As we send our children back to school (from K to college-age), we are acutely aware of how different Back-to-School 2020 will be. Many schools and workplaces that had planned (near the beginning of the summer) to be back to pre-COVID operations by now are slowly migrating some or all of their functions to a more permanent, virtual home.
Melanie Kitchen, in an interview with Cult of Pedagogy – a business sharing insights for preparing and supporting teachers and educators – said of this new virtual schooling: “All of these things that are really good practices can still be done virtually. It just might look a little different.”
So what does this new virtual learning landscape look like? According to Kitchen, there are two areas of focus: instructional design and community building/communication. For the sake of this piece, we’ll be looking at how certain back-to-school preparations can help you, your staff, and your business transition more smoothly to more permanent e-learning and virtual operations opportunities.
The first and biggest takeaway from this new era in e-learning is that educational content needs to be simplified and slowed down. This means asking some big questions like: What knowledge is essential? Are there concepts or learning tools that can be harnessed over multiple content areas of online education or virtual office procedures? Having access to streamlined e-learning resources can not only help any student learn faster and build confidence but stripping away the excess can often mean the information learned is kept and used for much longer.
Ease of Use and Multimodality
Secondly, Kitchen says, instructions should be “easy to find, explicit, and multimodal.” But what does that mean? For teachers, it means creating user-friendly projects and assignments that take into account the added difficulty of finding help and project materials in each student’s vastly different home environment.
For businesses looking to educate their staff? This means sharing access to these materials in easily accessible places on your VPN or intranet networks. It also means embracing a flexible and multimodal educational platform: your staff of learners has just as much variety in learning styles as a kindergarten classroom, so you must make sure there are resources like videos, written instructions, or tutorials that cater to those differences.
Kitchen also talks about the importance of giving feedback over grades, since each student’s home learning environment is unique. But since number and letter grades aren’t a major part of on-the-job education, let’s narrow that focus to this phrase, “Good feedback is a necessity”. If you want your staff to learn how to master a new technological platform or virtual process fully, giving good feedback on their performance is critical to helping them (and you) see where the pitfalls and tricky spots are so you can address and alleviate them efficiently.
Rethink Your Meeting Schedule and Strategy
Lastly in instructional design, Kitchen talks about how synchronous activities like face-to-face (or Zoom) meeting times should only be used for active learning. That means rethinking those “meetings that could’ve been emails”. Save the screen time for items that are of the utmost importance and let your virtual collaboration tools do the rest.
Community Building & Communication
Leave Time for Acclimation
Kitchen’s first order of business during back-to-school is a fundamental and often-overlooked directive, and that’s to take time to acclimate your students to this new normal, with a heavy emphasis on making sure they get comfortable with the technology assets before jumping into educational content.
The same is applicable to your staff of students. Having the ability to familiarize themselves with the technology before being expected to perform all of their job duties within it often makes for less stress and easier adoption.
Give Your Staff Agency in Communication
It is also important to offer multimodal communication in tandem with multimodal educational tools. This gives your staff some agency in choosing where and how to best communicate with peers, superiors, and outside clientele if applicable.