How COVID-19 Has Changed The Way We Learn
Updated: May 14
This is the first piece of an ongoing commentary series, Learning In The 21st Century – What It Means For Students and Educators, discussing the impacts and shifts within the education scene.
It was January 2020. Boarding the plane to Bangkok was the only thing that was occupying my mind. Experiencing different cultures. Learning more about entrepreneurship at one of the world’s innovation hubs. Visiting the historical site of Ayutthaya. These were the experiences I had envisioned while living in the temple-ridden country of Thailand, as a part of the Global Entrepreneurial Internship (GEI). Things had looked quite rose-tinted for me...until the pandemic took the world by storm.
SHIFTS IN LEARNING METHODS AMID THE PANDEMIC
The C-19 outbreak led to schools being closed, and henceforth learning has largely taken shape within a digital classroom. The mass migration to digital learning spaces was unprecedented as both educators and students had to adapt to remote learning through video-based lessons, in either synchronous (Zoom) or asynchronous (Blackboard) forms.
Presently, over 1.5 billion students in 165 countries have been affected by school closures, resulting from the C-19 outbreak - according to UNESCO. While the crisis has changed our global outlook on public health, it may well also educate us on how we should readjust our educational practices.
The sluggish pace of implementing technology across the education sector is possibly lamentable. Until the recent pandemic-led adoption of online learning, most mainstream schools have been hinging on passive learning methods, focused primarily on linear thinking. Needless to say, this unfortunate incident has necessitated educational institutions and educators to offer quick innovative solutions that can fill the learning chasm.
NEWFOUND INNOVATIONS & REALISATIONS IN TEACHING PRACTICES
Right now, the current shift in digital learning has expanded on blended learning. Students now engage in self-directed assignments and video-call their subject teachers to seek clarifications.
This teaching and learning with synchronous-asynchronous platforms will complement traditional face-to-face learning. Subject content can be fed to students via the online platforms before class sessions, while allowing more in-class time for meaningful discussion, debate and clarification. Once things resume to normality, we will realise that the blend of online content learning and face-to-face discussions - provides for a more robust and rewarding learning experience, for both educators and students.
As mentioned in our previous article, the HBL-induced anxieties for teachers continue to persist as they manage hiccups arising from the suspension of software, technical glitches etc. Yet, with technology, it offers a wide spectrum of resources that can deepen our students’ learning. Moving forward, online education will be cast as a new standard to ensure academic continuity and educational pedagogy of institutions.
REDEFINING THE FUNCTION OF AN EDUCATOR
Gone are the days where the main function of educators simply involved the passive process of imparting knowledge to their students. The 21st-century skills competency requires students to gain knowledge proactively, debate inquisitively and even pick up a technical know-how on their own. More importantly, an educator serves as a mentor - playing a nurturing role in the youth’s holistic development. In all, this will go a long way towards building a more constructive society.
Youth Statistics In Brief Credit: National Youth Council
Published by the National Youth Council, the Youth Statistics In Brief mentioned that 100% of youth are internet and smartphone users back in 2018. This glaring statistic underscores the relevance of technology and how widespread it can be, even so much so that the United Nations constitution has declared having access to the internet, a basic human right.
Especially when technology remains pervasive among youth aged 15-34 years, educators must continue to act and enable students beyond the means of a classroom setting. That means creating a conducive mentor-mentee relationship for youth to learn, fail and grow as an individual. With shifting educational expectations, there would be a greater emphasis for educators to build character, instil values and shape attitudes of students.
GROWING EDUCATIONAL ALLIANCES
Singapore has seen numerous educational partnerships forming, to provide new learning resources for our youths. Snapask, an Asia-based education technology (ed-tech) company, will pledge over 10,000 free subscriptions to its e-learning mobile app to Singapore-based students. Working alongside Straits Times’s schools team, they have been engaged to curate articles in congruent with students’ current online learning resources provided by MOE.
“The pandemic has caused a paradigm shift in the education sector and made it necessary for students, parents and educators to adopt new solutions”, said in a joint statement by the ed-tech startup and the local broadsheet.
With the HBL being an inevitable reality for students, educational technology startups have stepped up to lead coordinated efforts to craft impactful learning solutions. “Technology will play a key role in... introducing a new standard for how education can be provided online effectively”, opined Snapask chief executive officer, Timothy Yu.
This period also saw online learning platforms e.g. Udemy, Coursera and educational institutions e.g. Harvard University, offering more free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for anyone interested in learning a skill or gaining specialised knowledge. Ironically, the pandemic could potentially see itself being an accidental force for good, as intra-industry coalitions form to provide effective educational learning resources for the broader community.
WHAT DIGITAL LEARNING CAN DO, AND ITS LIMITATIONS
Widespread digital learning is an uncommon learning process for both students and educators alike. Transitioning from physical teaching to online teaching is no easy feat for our educators. Can online learning truly replace the face-to-face learning we have in schools? Not really. One must understand that while digital resources provide a stopgap solution to the current crisis, it also brings about its own set of challenges and flaws.
How would the teacher-student interaction function, over the digital space?
How does a teacher engage his/her students effectively?
What content can be taught to students?
How can students focus on learning, if some homes may have unconducive learning environments?
Only by understanding these limitations can we then realise the true effectiveness of digital learning. In such exceptional times, we should take a step back and relook at what we want our youths to learn and develop. Inculcating the qualities of grit, resilience, perseverance and even fostering an entrepreneurial dare to pursue knowledge in spite of seemingly inconvenient circumstances - would be the most impactful form of learning outcome.
In spite of all these, perhaps we can refrain from mollycoddling our youth, and let them chart out their own learning?
This pandemic proves to be a trying time for all of us, with both educators and students alike. Rest assured, we are here to support you in any way possible. For more on personal development, find out more about Entrepreneurship Education (EntreEd). For more COVID-19 resources, view them here.
Written by Sherman Tham
Sherman is the Marketing Ensign at Reactor School, and a Reactor Student Alumni.