Digitization of Education – Modernizing Classrooms for Good

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela.

When I was a young kid, I could not even imagine learning anywhere except for a traditional classroom and in the physical presence of my teachers. There was some noise about desktops as I stepped into teenage, but it was only limited to our ‘Computer Science’ classes once a fortnight where we would learn coding in BASIC language. As I stepped into college, I graduated as a ‘Computer Applications’ professional who frequented computer labs primarily for practicing my coding assignments. Most of my learning still happened in traditional classrooms, with teachers around, and through paper books. (Interestingly, I have progressed from calling them real books to paper books in the last few years). Fast forward to 2020 – The year that changed mine and probably the entire world’s outlook about education. We work remotely, collaborate virtually, learn through online courses, virtual classrooms, and virtual instructor led training sessions, which very amusingly is also how our kids learn today.

Integration of technology into learning and education is not new but the pace at which it advanced through the year 2020, is remarkable. The field of education was in fact one of the first ones to be affected by the disruption caused by the pandemic. Millions of educational institutions had to resort to online teaching – something that was in the pipeline for the longest time and yet never really prioritized. Some were better prepared than the others, but it won’t be incorrect to say that everyone learnt and evolved for better. With this rapid transformation, we also realized that the potential of digitization in education and learning is huge and exciting. While there are many challenges, there are abundant opportunities too. And as we step into 2021, I can’t help but feel amazed by the sheer thought of learning technology progressing by leaps and bounds.

What is Digitization

Wikipedia defines digitization as the process of converting information into a digital (i.e., computer-readable) format. In the context of learning/education, digitization may be better understood as a subset of ‘Digital Transformation’. Digital transformation is best understood as the adoption of digital technology to transform services or businesses, through replacing non-digital or manual processes with digital processes or replacing older digital technology with newer digital technology.

Common Approaches to Digitize

Digitization largely makes use of (but not limited to) mechanisms like:

  • Online learning courses which can be taken at the learners’ convenience and assist in self-paced learning. These courses are usually targeted at building competencies and knowledge in specific subjects or skills. Course creators can accordingly build them as interactive learning modules. using appropriate instructional methodologies like gamification, animations, videos, simulations, scenarios, and more.
  • Online assessments and examinations which make the whole assessment process convenient and hassle-free for both teachers/trainers and learners.
  • eBooks which provide an interface to learners to access learning material digitally and in an interactive fashion.
  • Study assistants and virtual bots which are available anytime anywhere to guide the learner on all their queries.
  • Curating and converting OERs (Open Educational Resources) into interactive videos, nuggets, and more.  

Challenges to Overcome

While the above digitization approaches contribute to bringing a certain level of ease in the system, there are some challenges that still need attention.

  • Transforming Content Appropriately

Learning online works differently from traditional classroom-based learning and hence the approach to design and deliver both should also be different. Digitizing a piece of content is not about converting it as-is to an online format. We need to apply the right learning design strategy, instructional approaches, and learner engagement tactics to make content appealing for online learners.

Breaking longer content into smaller micro-learning nuggets is equally important. These small learning bytes make a good use-case for just-in-time learning and periodic reinforcement.

Responsive design is another important factor to keep in mind while digitizing content. Learners are likely to access online learning content on a device of their choice.

  • Integrating Multiple Systems

While this doesn’t pertain to content digitization per se, but the right system integrations form the core of any digital transformation initiative. All systems in picture need to communicate with each other seamlessly for the transformation to be effective. For example, in a major upskilling initiative in a company, if the learning management system is exchanging data with the performance management system, it will become much easier to measure the impact of any learning program on the employee performance and even predict what kind of learning programs would an employee need.

In the context of education, systems like student information systems should be integrated seamlessly with salesforce or a CRM, attendance management system, learning management system, and even online meeting tool like zoom to track the entire journey of a learner – from candidate to a certified professional.

These are just a few examples, there could be many others. The point I am trying to establish is that learning cannot operate in a silo; it will work the best if it is a component of the entire organizational workflow.

  • Building a Culture of Continuous Learning

In today’s dynamically changing world, it is important for any organization or educational institution to develop a culture of continuous learning. Upskilling and reskilling continuously is the only way to survive in this competitive landscape. People must learn faster than ever before and for that, we need to weave in continuous learning in the organizational culture and not just make it a mandate.

Making learning available in the flow of work, periodic reinforcement of relevant learning content through nudge-learning, using deep analytics and AI to recognize and address competency gaps, are some ways technology can help address this challenge.

The Way Forward

We are in a time where phenomenal changes are taking place in the education and learning domain. Are the new EdTech products capable of helping develop skills that future workplaces will demand? As per a McKinsey report, by 2030, 65% of today’s grade school kids will end up at jobs that haven’t been invented yet. Clearly, today’s jobs are not necessarily going to end up as tomorrow’s jobs. Hence, we need to rapidly address competency gaps, not just through school education but throughout work lives of professionals. In this changing marketplace, learning is no more meant to be confined to the four walls of a classroom, it needs to evolve. It needs to enable learners to acquire new skills whenever they need and wherever they need.

Digitization is the first step towards this transformation. Solutions like AI-based teaching assistants, chatbots, automation, nudge-learning, augmented and virtual reality will take center stage. Where do you stand in this whole transformation? What challenges have you experienced and what results have you achieved? I would love to know. Drop me an email at info@harbingerelearning.com to connect and discuss.

Are Universities and Higher Education Institutions Ready to Go Online Amidst the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic?

With the ever-increasing penetration of the novel coronavirus across the globe, social distancing has now become a norm and the only way to curb the widespread of this pandemic. In this scenario, many universities and post-secondary institutions around the world have been forced to shut down all in-person classes and might continue running that way for quite some time to come. Student enrollments have gone down and learner drop-outs have increased.  Institutions with no clear continuity plan to go online are the ones facing the toughest challenge. As some of these institutions face an unpredictable future, the society now demands a more flexible, rapid, yet effective way to take the in-person classes online. But, are these institutions ready yet?

With abundance of experience in the educational technology space, learning solutions and technology providers believe they are well poised with creating a complete online learning infrastructure; as well as making the existing classroom content highly engaging and effective for online delivery.

At first, there are educators who believe that certain subjects can never be taught online. They also have their doubts regarding the impact of online medium of teaching and aren’t confident about online learning meeting the end objectives lessons. That is where learning consultants put on their thinking caps and recommend appropriate solutions to meet the required learning objectives.

On the other hand, there are educators who think that going online is just so simple. Subscribe to an online conferencing tool such as Zoom or WebEx, ask your students to join the online session; and begin presenting your screen by using the same presentation deck which was earlier used for in-person classes. If you are an educator and are thinking of taking the same approach, unfortunately, I have some unpleasant news for you. This may be a good makeshift arrangement; but will get you nowhere with your end learning objectives. You would soon realize that these sessions are not effective.

Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT) or even for that matter, self-paced eLearning modules were never meant to be delivered to your learners with them sitting in front of a machine for several hours. Apart from that, being able to grab Gen Z’s attention to your lesson is a challenge in itself, with so many distractors around them. Delivering classes online involves much more than what you actually thought.

Following are a few ways in which you can make sure to deliver online classes in the most efficient and effective way.

  1. Train the Trainer – Make sure to train your teachers/trainers on the tools that would be used for delivering virtual classes. Familiarize them with the tool’s features and interface. To make it more effective, share job aids of best practices in online delivery.
  2. Transform Instructor Led Training (ILT) Presentation Decks – This is one of the most crucial parts to ensure that students who are attending classes remotely are hooked on and engaged to the topic being taught. You can start by making your existing ILT deck visually attractive by adding infographics, short animated videos, create subtle engagement points during delivery, and use interactions to present case studies and scenarios.
  3. Add interactions appropriately – Use break-out rooms for group exercises, add knowledge checks using game-based quizzes for a healthy competition at key points, have a break by cracking a joke or sharing some interesting facts with the learners, use whiteboards, and more. These activities need to be planned well to ensure you have continued learner attention and participation.
  4. Creating Supplementary Training Material – You can create enthusiasm amongst the students by creating pre class materials. For post class reinforcement, you can share materials in the form of interactive eBooks, short nudges, short video summarizing the key points of the day’s class or even a simple AI-driven chatbot which could act as a virtual assistant to answer most common questions the students might have on a particular topic or subject
  5. Learner Support – Get your students ready for the online classroom by familiarizing them to the tools and technology which you plan to leverage. Provide a support desk to answer all their technical questions. Share best practices for online participation and at appropriate times, also ensure to celebrate good participation.

These are just few ways in which you can ensure you are all set for a long-term online delivery plan rather than a stop gap arrangement.

In this increasingly unstable world, we are witnessing abundance of natural and man-made calamities. They have and will continue to affect individuals and the way we deal with our daily routine. Having said that, continuous education is a must for every individual in the society to leap on to the next big thing. Adjusting the way we deliver online sessions, should be of utmost priority with no compromise on the quality and effectiveness.

How are you planning to go online? Your thoughts or suggestions are welcome through comments below.