Covid-19 has forced us into a reality where colocallity can only be virtual.

While the press, inspired by the promises from some Silicon Valley giants, has tried to forecast how and when humanity would become a remote-first society, nobody came up with the creative scenario where a pandemic would be the trigger for global digital transformation.

In this new reality, schools and universities need to adapat.

Beyond the Zoom-Classroom experience.

Yes, transfering teaching to some video conference tool or any other streaming solution is a step in the right direction, but it is far from bridging the gap left by the learning experience we knew. It does not make up for all the many social interactions which we took for granted in the physical world.

Social Interaction during Learning

While classrooms seem like the epitome of one-way communication - where the teacher speaks and the students listen, there is much more going on. Indeed, even when the teacher is teaching directly the classroom, a ton of communicatin is still happening.

We see who is in the classroom, we feel the atmosphere, the surroundings, the sounds of silence and concentrations, we are carried by the environnement. That is what is called passive communication. If you ever worked in a library, you know how much this can be important and supportive for the learning experience.

When left to yourself, or all you have is a classroom in Zoom where everyone is muted and you barely have any feedback how is everyone doing, you lose touch with this kind of interaction. It is true for the students, it is also true for the teacher who have a harder time “measuring” the room temperature.

Frienly chat before the class is starting is also something hard to recreate in a systematic way in today’s virtual learning environnement - and it is not because it is technically challenging, a simple chat room or a Discord server would do, but how many school do you know with a Discord server?

That is why we are only now at the begining of a new era for new learning environements, beyond what an LMS or a video conference can provide. Digital environnemnt does not mean necessary limited, it can actually be richer than physical if we build it correctly.

Innovation in education

From automated learning suggestion, to share notes, to various gamification modes the options seems infinite. In the end, there is a general agreement that schools and education in general need some kind of upgrade to prepare us better to the world in which we live. I am pretty excited to what we could do.

Technology is just the tool we use to adapt to the kind of relationships we want to build. It is up to us to dream which kind of education we would like to have.

And technology is only half of the cake, because content is likely to change as well if the world in which we live carry on like that. I mean, I would like to know how many students have chosen a carrier in tourism this year - when most of the airline cannot fly, or border are closed. And that’s just the begining of the changes we see, as the rest of the economy is likely to be impacted, other aspects of our learning system will have to adapt.

We could teach student to really understand the world in which we live, to become real practicionner if this new reality where we all need to figure out from scratch how to live with each other…

One can dream.

Concrete steps

I think we will have to think more in terms of learning environement as a micro-social networks where the leanrning is taking place in a mix of live and asynch communication, and learning materials in long form as well as micro-learning format. This could come together with collaborative environment for teachers and staff to support each other during the process of material creation, etc.

In short, learning systems have a lot to learn, and it all depend on us to shape them how we want them to be.