Education: on the line
Rethinking virtual classrooms
Have you ever read a novel on your laptop or desktop screen?
Have you ever watched a feature-length movie where one person talked the whole time?
Have you ever wanted a Zoom call to last twice as long?
Yet in 2020, education providers made students read thousands of words within PDFs and e-textbooks, watch hours of talking head videos, and worst of all—attend long PowerPoint lectures on Zoom every day.
Why? Because they had no time and no choice. COVID forced universities, schools, and private training providers to upload their physical classroom materials to the first cloud in sight. Unthreaded chat windows and glitchy forums replaced focus group discussions. Slide decks from teacher presentations became standalone learning content. Using common digital tools, educators created “emergency virtual classrooms”.
And it worked… for a while. But like reading a book on a laptop, students and instructors became fatigued and frustrated with the new format. Zoom overwhelm was real. So the question arises: are these emergency tactics going to become the new normal? Hopefully not. Because there are better ways to learn online, and failing to embrace them would be unfair to future students like you.
Social media and social learning
Bringing human interaction and experience into the digital space is the key to successful online learning. But it isn’t simply a matter of moving real-life inside a device or screen. Just as you don’t need a salesperson to greet you at an online checkout, you don’t need online learning to mimic a classroom. There is no requirement for consistency with the real world.
In other words, just because you can learn in a Zoom lecture, doesn’t mean you have to.
Instead of a poor copy of a lecture hall, why can’t online learning be something else entirely? Something that harnesses the best aspects of our most used technologies? Social media apps are the world’s most widely adopted tech platforms. And they have reimagined the social and behavioral aspects of the real world to create a new online existence. A nod is replaced with a ‘like’, group excitement morphs into sharing, and walking into a room becomes ‘join group’ or ‘follow’. Content becomes the teacher and the topic. But despite these adaptations, social media shows us that we still have the same strong desire to connect with other people. Online educators should not ignore this.
As a recent Harvard Business article outlines, online learning can still be social. Many would agree that it must be social.
Crucially, social media platforms give you control over your online experience. Navigate, like, love, leave, join, report, comment, share, participate, complain, poll, collect, or save. It’s all in your hands. Choice and freedom are critical aspects of online learning too. When your experience is limited and fixed (as Zoom lectures and textbooks can be) you lose the ability to create your own learning journey.
Adapt and evolve
“How can we make online learning irresistible? How can we give learners control and input? How can we build an online learning community?”
For better or worse, the rise of online media and – in particular – social media, has changed the way we consume content and the way we interact with one another. The shift can be seen in our attention span, our expectation to navigate and opt in/out, and in the degree to which we expect to be entertained by our screens.
Feeds and home pages are full of mixed media material; video, podcasts, images, chat, Q&A, polls, live streams, written articles (with comments and opinions from users trailing behind each piece). If online educators expect courses to co-exist with other forms of digital media, then we must rise to the challenge, compare to and compete with it.
Technology is nothing if not flexible, constantly changing and evolving – forever innovating. If online education wants to play in this space long term, it asks this of us too.
Education providers have a lot to learn from those who excel at understanding the intersection of humans and their favourite technology. Any online course provider should be asking themselves “How can we make online learning irresistible? How can we give learners control and input? How can we build an online learning community?”. And when shopping for your next online course, you should closely examine how different providers answer these questions.
As we leave a year of necessary emergency measures, it’s time to reset the bar for online learning. Expect more from it than just Zoom and digital textbooks. Expect to feel supported, connected and in control of your experience. Expect to learn in ways that respond to your screen-time attention span. Expect to be active and participate in your learning, not just watch. Expect technology to improve your education experience, not hold it back. These factors are very likely to be the ones that will help you cross the finish line, and you might actually be energised and smiling as you do so.
Tiff is our Head of Product at Academy Xi. A musician at heart, she lives in a small coastal town halfway up the east coast of Australia. She’s been creating experiences through learning and course design for 15 years and never gets bored of learning new things.
If you’re looking for a more effective way to deliver online training for you and your team, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org