ONLINE LEARNING WILL BLOSSOM, POST PANDEMIC
The advantages of online learning, post-pandemic, will develop and blossom rapidly and widely over the coming years. I imagine the following transformations are likely, amongst many others:
Schools will be able to capitalise on pupils’ positive experience of online learning by offering sections of the curriculum online. Under-staffing in shortage subjects can be remedied by strategic use of online learning in real time to more than one class.
Within MATs and other group foundations, ‘star teachers’ can be deployed across schools within a school group, enhancing the student experience. ‘Minority’ A level / curriculum subjects, can be offered viably across affiliated schools. You want to study A level History of Art? No problem: it’s offered by School X, taught by art history expert, remotely.
Online curriculum delivery of this kind can enhance inclusivity: star teacher A is disabled and school B is not able to make immediate reasonable adjustments for them to deliver lessons effectively on-site, but can deploy star teacher A immediately because star teacher A can deliver lessons online whilst reasonable adjustments are put into place.
The innate flexibility of online education starts to acquire astonishing potential across national borders, as schools delivering distinctive and desirable curriculum elements can provide supplementary content online to students attending on-site schools.
For example, the Warwick Foundation, through its new space for online learning (www.wis-virtual.com) currently provides supplementary A level tuition for students in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. Plans for online mentoring of teachers in a group of independent schools in the same city are currently at a discussion stage.
Online schools and similar initiatives flourished through the pandemic, with new and established providers offering mainstream curriculum to home-schoolers as a permanent alternative to on-site schooling.
These online schools will continue to appeal to the niche market of home-schoolers, serving families with children involved in elite sport, acting, music and the like. It looks unlikely, given the amount of time spent at home learning online during the pandemic, that families will choose online education over on-site education.
But positive experiences of online education during the pandemic mean that the market for short, supplementary online learning is a highly attractive one. Warwick Independent Schools Virtual is currently launching an online short course in Creative Thinking to the independent school market in India, aiming to enrich and supplement mainstream curriculum with a dynamic weekend course which develops future-proof intellectual and interpersonal skills.
AI & VIRTUAL REALITY
The world of the metaverse and artificial intelligence will certainly take online learning rapidly into innovative and transformative territory. Currently artificial intelligence is being deployed to deliver content in engaging ways to mass markets through, for example, applications which assess skills like speaking and writing in language-learning. This kind of online learning, using pre-constructed content, rather than synchronous (real-time) delivery will certainly proliferate. So too will applications which through AI provide marking and assessment, and which free up teachers to provide individual support.
Virtual reality is another feature of online learning which will rapidly become more important. For synchronous courses such as those currently offered by Warwick Independent Schools Virtual, the opportunities for deploying VR could well include students from Foundation schools in Warwick interacting in VR with online students from across the world.
Selected online Warwick real-time content could be delivered in a VR environment re-creating iconic Warwick venues such as the Warwick Hall or (permissions allowing) the Lord Leycester Hospital.
Collaborative learning experiences across time-zones and national borders are possible now, with opportunities for international collaboration: from competitions to collaborative projects, from UN-style international events to conferences.
Students studying a modern language, for example, could follow online in real time part or all of their curriculum at another school in their target language.
At a more prosaic level, online learning could deliver much-needed benefits as society grapples with the need for radical lifestyle changes in response to the climate crisis. If a school, for example a typical independent day-school in the UK, for which hundreds of car and school bus journeys are made each day, wished to reduce its weekly emissions by 20%, it could do so by instituting one day per week in which students received one day’s lessons at home, thus eliminating the daily car or bus journey to and from school.
THE START OF THE JOURNEY
What is clear is that the pandemic has fast-tracked our involvement with online learning. But we appear to be still at the very beginning of a remarkable journey. Education is going to look very different indeed over the coming ten years, with rapid, qualitative transformation brought about by online communication and resources.
Online learning is likely to be the single most transformational factor in the school education over the coming years.