The Opinion - The Scotland Excel Thought Leadership Series
Learning & Development – Towards an online future by Christopher Gibson
18 March 2020. The date when my planned face-to-face teaching and learning sessions were cancelled or postponed. The date that began a period of uncertainty and challenge, but also one of opportunity. The date from which I had to work out how I was going to maintain a high-quality teaching and learning experience for my current students on their accredited courses, start new accredited courses and maintain my non-accredited teaching and learning.
Upon lockdown, two main challenges faced The Scotland Excel Academy. First, it took a number of months to put conferencing software in place which had fit for purpose classroom-type capabilities, which was permitted by the Scottish public sector and which all students’ employers allowed. Second, I had to quickly and efficiently modify the content, structure, models and methods used in my upcoming face-to-face teaching, so they were suitable to be exclusively delivered online. This will be a task for the foreseeable future.
Over the past five months, I have worked longer, differently and harder to maintain the high-quality student experience that my students previously received face-to-face.
My preparation time has increased, as has the length of time teaching online since activities take longer when delivered online and involvement in post-session learning has extended and deepened as students need more support during these uncertain times. I am teaching differently, extending the proportion of student-centred, “guide on the side” teaching to support students through their transition to the greater, self-regulated learning that online teaching seems to require. I am also aiming to nurture group collaborative and co-operative learning experiences in the online environment and even quasi-mentoring and coaching individual students.
Finally, I have had to work harder than in the physical face-to-face environment to maintain my active “presence” in my students’ learning, to gain feedback from students as to their level of understanding / learning and to ensure their continued cognitive and social engagement in the online processes.
At the same time, I have had to work on my longer-term teaching and learning strategies. The assumption must be that online delivery is here to stay as people will be more reticent to travel and congregate for non-essential purposes and organisations will realise they can remove the non-essential costs from training. So, more of my courses will be delivered purely online (indeed, The Academy launched 40 new online short courses in May). Demand for physically face-to-face workshops will be less than pre-Covid, and the proportion of the online delivery elements of these “face-to-face” courses is expected to increase even after the pandemic. As such, all L&D providers will have to invest in superior conferencing systems with greater real-classroom capabilities.
Furthermore, whilst the fundamentals of good teaching and learning must not change just because we are delivering more online (and we must never lose the essential student experience of learning as part of a present, engaged and active community of learners), I am certainly trying to grasp the opportunity presented by the crisis to accelerate my use of the most modern and effective teaching methodologies.
Online delivery, with shorter sessions instead of all-day workshops, works well with the modern approaches already employed by me and The Academy including “flipped classroom”, co-operative and collaborative problem and project-based learning, application of real-life experience, and small chunk “self-study” elements, to list a few. But I can push myself further to enhance my students’ development – things like podcasts / video lectures / webinars, discussion sessions and student-developed shared resources are all possible.
Such developments will require more self-directed study from students and greater self-regulation. This is a notion with which many will be unfamiliar and uncomfortable, so it will be incumbent upon me to sensitively guide and support them on their journey towards proficient, independent and self-managed learners.
Whilst the Covid-19 crisis is tragic on so many levels, the expected development of more fit-for-purpose teaching-related IT should help drive greater access to training through online provision, greater use of more effective teaching methodologies and more independent, self-managed learners.
Christopher Gibson is a Learning and Development Project Manager at Scotland Excel.