Will Digital Education Become the New Normal?

Tuesday March 10, 2020

While the world rapidly changes in many ways, “New Normal” is becoming more the routine than the exception.

One of the latest burgeoning new normal? Digital education. Advancements in technology are changing learning methods, and sometimes the advancements or how fast they are accepted, or become the new normal, can be buoyed by necessity and circumstance.

As digital technology first started coming to life, it had but a faint heartbeat, a sound heard only by the ears most educated to hear it. It beat out a faint invitation to join its new and emerging world, an invitation that some readily welcomed while others casually shrugged off as “not their thing.” But now in the wake of the global epidemic crisis, digital technology–specifically digital education–is about to become everyone’s “thing” whether they welcome it willingly or not.

As the sounding approach of digital education grew louder over the previous years, it began to nudge educators along with it. Incentives were presented to entice educators into experimenting with different digital methods. The response? A mixed bag of reactions. Some felt that the technology was “clunky” or couldn’t capture the essence of in-class experience. Fair enough, those comments are completely valid. It actually creates a win-win scenario where the negative responses allow for tech to focus on needed improvements, and positive responses opened up new opportunities for students to learn.

As authorities, schools, religious leaders, and others try to slow the flow and curb the damage done by nearly pandemic illness, the course of wisdom dictates that large public gatherings where many may be in close contact with one another must be on hold for an indefinite period. This will result in the world going digital by force and not by choice as circumstances necessitate that, among other things, schools start educating through digital means. If schools close down not knowing when classes will resume, those that are unwilling or don’t have the resources to conduct digital classes online will find that it’s the students who suffer as they fall behind in their curriculums, even to the point of jeopardizing upcoming graduations. Schools that previously did little in the way of digital learning might start to use situations like this to understand why digital technology is needed going forward, accepting, and conforming to the new normal. Sometimes all that is needed is a really good reason to change.

5 Tips for Going Digital

Having to navigate the unknown can leave many nervous and unsure about how to approach it. Educators, faculty, and leaders can keep these five things in mind as they begin to educate in the digital new normal.

  1. Continue social etiquette and social cohesion. It’s easy to forget politeness, social graces, and even friendliness online; we almost start to see others as avatars or part of the tech. One thing internet trolls and online bullies have taught us is that we can be quick to lose our sense of humanity in a digital world where physical or face to face interaction doesn’t exist. But this means there is a need for humanness and social grace more than ever. There is no need for stiffness or formality within digital classrooms. There is ample room for conversation and niceties. Instead of going straight to the point, start by asking each individual in the class how they are doing, offering the appropriate level of care and concern that you would have the chance to show in a live setting. Make the little extra effort to keep humanity not just in spite of but especially because we lose physical proximity to other human beings.
  2. Reduce what you are saying by one-third. In a live classroom, a typical lecture might last 60 minutes. But people process things differently while online and attention spans falter more quickly. That means that a 60-minute live lecture should now be 40 minutes online. Don’t dilute your message or leave out important information, instead make it more concentrated and poignant. That will allow for the lecture to be shortened without losing its punch.
  3. Lead from the back. Most educators, leaders, and faculty lead from the literal front of the classroom and metaphorically from the front in terms of doing most of the talking. Though teaching is still an essential component, digital classrooms are a prime opportunity for students to shine and take the lead. Allow for student discussions while listening, encouraging, congratulating, and re-directing when necessary. Here is the chance to begin the new normal of educators doing more listening and less talking and of students doing more learning.
  4. Have empathy for “digital dinosaurs.” Not everyone has the same comfort level with digital technology, and different people come along at their own speeds. Our knee-jerk reaction might be frustration with those lagging behind, but really, it’s not much different than teaching a live class where everyone learns and comprehends the information at different rates. In a live classroom, would students who had trouble comprehending the information cause you to openly express anger and frustration at slower students as you try to force them along? In real life, most educators wouldn’t dream of treating students that way. They look for ways to help their students connect with the very important information they need to succeed. A digital classroom should be no different, even if it’s the technology that is causing the slowdown.
  5. Have fun. A new type of environment might cause stiff seriousness to reign as you concentrate hard on making it all work. But lighten it up. Have fun, engage with students, and encourage them to engage with one another. Foster an atmosphere that lends itself to social interaction and human connection even in a non-human environment.

For more resources: The International Labour Organization (ILO): Decent Jobs for Youth Knowledge Facility

The Decent Jobs for Youth Knowledge facility is a digital platform of tools, publications, databases, thematic resources and more to support evidence-informed action on youth employment. It leverages the collective experience of multiple partners to share curated, state of the art knowledge and to facilitate learning opportunities for the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of youth employment policies and programmes. (CLICK HERE)

Article written by:

Ayman El Tarabishy
Deputy Chair, Department of Management
GW School of Business
ICSB Executive Director