No organisation or individual has been immune to the challenges COVID-19 presented, including those in the education sector. The way educators and students engage with each other over the past several months since the pandemic hit has been greatly disrupted, with both parties having to make a swift pivot to remote learning to adhere to social distancing measures.
One might say the pandemic has been a tipping point for traditional education institutions to reinvent themselves, having to navigate an unchartered territory where technology plays a critical role to its ability to future proof itself.
Take higher learning for instance. As a key economic driver for Australia, the higher education sector traditionally has heavily relied on overseas student enrollments. However, because of the COVID-19 crisis, several local universities suffered financial hardship and had to implement cost-cutting measures with staff layoffs. This was partly a result from a stream of international students unable to enter the country, and international students already in Australia who chose to return to their home countries due to international border restrictions imposed by the Government.
With the international border remaining closed for the foreseeable future and many foreign countries continuing to discourage overseas travel, it is likely virtual learning will remain a reality for some time.
Now more than ever, there is a need to accelerate adoption of education technology that can offer remote students the same learning experience as those physically present in class.
COVID-19 has fast-tracked a move away from in-person learning by necessity and made it essential for the higher education industry to embrace digital transformation. Traditional, in-person teaching will likely never disappear altogether, but current and future generations of digitally native students will increasingly expect seamless, technology-enabled learning to be part of their higher education experience.
As the lockdown restrictions are still very much in place for some states in Australia, universities have had to switch to remote learning in a breakneck speed, with many turning to traditional video conferencing platforms. While these platforms can work as an interim solution to help facilitate remote learning, they are not sustainable for quality education in the long run.
Whether the learning experience is delivered in-person or remotely, interactivity is key to help maximise discussions, share ideas and information retention. There are limitations to achieving interactivity on traditional video conferencing platforms as it often becomes a one-directional interaction, and deters students from being able to meaningfully engage with each other as well as with the educators.
Not only they require educators to do a lot of adaptations in their content and workflow in order to convey their message, video conferencing platforms have limited functions, which often lead to learning experience where students end up consuming the content independently and passively.
To future proof their operations, it is imperative for higher education institutions to embrace advanced education technology that is designed to encourage collaborative learning. There are a number of platforms that offer virtual classroom technology such as WeConnect.
Such technology comes with built-in interactive tools such as single-question polls, split screens, silent questions, content sharing and whiteboards to help keep students engaged that enable active participation and greater engagement between educators and teachers.
Educators should view the accelerated shift to remote learning brought on by COVID-19 as an opportunity, not a deterrence. Advancements in education technology mean that effective delivery of education no longer needs to take place face-to-face and with the right tools, educators can offer an exceptional learning experience, even in the aftermath of a pandemic.