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Lessons from the pandemic: how technology can help address student learning gaps and pave the way for more resilient education

Stewart Watts, Vice President, EMEA, D2L

Over the last year, it has become apparent that to ensure educational continuity, we need to take greater strides toward digitalization within our schools and universities, and provide appropriate training for teachers and lecturers to better perform their jobs remotely.

What’s more, the widening digital divide has also left many disadvantaged students unable to study due to lack of technological means, and this needs to be addressed. Ofcom reports that approximately 9% of children in the UK – which translates to somewhere between 1.1 million and 1.8 million – do not have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home. Although the Department of Education’s (DfE) support package has recently hit a milestone of delivering over one million laptops, the rollout has been slow, with some of the gaps filled by charities at both a local and national level.

The digital divide raises concerns of the impact barriers to technology can have on learning that are highly specific to each individual student. Compared to the amount of time spent in the physical classroom, the time that students spend learning remotely will be based on multiple factors, including their age, whether they’re the children of key workers, and their own household’s access to the necessary technology.

As schools have now reopened for students, teachers are faced with a new challenge. They will need to address the learning gaps of each student to get them up to speed as quickly and efficiently as possible, and technology will play a crucial role in achieving this.

Data-led teaching

Now schools are open, it is imperative that teachers and lecturers have insight into the location and extent of learning gaps and ensure every student’s unique circumstances are factored into consideration. As the pandemic continues, we may find ourselves in a situation once again where some students are onsite and others are learning remotely. We simply can’t yet rule out the possibility of further school closures at some point in the future.

With education comprising a mixture of online and offline learning at the moment, teachers and educators will need to be able to evaluate students in more advanced ways to provide true visibility into their performance – particularly when it comes to identifying specific areas for development. The ‘one size fits all’ approach is simply no longer viable, and staff will need to know how every learner is progressing in comparison to their peers. Leveraging learner analytics is a great option to get insights into individualized and group learning paths.

With live learner data, educators benefit from complete visibility into the student’s learning goals – from completed tasks, where they have done well and, most critically, where they need to improve. Artificial intelligence (AI) diagnostics layered on top of this can provide deeper insight into how individuals are coping, enabling teachers to step in much earlier to address situations where a student may be struggling or behind in their work.

With this level of continuous insight, teachers will be able to truly connect the online and offline experience, and have the ability to create personalised learning pathways to help ensure that the needs of individual students are constantly being met.

Technology training for teachers

Education technology can only help teachers, and ultimately students, if they know how to use it effectively. Technology has often been implemented in education without the required institutional support to equip teachers with the knowledge to use it properly. As a result, technology is sometimes wrongly perceived as a burden rather than a benefit for teachers.

Senior leadership within our education sector must prioritise Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for teachers regarding technology. Only then can these solutions begin to make their working lives easier and help solve student learning gaps. With the necessary support in place, teachers can then have the confidence to explore new ways of learning that will benefit students right now and for years to come.

The past year has uncovered some areas for opportunity at both the national and local level. Schools, faculty and government will need to adapt and respond to build a resilient educational ecosystem that can better future proof their students’ education.

The good news is that this is a significant opportunity for our education sector to learn and improve. We have a good understanding of the challenges of the past year and must use that to create a more efficient, robust, digitally driven learning experience that can help level the playing field and address student learning gaps.

Stewart Watts, Vice President, EMEA, D2L

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