisis as an opportunity to continue learning and make the most of the time we have. If we have to train up our future workforce away from the classroom, then that’s what we must do.

As of last week, all students are now being instructed remotely – and while it was initially challenging for most who started with in-class learning, the adjustment has been achieved fairly smoothly and it’s only due to the enabling factors of technology and committed teaching. I believe a big part of this successful continuity has been the ongoing focus on wellbeing. 

Emotional intelligence during remote delivery

This is critical for anyone running courses; how do you keep students emotionally nourished throughout the learning process?

Mental health is important – and we’ve always incorporated activities during our programme to ensure everyone stays strong and connected. In the classroom, we offer daily meditation, yoga and wellbeing coach sessions organised by our chief joy officer and break sessions to engage with others.

But achieving this is harder when everyone is remote learning and in isolation from their fellow trainees.  How we’ve prepared to overcome this challenge is by enforcing the following actions:

1:1 Holistic Coaching Sessions. If something is getting in the way of learning or wellbeing, students can send a message to Makers’ dedicated coach, who then sends an invite for a remote call, which happens via slack.

Daily Meditation continues as usual remotely in its regular time slot. The team sends a link for a virtual meditation room.

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Emotional Intelligence Curriculum is adapted for remote delivery and will proceed as normal.

Yoga takes place virtually via video link at the same time for everyone to take part in the comfort of their homes.

The #wellbeing slack channel is there to help keep everyone grounded, resilient and connected through this challenging time. The Makers team posts updates, resources and reminders frequently and invites students to interact and share as much as they wish.

When students are completing their coursework, trainers are encouraged to join links to ‘virtual water coolers’ for light-hearted discussions, as well as prompts for more in-depth sharing spaces to connect as students move through all this together.

If we can raise morale, anything is possible – and we are confident that with a positive state of mind, our temporary adjustment to our delivery model will result in the same quality of outcomes.

We are experienced in remote training, we’ve done it for five years, and we have many successful students who have trained remotely. This might be the first time we are training everyone offsite, and having to manage the emotional anxiety of COVID-19, but things are going well.

Inspiring others to learn from home during COVID-19

For anybody who’s been sitting on the fence about whether to learn to code, this is actually a great opportunity to learn remotely while quarantined during this unprecedented pandemic.

At a time of crisis, learning a new and valuable skill could be the distraction you need to get through this difficult time.

All of our lives have been altered temporarily as a result of COVID-19, but learning to code is even more life-changing and relevant to our digital world  – and, unlike the virus, will last a lifetime.

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