The last year has turned all of our lives upside down. As a sector, we’ve had to adapt and acquire new skills to make sure everyone is benefitting from their education.
Oxford University Press' latest report, Education: The Journey Towards a Digital Revolution, shows how the pandemic has altered the way we learn overnight.
This digital transformation will shape the way we learn in the future.
Yet we have to remember that this shift will not affect everyone equally.
79 per cent of our experts fear that socio-economic barriers caused by the pandemic have significantly impacted the effectiveness of digital learning, with 85 per cent saying the switch to digital learning has seen learners from disadvantaged backgrounds fall behind their more advantaged peers.
Issues such as a lack of internet connection and the high cost of data have created difficulties accessing digital resources, exacerbating existing educational divides.
And this hasn’t been limited to school age learners: another report [THE Campus: Digital Teaching Survey] notes computer and internet access has been a barrier to learning in universities too, with some students relying on university support and funding.
It is important to tackle these issues head on as digital pedagogies continue to evolve.
98 per cent of OUP experts believe that digital learning will be embedded in education in the future; with digital here to stay, we must work together to make sure this hybrid future works for everyone.
Increased funding for technology and connectivity
First and foremost, this means increased funding for technology and improving connectivity to ensure everyone can access the tools and resources needed to learn.
The experience of the last 12 months has sharpened focus on the importance of investing in a digitally enabled education offer, and it is essential that all learners, especially those from deprived backgrounds, have consistent access to the laptops, WiFi and learning devices that will only become more important moving forward.
Educating the educators
We also need to support teachers through professional development, to help them adapt to new teaching methods and improve their digital fluency. While there will be initial disruption with educators as they work out an effective pedagogy that utilizes digital to its fullest, over time teachers and students will get to grips with the tools and what works best, but only provided the right level of training is offered.
With this, expectations will rise. In the hybrid education model of the future, teachers and learners will expect more out of the tools they use. Digital will no longer be a ‘nice to have’ but will need to be embedded. This could mean students rating higher education institutions based on the quality of their digital offering in the future, rather than on other traditional criteria.
Quality content and learning outcomes back at the heart of learning
It is therefore important that quality content and learning outcomes are put back at the heart of learning, rather than focusing on learning platforms and methods of delivery.
One UK teacher noted, ‘the pandemic has also given rise to a huge amount of free support… and raised questions around value and quality.’
Alongside this, teachers in our research stated that they struggled to motivate students during online lessons, were unable to conduct lesson plan tasks into their teaching, as well as check attendance and participation of the students.
Adding value to do things differently
If implemented properly and accessible for all, digital will add value and will be used to do things differently, in creative ways.
We might see innovation to support teacher workload, such as time-consuming administrative tasks or parents’ evenings, as well as more flexible ways to support pupils’ learning and generally drive forward greater personalization both in content delivery and assessment.
It will also benefit the future workforce and curricula should evolve to provide learners with the skills they need to be both digitally fluent, and adaptable to whatever the future holds.
Addressing the digital learning divide
The World Economic Forum predicts that 40 per cent of current workers' core skills are expected to change in the next five years.
Jisc’s Spring 2020 report, The Future of Assessment, suggests that over the next five years, universities must embrace technology to transform assessment to make it more authentic and continuous, preparing learners for using knowledge in practice and helping them adapt to lifelong learning and the changing world of work.
To make sure we reap these benefits, it is essential that governments work with institutions to address the digital learning divide, not just now, but for the future, too.
They also need to actively collaborate and learn from those on the ‘frontline’—teachers, parents and students—and use their recent experiences to inform future policy and curriculum development.
We must not assume a ‘one size fits all’ approach and must learn from the lessons of the last 12 months to make sure the hybrid learning models benefit us all.
Vivek Govil, Managing Director, UK Education and Education Services business, Oxford University Press
Vivek has worked in education across the UK and internationally with a particular focus on the school sector and how digital learning can improve outcomes for teachers and learners. His prior experience includes consumer products and hospitality. Vivek is a Non-Executive Director with an NHS trust, and a trustee of a children’s charity.