The global pandemic has required many teachers, students, and parents to adjust to many changes in the education system – and do so quickly. Pre-pandemic, the rollout of a digital learning programme would take months; last year, schools had weeks (if not days) to implement remote learning models to ensure students continued their education despite all social distancing rules. Education technologies – or edtech – got a huge boost from a nice-to-have to a must-have.
As schools across the world (and across Australian federal jurisdictions) prepare for the next school terms, everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that these will include as much in-person learning as possible. However, “going back to normal” is clearly no option. Online learning is here to stay, at least partially, in a hybrid model of education.
I believe hybrid education is on the way to become the “new normal”. The virtual learning environment may not be perfect, but it has proven essential in continuously providing education. As nations across the world make progress in keeping the health threat under control, educators look for ways to make the most of edtech in their classrooms. Why? Because edtech makes it possible not only to reach students beyond classroom walls but to create increasingly personalised learning experiences for each student.
Edtech and the promise to personalise education
Each student has different learning needs, interests, competencies, prior knowledge about a subject, strengths, preferences, and so on. The very best education a student can receive is one that caters to all the above variables (and more), offering the right learning intervention at the right time and providing the right support so that the student indeed reaches their full potential.
That sounds great on paper. In real life, however, teachers know achieving that level of personalisation in education is simply impossible. There are not enough hours in the day, and there are not enough teachers for each and every student.
Enter edtech. The amount of data edtech can offer about the learning activities of students is a game-changer. Based on this data, teachers can design and adapt learning experiences to better match the needs of each student. Here are a few ways edtech helps personalise education:
When I was in school, the textbook ruled. Textbooks were like bibles for each subject. Each class activity had a connection to the textbook, even if it wasn't obvious to me as a student. Today's teachers have more options in terms of designing lesson materials, and edtech underpins many of these options.
For example, besides the regular written content, teachers can create short videos or screen captures explaining a concept; they can record audio files if speaking is enough; they can also include all sorts of visuals within a lesson. All this diversity in learning materials cater to more student needs and contributes to a more engaging learning experience.
Lectures can be awesome ways to impart knowledge to students, but unfortunately, they don't work all the time. Sometimes, it's the subject at fault. Most of the time, it's the fact that students’ attention is hindered by all sorts of things that teacher (and even the student!) can't control.
Online lessons created in a learning management system, for example, have the advantage that they can be accessed asynchronously. This means students can go through each lesson at their own pace. They can pause when they feel the need and resume from where they left off once they can pay attention again. Self-paced learning really benefits students by giving them more agency over their learning journey.
Learning is indeed a journey, and students need continuous support to know they are on the right track. Giving feedback in the physical classroom is quite straightforward, but things can become less personal when everyone switches to the digital learning environment. Or do they?
Providing feedback online can be a challenge or a godsend solution; it depends on how you look at it. There may be no physical interaction, but there are efficient ways to do it. Tools like Flipgrid, Vocaroo, or Talk and Comment make things easier for both teachers and students to interact online regarding any issues a student may have.
Assessment and grading
How much time a student spends at school or at home logged into the school LMS is not necessarily a good indicator of their academic progress. I've always been a promoter of mastery-based learning, and I'm sure all teachers agree this is the better way of assessing students.
With an edtech tool such as an LMS, teachers can create various types of assessments, formative and summative, and they can even allow students to pick just one to focus on. As long as they prove mastery of what they have learned, the way they do it shouldn’t matter.
Personalised learning is like the Holy Grail of education. Everyone agrees that it's the best way of achieving the highest student outcomes, but nobody knows how to achieve it exactly. Education technologies have proven their worth lately and have great potential of helping personalise education. As long as they are used to complement the physical classroom – not replace it – I'm confident they will continue to be a huge part of students’ lives long after the pandemic will have become just a collective memory.