By Jason Dojc
We're inherently social creatures. Yes, we're developing new habits as coping mechanisms to social distancing but we're only going to keep the ones that further our social nature.
Let me start with a big caveat: everyday life will change less than you think. Whenever we’re in the midst of a big epochal event, our 24/7 news cycle will declare “THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING.” Big events tend to have profound changes for a subset of the population and minor changes for everyone else where life pretty much goes on. For example, 9/11 was a major event in my lifetime. As far as my everyday life is concerned, the biggest change was longer security lines at airports. Yet if you lived (or spent time) in Iraq or Afghanistan, a different story.
So I’m going to “stay in my lane” so to speak. I will focus here on the changes that I see happening to educators like me.
E-learning accelerates but production is an issue.
What happened at the end of the winter semester of 2020 and what we’re seeing in the summer semester of 2020 is a skunkworks education project where instructors are adapting what they normally do in the classroom to an online environment. By this coming September, you should see digital-first classes optimized for learning behind a screen. Assignments are unaffected. No one hands in assignments anymore, they submit them through a learning management system (e.g. Blackboard, Brightspace, Google Classroom). In-class instruction is a different story.
Digital learning means we ingest information and practice concepts asynchronously then come together in a live environment for showing your work, evaluation, and feedback. The ingesting of information ideally would not be through recorded lectures but by TED-Ed or CrashCourse style video stories followed by an exploratory, interactive activity or simulation.
Essentially, there’s a need for class-specific content and controlled student activities, two things educational institutions aren’t particularly well set up to do. A massive opportunity exists for instructional designers, content creators, and game studios to collaborate and design compelling e-learning experiences. The demand will be there even when everyone is back in class because we’ll still want to create interactive learning experiences for our students.
Except, people want a social life.
Aye, there’s the rub. One’s education does not begin and end in a classroom. Didn’t we all learn a lot from the friendships, loves, sports, extracurriculars, parties, trips, concerts, etc. Isn’t that how we grew as people? It’s no wonder many students are now considering a gap year (even with no travel). Even if research showed that e-learning is as effective as in-person (the short answer is that “it’s complicated”), the “other stuff” is a big part of student life and needs to be addressed.
So the pivot to e-learning is temporary? Perhaps you’re looking at the wrong target. A large segment of students want the full student experience, and post-pandemic will continue to desire that in-person experience. International students who want to immigrate will want real exposure to the country that will become their new home.
As more institutions adopt online classes and figure out more effective e-learning, there will be a willing buyer: corporate training. Companies looking to upgrade the skills of their employees will embrace cost-effective e-learning especially if they see meaningful results. Busy professionals will like the flexibility of upgrading their skills online and HR departments will like the cost-effectiveness.
The bottom line?
People want to learn new things and they also want a social life. For some people with some subjects, the two are deeply intertwined. For others (or in other subjects), they can focus on learning mediated through technology and get their social life from other sources.