When virtual became reality.

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The pandemic didn’t start the re-imagining of virtual learning, but it has certainly upped the pace of change.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on education remains, at least for the moment, somewhat uncertain. What follows will be different – that much we know – but how it will be different remains unclear. That lack of certainty can be disconcerting, but it is also very exciting.

Let me explain why.

The current pandemic situation is not without precedence.

Imagine for a moment that humans didn’t live for 80 to 100 years, that instead we lived for 1000 years. If that were the case, we would have lived through a half dozen pandemics and we would know that it’s going to hurt, that it’s going to be challenging.

Yet we would also know that it was going to one day be over and that we can prepare for that time. It is that time that is exciting — because this pandemic has created such upheaval that it just isn’t possible for everything to go back to the way it was.

In too many learning situations, the utilisation of technology has been a goal in of itself rather than a meaningful tool for supporting effective teaching and learning.

Technology development is and will continue to evolve far too rapidly for there to be any one best solution.

States, Districts and individual schools have adopted a plethora of platforms that for better or worse have served the needs of their students. As educators have had to rapidly employ these platforms, as students and families have had to engage with them, it has very quickly become clear how these platforms support — or don’t support — knowledge acquisition and deep learning.

Insights gained have been both enlightening and invaluable.

Ubiquitous utilisation in some school areas (Melbourne in Australiaparticular states of the USA, Shanghai and Beijing in China in early 2020) has raised the capacity of educators at a rate never seen before. Few could have imagined the number of educators having to reskill and reimagine their teaching practices in such a short period of time.

This rapid evolution has reopened discussions on effective pedagogies in the virtual classroom, particularly through educator-led social networks. The question of ‘Why?’ is being applied to hegemonic schemata around assessment, classroom management, attendance and the use of data.

Where once they were seen as esoteric, these discussions are now driving change up and down hierarchies and most importantly at the level of impact — where the learner is.

The students themselves are also shining an exciting light on the future of virtual learning.

Apps such as Tik-Tok, Amino and Discord provide authentic communities for ‘whatever you’re into’.

As students have been forced into remote learning, these communities have attracted learners away from enterprise-designed video conferencing setups and into targeted spaces brimming with like-minded people ready to share their knowledge and expertise.

In these spaces, interestconnection and community are the key attractors — with content only coming later.

Contrast this with the current status of most existing learning platforms and you can begin to see while motivation among students may be flagging.

Beyond the horizon – a more agile learning pathway

It is likely that future learning pathways will still require national accreditation schemes that are based upon — at least in part — examinations of students’ knowledge attainment. It’s a cost-effective mechanism, pure and simple.

Recent draft legislation released by the Australian Government for public discussion highlights potential changes to University funding that will impact students who are not able to pass most of their classes after an initial period. Learners wanting to pursue higher education will need to be able to demonstrate academic perseverance and application.

Initiatives such as micro-credentials will provide learners with a comprehensive representation of the myriad skills, competencies and achievements that cannot be evaluated by an examination and yet are critically important for Universities and future employers to consider. Industry bodies have already begun augmenting the post-graduate learning space with targeted micro-credentials tailored to the needs of their members.

In a recent article, HaileyburyX described their extensive credentialing framework for secondary students as taking ‘a more holistic view of who [students] are, as well as what they can do’.

Flexible learning pathways such as this will become both expected and the norm. Learners will have greater levels of choice and competition will drive continuous learning opportunities well after individuals have left traditional schools or tertiary education institutions.

Smaller, more nuanced, markers of learning will dot each learning pathway and provide deeper detail on the experiences that have shaped the individual.

Fundamentally, education is what game theory and others describe as an infinite game — there are known and unknown players, the rules are changeable, however the key objective is to perpetuate the game.

The key objective of education should to perpetuate the pursuit of powerful learning.

Leadership within education therefore requires an infinite mindset and a healthy dose of strategic foresight. Rather than being obsessed about the competition, educational organisations need to be obsessed with where they are going — helping teachers teach with the very best practices and resources, and guiding learners to learn in such a way that they will develop a diverse knowledge base and the confidence to be creative and innovative with it.

It will be new. It will be exciting.

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