Education as we know it is in the midst of a monumental shift. As we step into 2021, and near one full year of the pandemic affecting the entire world, we look at the state of education and its future.
The shift in education didn’t start in 2020, but circumstances certainly accelerated the rate of change. In light of the pandemic, Harvard University announced that all instruction for the 2020 - 2021 academic year will be given in a virtual environment. The school is keeping the $50,000 annual tuition intact while only permitting 40% of the student body to return to campus.
Harvard isn’t alone. Schools around the world have been forced to make difficult changes:
It may seem obvious that we've been abruptly pushed into an era dominated by online learning. While that may be the case for now, it’s only part of the story. The truth is we don’t quite know where the shift that’s happening in education will take us. What is clear is that the moment presents a huge opportunity.
Technology has made it possible for teachers and students to stay connected and continue the learning process while physical distancing remains a public health mandate. But it would be a mistake for teachers, professors, and other educators to approach virtual learning the way they have always approached conventional classroom environments.
At Microverse, we’ve been just as surprised as anyone by the way life has been affected by the pandemic. And yet, we have been building the future of learning since long before this started. In fact, our approach to a virtual learning environment is precisely what enables us to best prepare students to succeed in the knowledge economy.
The pandemic has brought many complications to students, teachers, and families around the globe. These complications have a ripple effect through the economy and society, but educators have an opportunity to make the most of the moment. In fact, the way schools choose to adapt now and in the future will dictate how well they will be able to prepare students to solve the many complex challenges of the 21st century. Here are three lessons schools, from primary and secondary, to higher education, can take from a virtual learning environment, like Microverse.
Traditional learning structures dictate that students come to class and a teacher gives them a lesson, or in some cases, guidance and supervision for activities done in pairs or groups. Students then go home and work on assignments by themselves. There is nothing to ensure that the student will attain a level of mastery of the subject following this approach. In many cases, students struggle to work through assignments on their own, making this time far less productive than it could be. Meanwhile, the teacher’s time is not used in a way that gives students the best opportunity to learn.
The virtual learning environments that schools around the world are adopting could be an opportunity for educators to flip the classroom and restructure their time to prioritize mastery learning.
They could do this by recording lectures that students can watch on their own, at a time that suits them. They can even watch the lecture multiple times and better absorb the information if they need to. The face-to-face or real-time interactions with their teachers could instead be focused on working through projects and homework. This gives each student the best chance to master the skills they need to get through assignments. This approach would make students more practically equipped to solve problems using the skills in question.
Approaching education this way would be an adjustment for many teachers, and it may require some learning institutions to change the way they allocate resources. There would still be occasions for the whole class to gather together at the same time in a virtual setting. But this radically different approach would ultimately optimize learning for virtually every student.
For learning institutions that consider flipping the classroom, there is another tool that can lessen the burden that the change might bring to teachers: peer-to-peer learning. In peer-to-peer learning, students are paired together based on aptitude and compatibility. It helps students hold each other accountable and make progress through the material they are learning and the projects they are working on together.
It’s hardly a surprise that peer-to-peer learners are better motivated than individual learners. Consider how much more motivated a person is to go to the gym when they have a workout buddy to go with. The workout buddy holds that person accountable and makes going to the gym far more enjoyable - learning peers function the same way.
Wisdom behind peer-to-peer learning can be found in Bloom’s 2 sigma problem: Educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom found that students who receive one-on-one mastery learning techniques perform much better than students who are taught via traditional learning methods. The same finding is what explains why flipping the classroom dramatically improves the learning experience for students.
Peer-to-peer learning is a mechanism to provide a world-class education that is less dependent on the availability of teachers (and in some cases, classrooms).
It can help alleviate a lot of the stress that comes with flipping the classroom, or managing a virtual learning environment, all while making students more effective learners and better equipped to use the skills they are being taught.
One of the things that makes the Microverse learning environment so unique is that we have students from more than 100 countries. Our students learn to work and build with people who often have completely different backgrounds from themselves. In some cases, we’ve even had students from countries that were once at war with each other learn not just how to tolerate each other, but to thrive as a professional team that creates solutions to complex problems.
We create this kind of environment with a recognition of what the biggest challenges of the 21st century have in common - whether it’s climate change, a global pandemic, systemic racism, space exploration, inequality, or feeding the world. All these problems are global in nature, and are going to take global resources and coordination in order to solve.
In other words, becoming a global citizen in this day and age is not just a resumé filler. They are going to be needed to help solve the world’s most pressing issues.
Educators from primary to higher education can use this moment of social distancing to help create better global citizens in their classrooms as well. For universities, it’s a window to invite more diverse learners into their virtual classrooms. For primary and secondary schools, there’s the opportunity to connect with schools in different parts of the world who are facing difficulties due to a common enemy. By giving students the opportunity to connect to and relate with students with regionally, culturally, and ethnically diverse backgrounds, the necessary task of global collaboration becomes far less daunting. In fact, it becomes second nature to these students.
The pandemic has created a burden on individuals, families, and entire economies. Schools have not been spared. And yet, the situation has created an opportunity for systems to evolve in meaningful ways.
The stakes for solving the world’s biggest problems could not be higher. The survival of the human race will depend on how well we are able to address these problems over the next few decades.
But imagine if a world-class education became available to millions of people around the world. Imagine if these global citizens were equipped with the tools and sensibilities to address these problems in meaningful ways. Not only would it make the world more equal, but it would give us a far better chance of solving the problems that threaten our existence.
When we consider the situation this way, creating a better learning environment in this moment becomes not a necessity but an opportunity to reimagine education to better empower new generations to solve the massive challenges ahead of us.
Want to learn more about how Microverse is building the future of learning? Check out this article.