Don’t take one step forward and two steps back
Rewind to 2002: I was still on dial-up on an old 486 PC, ‘talking’ with my boyfriend (now husband) on MS Messenger. Just imagine if this pandemic happened then … on dial-up! It doesn’t bear thinking about. There was little choice available as an alternative to classroom apart from traditional distance learning with real books, video cassettes and coursework sent through the post. We are living in a digitally enabled world where digital technology gives us greater opportunities than we could have dreamed of less than 20 years ago.
I’ve learned from experts thousands of miles away without leaving my couch and check the ‘magic box’ (my iPhone), whenever I need a definition, translate into English or to convert metres to feet to make sure I’m far enough away from people (yep, I still haven’t got the hang of metric).
We’ve only really had access to decent quality broadband in recent years albeit patchy in rural areas. With more consistent quality broadband during lockdown we have been able to stream films and binge-watch boxed sets; keep in touch with friends and family on Zoom, WhatsApp, FaceTime; kept active with Joe Wicks via his YouTube channel (well, erm, not everyone regardless of good intentions).
Thrust into remote working we communicated and learned through WebEx, Teams, Slack groups, and online course platforms like Udemy and LinkedInLearning. Organisations speedily fast-forwarded their digital transformation programmes and upgraded their IT infrastructure, adapted business models quickly for remote digital working.
In the 5 years up to end of March 2020, we saw a significant increase in internet use from 86.2% to 92.1% (Office for National Statistics) with a considerable drop in those who rarely/never used the internet – from 13.5% to 7.9%
As yet, there are no statistics for 2020/2021 but there’ll be no prizes for guessing there will be a much bigger increase.
The next phase of different
There is no denying that 2020 drastically changed the learning and development landscape. We proved we are resilient, inventive, proactive and determined to continue to thrive against adversity in more ways than one. Now, with COVID vaccines, home testing kits, and socially distanced adapted inside spaces, we are readying ourselves for the next phase of different.
At last we have a tantalising peek at being able to meet in-person in larger, more socially distanced groups – and indoors!. But beware, this isn’t an excuse to go back to doing what we’ve always done, to throw away all that we’ve learned and return blindly to the classroom without careful consideration.
After just over a year since the first COVID lockdown, there already appears to be some cautious moves back to the more socially distanced classroom. Is this move the right move? Maybe, maybe not. Before returning to the classroom, we should ask ourselves if we are doing this for the right reasons? Should we be doing it as much?Should we be doing it at all?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-classroom. On the contrary, I cut my training teeth in the classroom and spent the best part of my L&D career helping fellow L&D professionals hone their classroom facilitation skills as well as helping them transition to live online and blended.
Great classroom experiences are where learners are actively involved are both enjoyable and rewarding. We love the energy, the sense of community, the ad-hoc conversations, the meeting of minds, the speed of exploring new ideas, sharing experiences and, yes, just being in the presence of others.
When we do return to the classroom we need to make sure it is for all the right reasons especially as many activities can be successfully run online. Not only that, but digital tools give us added advantages over classroom that increase learning efficacy and which we’ll explore more in later posts.
Make smart choices not Frankenblends
Don’t make rash decisions about delivery channels and tools too soon. All too often we consciously or unconsciously plan for a classroom or virtual classroom or elearning self-study course at the outset. Sometimes, the decision has been made for us. Have you every been told that it MUST be in the classroom, and under no circumstances must anything go online? or vice versa? I certainly have in the past! We then have to make the learning activities fit that environment rather than concentrate on what is most appropriate for the learning need and the learners.
If we are not careful, blended solutions can become nothing more than Frankenstein’s monster blends (Frankenblends): digital content bolted on for learners to read, or an elearning module to complete with little or no support before they attend several days in a classroom. At best, there may be tenuous linking between each element, at worst, these feel disparate and disconnected. For seamless blended solutions that are not only more efficient but improves effectiveness we should make sure we really understand the situation we are catering for and it’s all too easy to fall back into a classroom by default habit.
Play the Devil’s advocate
No matter how we might feel about it, the future is one of ‘digital by default’. This doesn’t mean we choose digital instead of classroom, it means we should consider digital technologies for learning before we consider classroom and base our choices on what is appropriate – not on our personal likes and dislikes.
Over many years I worked with people in many different organisations to help them plan effective and efficient blended solutions. I always suggested that they imagine classroom is no longer an option on the table (no I didn’t have any premonitions of the pandemic). This helped them rid the shackles of habit and think differently.
Every time they suggested that classroom (which is the most expensive of resources) was the only way, I played the Devil’s Advocate, wanting a robust rationale behind their decisions. Very often, I was able to explain how a digital alternative would be as effective (if we don’t know what’s possible or have the skills, we will choose only what we know). When they eventually set out a their final arguments for classroom, when all avenues had been explored and rationally dismissed, I knew they had chosen classroom for the right reasons and making the best use of them.
So let us seize the day. Don’t go back to the classroom just because we can. Let’s seize the opportunity continue to take our learning solutions to the next level, to make smart choices to choose what needs to happen before you decide how you will deliver it. To remind ourselves what good learning involves:
Retrieval and spaced practice
Personalise and presence
How will you seize the day? What differences will you make to your future learning solutions to help you move forward? What challenges might lie ahead that threaten making smarter choices?
If you would like an informal chat to talk through any ideas you have or would like to pick my brains, please drop me a message.