With Corona upending our daily lives, the pandemic also affected hundreds of millions of pupils, students, but also professionals, in their education. Educational institutions worldwide are now trying to catch up on the digital shift they have been fatally putting off for too long. OECD data¹ show that more than a 100 countries worldwide have at least temporarily shut down schools in an effort to curb the pandemic, affecting more than 1.2 billion children and youth.²

Crisis as an opportunity

As crass as the impact of COVID-19 was and still is, it also presents an opportunity to learn from and be inspired by education initiatives around the world. While France, has created the digital platform “Ma classe à la maison” (my classroom at home), Japan bundles free digital learning opportunities by private sector companies for students confined to home on a dedicated platform. German schools have introduced their (rather improvised, it seems) learning platform “MEBIS” in June. While kids all over Western Europe have returned to their classrooms in late August and September, South Korean students are responding to roll calls from their teachers online.

Public-private partnerships are growing worldwide, with various national telecom providers allowing free broadband access for educational purposes. In addition, big players such as Google and Microsoft have been providing free access to their tools for schools and other educational institutions, such as the online collaboration platform Microsoft Teams.

© Microsoft

A deep divide

It is indeed inspiring to see fresh ways of working emerging, beyond the simple replacement of physical teaching. Still, we must pay special attention to the physically, academically, and psychologically most vulnerable people during this dramatic shift. School closures cause stress and anxiety, and make children go hungry who otherwise depend on free school meals. And let’s not forget that a third of world’s children are completely denied access to remote learning according to Unicef.³

New Edutainment

Even before the pandemic, some initiatives started to use games to teach essential knowledge⁴, such as “Minecraft” transmitting spatial and mathematical principles, “Kerbal Space Program” to teach about Physics and Chemistry. Manuel Ninaus, researcher on game-based learning at the Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien in Tübingen, sees a lot of benefits: “Games consist of feedback loops … gamers receive real-time feedback to their actions and that is a positive influence on learning. What’s more: videogames are suitable to embed learning content into a narrative context.”

What goes for children and youth also goes for adult learners during their careers. Building a continuous learning framework is the key for employee development. This involves a transition plan from today’s learning environment – focused largely on operational learning – to a more personalized, talent-focused learning approach for tomorrow. Organizations need to create continuous learning cycles with multiple touchpoints. Because business cycles – from trough to peak and back down – are at their all-time shortest cycles, employees must learn faster than they did before.

Shift to success

What experts have defined – five major shifts to transform post-COVID education⁵:

  1. Restructuring Time: We need to shift from a system where time is the constant and learning is the variable to one where learning is the constant and time is the variable.
  2. Student-centered models: Thinking about how different each student is will help teachers reject the idea of one-size-fits-all education and focus on educating each student step by step from where they are.
  3. The educator’s role: With information (data) readily available at our fingertips via smartphones and computer screens, education needs to shift from data transmission to skills acquisition, including the ability to think logically, research quickly and efficiently, and more.
  4. Curriculum analysis and development: It is necessary to identify the skill sets we want students to walk away with and focus on practical, hands-on application that is easy to transfer to real-world settings.
  5. School culture: Schools need to take a stronger role in social development aside from merely preparing children to enter competitive careers, influencing belief systems, and associated behavioral expectations/outcomes.

Let’s tackle the challenge

It is understood that all responses must strive to avoid deepening educational and social inequality. As systems massively move to e-learning, the digital divide in connectivity, access to devices and skill levels takes on more weight. Advantaged families are more likely to have parents with higher levels of digital skill who can support the learning of children who cannot attend school. Students from less well-off families are less likely to have this support, which means they risk falling further behind. We are experiencing a time of crisis, yet one that has long been predicted by experts. So why not join hands at the MQ! Virtual Innovation Summit to deduct learnings from this experience to shape sustainable digital learning landscapes?