Benn Carson, Carson Recruitment

Last week, I talked a little about some of the developments in distance learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week, I’d like to go into greater depth about some of the strategies and science which could help providers innovate in response to the industry’s ongoing crisis.

Learner engagement via social media

What is it, exactly, that makes social media engaging?

Ever wonder why you feel compelled to sit scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, sometimes for hours, and sometimes in spite of the fact that you really ought to be working? 

The short answer: Lots of little dopamine hits. Facebook and other social media pages are specifically designed to activate the human brain’s reward system. The former VP of User Growth at Facebook even went so far as to admit that he felt “tremendous guilt,” and claimed that “the short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.”

Social media giants were far from the first businesses to employ the same strategy. Video game creators have been harnessing the brain’s reward system to hook players for decades. But that’s not always as nefarious as it sounds; the same rewards systems can be equally used to promote positive behaviours. 

Gamification is one such positive way to harness the “little dopamine hits” strategy of the social media giants. Dividing learning objectives into small and achievable goals and then offering a small reward can go a long way to building engagement for learners. Perhaps the most successful example is the popular language-learning app, Duolingo.

Learning and Social Interaction

Another compelling feature of social media - particularly during the current lockdown - is the ability to interact with friends and family from the comfort of the sofa. People’s desire for human connection helps to make social media the primary means of consuming information for vast swathes of the population today. 

These days, you’re more likely to go to Youtube and watch a video guide before whipping out the encyclopedia to learn something new. If the guide is particularly good, you might even share it with your friends and family on social media. Innovations in learner engagement would do well to take note, and the most successful learning environments of the future will include this kind of functionality. Consider tools for creating groups where students can collaborate with each other, post what they’ve learned, and message other group members to discuss their learning, while promoting engagement with tools like notifications.

Communicating with students: While it might be best to get students into a dedicated environment (Slack is a great tool to get the basics set up in minutes) it’s important to connect with students with the tools they use on the day to day.

So, while Facebook and Instagram are far from the best place to host learning activites, having accounts there to connect with students, and share news about timetables, learning opportunities, and more, is crucial.

Innovative learner engagement solutions in action

Several of the largest apprenticeship providers are already innovating in new delivery methods in response to the pandemic. Skills Training UK’s Apprenticeships Online offer includes live group training webinars, an events calendar of webinars for all apprenticeship levels, bite-size videos available for apprentices to view at all times, and 1-2-1 remote delivery.

SCL are using Microsoft Teams to maintain a degree of normality while including engagement activities, weekly digital 1-2-1s between tutors and learners, tutor sessions in the morning and independent work in the afternoons followed by group catch ups. Other innovations include shared teaching resources, videos, polls about lessons and fun activites to motivate and build engagement - essentially employing some of the same interactivity and gamification strategies which we already discussed.

Will distance learning become the new normal?

In short: probably not. A lot of media sources have jumped on the bandwagon and are already calling distance learning the new norm, but there is always going to be a place for in-person learning, with all the opportunities for collaboration and easy communication it offers. Colleges, schools, and universities in particular will maintain a strong in-person presence after the pandemic dies down and, in those sectors, distance learning will remain a supplementary activity once we return to normality

However, the ITP will continue to incorporate distance learning to a greater degree - apprenticeships are especially well-suited to distance learning with their focus on on-the-job training - and recent steps are just the beginning. Lockdown isn’t going to end in the immediate future and experts are predicting that there could be a long process involved in getting back to normality, with additional lockdowns as new waves of infection come until such a time as a vaccine becomes available. 

We’re sure to see further innovations and refinements in online learning and, given the industry’s current cash flow problems, it’s a very real possibility that the providers who produce the most successful and innovative solutions will be those who emerge from the crisis relatively unscathed.

Benn Carson, Carson Recruitment

If you’re looking for advice about how to boost your organisation’s distance learning credentials, I’m always available for a chat; just get in touch!

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