Events in 2020 turned all of our lives upside down. But it is fair to say that our students felt the impact of lockdown and social distancing harder than most. Yet even before the pandemic, the education sector was going through a period of dramatic change. Some of these changes have been derailed by Covid, while others have been accelerated. The net result is that education is changing beyond recognition. Here, we examine some of the biggest game-changers that will manifest themselves as we head into 2021.
Virtual classrooms are nothing new, and e-learning has revolutionised education over the past decade. Up until this year, however, its main application was for graduate and mature students, providing an opportunity to fit flexible learning around home and work commitments. 2020 saw a rush to extend this across all areas of education, and this is not a trend that will evaporate in the new normal. In truth, this will require more of a mindset-change from teachers and parents than from pupils. How many of us struggled to connect to a Zoom meeting during lockdown, only to be saved by the tech skills of our school-age children? Today’s youngsters are comfortable in a virtual world.
Changing role of teachers
New ways of learning require new ways of teaching. We all know that kids are like sponges, but can teachers adapt so readily? Sure, they will need to be comfortable working with digital tools in order to communicate ideas to their students. But beyond that, they must be capable of equipping their pupils with the skills they need to thrive in the 2020s. In recent years, educators have suggested that the “3 Rs” are being replaced, or at least complemented, by the “4 Cs” of Communication, Creativity, Critical thinking and Collaboration.
The impact of AI on our day-to-day lives could represent the biggest technological disruptor since the internet revolution. Chatbots are likely to play an increasingly significant role in education, effectively replacing human teaching assistants. Yet even this is only the beginning. Inevitably, teaching will become more automated over the coming years, with roles being reversed and the human teacher becoming the assistant, providing oversight and additional support when needed.
It is important not to lose sight of the fact that schools, colleges and universities are about more than academic learning. More than 60 percent of recent graduates say that the social element of campus life made them feel more confident and independent, preparing them for adult life.
Today’s students might be comfortable with a move online and socialising with other students through platforms like Zoom. But this can never replicate the experience of living independently in halls of residence during term time.
There is no easy solution, but a shift towards blended learning, with a mixture of online and campus-based studies could become the norm. These would likely include “residencies” where students remain on campus for several days to undertake specific projects.