Education Innovation in COVID

Technology can never replace great teachers but technology in hands of teachers is transformational


Dezyne E’cole College

3 years ago | 7 min read

Innovative Teaching and Leadership Consultant, George Couros says, “Technology can never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers is transformational.” Let’s embrace this change and move towards the era of Digital Learning.

The whole world is witnessing a paradoxical situation where carnage in some areas is complemented by improvement in others. Most governments across the world resorted to the desperate measure of lockdown to protect lives and buy time to respond to the invisible threat.

Many students in their final year find themselves in a state of high uncertainty, especially when their admissions or job offers have been cancelled, and the idea of a gap year is not viewed positively. The anxiety of class XII students is also understandable. What about those in between? I have been exchanging notes with over 300 students about their experience during the lockdown. As expected, one of the top priorities was academic work, i.e. completing assignments/projects and preparing for exams. Others, in the order of importance, included reading books, coding, online courses and contests, social media and entertainment, household chores and spending time with family.

Not many seemed to realise that they were missing out on an opportunity to gain some invaluable experience in life skills. Even if they did, their conditioning that learning, innovating and working (LIWing) are isolated activities that happen in different institutions would have affected the quality of their experience.

Once-in-a-lifetime experience

It is important for us to realise that the Coronage is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It can change interactions in every sphere of human activity — home, work, education, health, time, travel, eating/drinking, shopping — and trigger micro-trends. For instance, it has brought fresh focus on personal health and healthcare systems. It has blurred the boundaries between work and home, weekday and weekend. It has given new benchmarks for a cleaner environment. It has challenged the power imbalance between experts and commons; and messed up predictions of AI/ML models.

The COVID-19 pandemic is set to change the world sooner than we know. The way our governments, institutions, organizations, and people think and function, will radically change — perhaps for the long term.

Among many economic sectors, the higher education sector is undergoing a tectonic shift right now. What several futurists and education technologists have been forecasting for long, is now happening.

In the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, millions of students across the globe have been driven out of their university spaces, and professors are confined to their homes. Higher education stands disaggregated, and faculty and students are grappling with the sudden new norm of completely tech-mediated teaching and learning.

About 60 million students across the globe, are limited to home during the crucial months of February to April — which generally see a flurry of curricular and assessment activities. Institutions and students alike are under pressure to not lose academic time and re-invent their teaching-learning in the only possible way — go completely online. What does this mean for the institutions and academic leaders, administrators and students in the long run is getting clearer.

The new, total technology-mediated education can be termed as Education 4.0, after the first three waves of education systems that evolved over 2000 years of civilization — the Gurukula system (one master to a few pupils), the traditional university system (one to many learners) and distance learning (one to very many learners across the spectrum).

The good news is — the mainstream institutions are willing to move to online, and there’s a possibility of habits changing to enable Education 4.0. Or are we just being optimistic? Let us ask some sobering questions -

· Online higher education has been around for more than a decade now. Why did it not take over the conventional education system in the Pre-Covid era?

· Why is it not a norm already?

· When massive businesses have already moved from offline to online in the Pre-Covid era, why hasn’t higher education not moved to online?

While inertia and ‘fiefdom’ attitude of existing educators are partially to blame, the truth is, every industry that has become digital has had its own inertia and fiefdom hurdles. It is just that ‘digital’ brought in a massive wave of efficiency and effectiveness in these industries, and the pure economics and convenience of it washed away the inertia and fiefdom hurdles. In digital higher education, there has not been such a wave yet; it’s important to understand this.

Several efficiency and effectiveness reasons have impeded this wave, such as:

· Abysmal completion rates in the digital higher education system;

· Non-existent rigor of assessment;

· Non-establishment or non-transparency about improvement in knowledge, application and competency in learners;

· Non-contextual delivery (context is a key success factor in higher education; it influences the learning outcomes. Faculty in a classroom setup can size-up and deliver the class);

· One-size-fits-all delivery;

· Practitioners trying to just ‘transpose’ classroom to the digital medium, which is causing many problems;

· Doing “live” classes may not bring in efficiency or effectiveness;

· Taking a concept all the way to application or higher-order thinking is missing;

and many more reasons.

While the land is fertile for habits to change, the new digital landscape has its unsolved problems, and hence it is where it is. In the education sector, online learning has emerged as an elixir to address threats to the lockdown and served as a feasible option to overcome traditional face to face learning.Creative courses require more demonstrations, visuals, studio classes, material related workshops and model making. Creative courses owing to the very nature of this genre are delivered only offline or face to face. Many institutes of creative learning had to suspend student learning and are dealing with several postponed prospects.

But tough times come with several positive options. Today, some creative institutes of higher learning are amongst the first few; who have adopted the new way of teaching students and keep the momentum going. It has also allowed teachers to develop their styles of teaching and learn something new.

The long term and sustainable triumph of this tectonic shift will depend on seven major elements of online learning.The impact of COVID-19 pandemic has made us at Dezyne E’cole realise that we must be prepared at all times with sufficient ammunition to fight with any unprecedented situation. The present scenario has also made the education sector realise the importance of developing constantly and embracing technological advancements.

1.Online learning is NOT a library of video lectures and e-books that converts class-notes into PDFs. Creating high quality digitized learning content must be contextualized and ‘byte-sized’ to make learning interesting and engaging. Doing this takes a rare skill set which few organizations in the world can boast of. Universities need to collaborate with such organizations for their digital pivots to be successful.

2. Subject matter covered in classroom is to be delivered online, but with technology as the intermediary. Blind replication of the same is a bad idea; it requires a great deal of understanding & application of learning science and digital pedagogy. Every teaching faculty needs to be enabled with this knowledge, or else collaboration with experts is the way forward.

3. Classrooms have typically diverse learner groups. In classical pedagogy, the best of teachers and subject matter experts derive a content-context cluster as a mean of the class’ collective ability and prior knowledge. Then the teaching–learning transaction is crafted according to that constructed mean. This will not and cannot work in online learning. Institutions need to spend as much time on the context for the diverse learner profiles, as on the content, and weave it into the program design.

4. New technologies including the emerging sciences of artificial intelligence and deep learning models can help us create customized learning plans and methods. Higher education institutions must embrace these quickly to overcome the ills of current digital higher education.

5. Online learning is not about ONE pedagogical model but an aggregation of various models. And it is indeed a specialized learning science that combines learning psychology, behavioral analytics, content delivery, and assessments to gauge and measure individual learner’s journey and progress. Working with specialists and ‘hand-stitching’ a delivery mechanism is the key.

6. Put learning science, and not technology, in the forefront. Very many models being created today seek to use technology and tools as a panacea and equate online ‘delivery’ with online ‘learning’. The former is teacher-centric, and the latter is learner-centric. ‘Learning’ is about gradually inducing changes in learner’s actions and behaviour. The learning process, in incremental steps, induces change in thinking and mental models of the learner through deep understanding and conceptual strengthening. After each learning episode, the learner will be able to apply the acquired knowledge in practical situations in life, profession, or workplace. Each teaching faculty needs to be massively re-trained and oriented for online teaching-learning mode. While they could be content experts or great classroom teachers, they need to place equal importance to ‘learning sciences in digital media’.

7. Of course, even in the post COVID-19 era, offline or conventional education models will not become obsolete. They will survive. However, blended learning (a combination of classroom and online modes) will be the norm. Institutions and teachers will blend the two judiciously according to the context and the content.

In sum, the newly realized need for establishing mature online education models, can be successfully met by making these “Queen sacrifices”!

· Faculty to let go off their existing practices of transposing classroom to online medium without applying the ‘science of digital learning’

· Universities to let go off their academic know-all stance and become willing to collaborate with digital learning specialists to train their teachers and re-design higher education for the newest online education world.

By 2030, it’s estimated there will be 1.5 million new digitised jobs across the globe. Researchers estimate that 65% of children entering primary school will find themselves in occupations that today do not exist. Creativity is one of the critical skills required for jobs of the future. It is imperative, therefore, for the education sector to prepare the talent needed for the digital economy. We need to keep teaching and learning agile and include the increasing demand for digital and creative skills.

Digitisation of education will help in mitigating several concerns that we witness around us today. By providing multimedia teaching tools to teachers and engaging students in newer ways of learning, we will be able to create professionals that are skilled enough to compete with the evolving professional world.

And as an Innovative Teaching and Leadership Consultant, George Couros says, “Technology can never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers is transformational.” Let’s embrace this change and move towards the era of Digital Learning.


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Dezyne E’cole College







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