Do you know how many learners around the world were affected by the recent lockdown? Perhaps many more than you think. I happened to come across UNESCO’s web page about the distance learning solutions that educational organisations around the globe used throughout lockdown. I was impressed by the fact that many countries responded to the call and adopted distance learning methods within a few days.
The recent lockdown required a significant shift at every level of education, from nursery school to university, but also paved the way towards digital transformation in classrooms all over the world. Distance learning, with all its advantages and disadvantages, became a reality and taught us precious lessons for the future.
Back to my initial question: according to UNESCO’s estimation, as of 15 May 2020, ‘1.2 billion learners were affected by the virus outbreak, accounting for 69.3% of total enrolled learners in 158 country-wide closures’. One after another, countries adopted various distance learning methods in an attempt to not let the school year go by in vain. Of course, this wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for technology. Technology – thanks to mobility, connectivity and modern applications – saved the day and made it possible for educational communities worldwide to adapt to the new reality.
Digital education: uncharted territory
Being digital in education is easier said than done. In a few hours, educational institutions and organisations around the globe suddenly jumped into a new era in which digital transformation had already taken place. Parents saw lots of different apps and methods being used. Even educational organisations in the same country, at the same level, decided to use different tools. This variety was most likely the result of a lack of any prior experience on this scale.
Some had it better, some had it worse. For instance, universities found it easier to adapt, since many campuses were already offering some of their courses in digital form.
On the other hand, educators in some countries had to teach themselves about digital platforms, as well as the students. Another apparent obstacle was the lack of access, either to the internet or to devices. For example, not all students had their own laptop and had to borrow their parents’ devices. In some cases, this was impossible, as their parents were working from home too. It is evident that the digital divide and having equal access to the technology required is hugely important, and a critical topic for our CSR agendas.
Software specialists and system integrators can also learn a lot. This is a great opportunity for our channel partners at Dell Technologies.
Raising important questions
By now, lockdown is over in a number of countries around the world, some of which have already welcomed students back into classrooms, while others are waiting until next term. Many national leaders have said that distance learning will never substitute classroom learning, but that it can be used to enhance it. Although this might be true – at least in the immediate future – before turning to a mixed-methods learning model, we first need to evaluate the progress made. Only then can we, as communities, use best practices to move forward. We already have experience of remote education and, if the need for another lockdown emerges, we can make sure it functions better. We need to know what worked, what didn’t, what the obstacles were and how we can overcome them.
Most importantly, we need to know whether e-learning is actually effective. This is an ambitious goal, as the amount of data that needs to be analysed is enormous, and is also susceptible to change depending on location, so a lot of factors must be taken into consideration. However, the multiple solutions for data analysis that we offer at Dell Technologies make this possible. A lot of useful insights can be extracted from the current data, and this means that we can prepare for unforeseen circumstances.
Technology: enabling transformation
If we set aside the digital divide for a moment, e-learning does seem to be efficient, provided that users have access to the right technology. The Educational Research Institute of America’s findings suggest that e-learning retention rates stand at 25% to 60%, compared with 8% to 10% for face-to-face training. The fact that learners are in control of the process and can revisit it at any time works in the online world’s favour. And we, as technology professionals, can use the insights that we already have from open technologies, collaboration and data governance.
In addition, it is crucial to educate the educators, as the digital divide is mainly focused on them. At Dell Technologies, we strive for a better future for us and our children, and education is a fundamental aspect of that. We should stand united if we want to achieve our goal. There is currently a great opportunity for technology companies to connect with partners, and to use their solutions and knowledge to help bridge this divide by organising seminars, webinars and online events on this topic. Now is the time to join hands. Over recent months, Dell Technologies has worked with its partners to hold multiple webinars for our vendors, supporters and friends, and we plan to continue them. This is just an example of how a company can not only expand its reach, but also use its knowledge to build something meaningful to support a wider cause.
As tempting as it is to use technology to try to resolve problems with existing educational methods, I firmly believe that we should avoid this. The history of technology teaches us that the real power lies in forming new approaches based on digital tools. Our communities must integrate technology and discover innovative ways to use it, rather than just focusing on continuing with old methods in digital form.
Education is teamwork
I like to be optimistic and try to find a positive aspect in every situation. As I see it, when it comes to education, this pandemic has given us a unique opportunity that should not be missed. We are entering a new era in which we can use e-learning and distance learning methods in our educational systems. At the same time, we should focus on technology literacy and bridge the digital divide for younger and future generations.
As technology professionals, we have some great opportunities to work together with the teaching community, and to support them to make a considerable shift in their way of working.
There are still challenges. But if we persist and reimagine technology’s role in education, we will emerge in a far better position. The timing couldn’t have been better, and we should take advantage of it.