Following an extended confinement period, digital learning is experiencing a resurgence in popularity.
With increasing collaboration between physical establishments and e-learning organizations, a new teaching model is emerging. Opinion piece by Benjamin Levy.
The Covid-19 crisis has forced us to reassess face-to-face teaching. Educational institutions and training centers, obliged to shut down temporarily (or permanently), have turned to e-learning in hopes of maintaining continuity in training. Many businesses are following suit, offering distance training to employees who have been furloughed, lost their jobs, or are simply working remotely. The French government helpfully provides aid for such training. And of course, many individuals have taken the opportunity during confinement to pursue new skills online. As a result, participation in e-learning courses have soared.
However, the success of online training is not simply due to the advantages it offers in our current context. E-learning is more than a back-up, emergency solution: it provides a valuable complement to traditional face-to-face learning, an aid that is being further exposed by the crisis.
E-learning should be integrated on a long-term basis
Confinement has highlighted the value of online services in many areas of daily life – meetings, signing contracts, training, exercise and more. These practices, new for some, will likely continue in the long term – not only for health reasons, but also because they are more environmentally friendly, and because more people are now learning about their viability. This is particularly true for online training. The current situation has demonstrated the possibilities for remote teaching and training. Many people were already aware of these possibilities, but lockdown has revealed the extent and diversity of the available online educational resources, with self-learning facilities, online teachers, virtual classes, MOOCs, virtual reality, and one-off and long-term training courses.
At the same time, the traditional conflict between “online” and “offline” learning is diminishing. When it began in the 2000s, e-learning was met with distrust by some traditional educational establishments, concerned that learning would become dehumanized. Would teachers one day be replaced by machines? The most conservative among them refused to recognize the complementary contribution that e-learning can provide in the transmission of knowledge.
Online learning can and will never replace teachers or face-to-face training. However e-learning can be used in parallel, to help with knowledge acquisition and retention, periodic testing or student assessments. This frees up valuable time with teachers to be used for discussion, going into greater depth and for personalized support. This unprecedented period has demonstrated not only the possibilities for e-learning, but also the numerous synergies that exist between offline and face-to-face education.
Challenges to the success of e-learning still remain
The current enthusiasm for e-learning should not cause us to forget one of its main challenges: the importance of student participation and attendance over the long-term! Busy schedules, being constantly bombarded with information, the distractions of social media, and our poor ability to concentrate (children and adults alike), combine to discourage us from sustained efforts. Making educational resources available online is not enough in itself for people to learn and progress: just because we have a library around the corner doesn’t guarantee that we will actually learn anything – motivation, will power, energy are still necessary. Indeed, innovation in e-learning over the last two decades has focused mainly on the provision of resources, which are ever more numerous and ever more “high-tech”.
Now is the time to pay more attention to the learner’s experience: our time constraints, our psychology, our very human and limited capacity to remain focused in front of a screen for long periods, and of course our natural tendency to forget things over time. Combating this requires the development of innovative technologies and content that encourage motivation, participation and memorization.
The current crisis is profoundly changing our relationship with time. It has given those involved in face-to-face training an opportunity to adapt and reinvent themselves. It has offered many individuals their first experience of distance learning. By increasing our long-term awareness, the crisis has given e-learning renewed credibility, and revealed a key to successful training: taking the time to learn.