Times they are a changing and at TLCT they are no different. All face to face delivery has been postponed and where possible sessions are now delivered online. How long will this be for? Who knows, but we are resilient and like the rest of the world we are making the best of what we have during these difficult times.
So, what are the challenges of online delivery? The Award in Education and Training does not, in my opinion, lend itself well to online delivery. The very nature of the course requires adults to share experiences and best practice through discussion and human interaction. Yes, this is possible using online programmes such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Skype, however, the body language and interaction is totally different and provides a much less engaging experience for the learner particularly in practical group work.
I have been using Zoom to deliver courses, and although it has some excellent facilities such as break out rooms and screen share, it is impossible to introduce practical group activities. Learners can take over hosting and practice delivery methods, but it does not by any means replace the unique traditional classroom learning experience. Technology too can prove problematic with audio and visual issues arising from either lack of training or inadequate equipment. The first half-hour of my last online lesson was spent assisting learners with IT issues resulting in the remaining learners being somewhat disengaged.
Furthermore, many learners are sharing lockdown with family members within their household and this too may cause privacy, concentration and noise issues. Whilst having a nosey into someone else’s background can be fun, it too can be off-putting and disruptive to learning!
Establishing ground rules are different in a virtual classroom too. For example, when should audio be muted? What are the issues surrounding the recording of sessions? Once the group have agreed on their ground rules, how are these recorded and disseminated? People are in the comfort of their own homes so what sort of ground rules will apply? What level of interruption is appropriate from other household members or family if any? Whether to mute audio and video whilst on a break or not and how long should the break be, considering the situation we find ourselves in and the domestic distractions there maybe.
The tutor/trainer needs to be proficient and professional when using these platforms for delivery. An inept tutor does not bode well for a motivated and engaged learning group. Therefore, practice makes perfect for which there are many Youtube training clips available. My preferred one being How to Teach Online with Zoom: a complete introduction by Russell Stannard. All aspects of using Zoom are demonstrated in a down to earth and practical manner. For example, using screen share with learner interaction and inserting a virtual background.
As lockdown continues and more of us turn to these online platforms for learning, it is important to consider the security issues which have been recognized surrounding this technology. Zoom has put into place many new security measures preventing random interlopers joining meetings. With all technology these days, common sense prevails and precaution at all times provides some protection.
Whilst I personally feel online learning, teaching and assessment are not conducive to the Award in Education, it does provide not only a unique learning experience but also connects people who would not necessarily have had that opportunity. During this time of staying safe and staying at home, cabin fever can set in and cause isolation and loneliness of unparalleled degrees. It is human nature to interact and socialize with other people; therefore, an online course delivered via an interactive programme is an ideal activity for some. The Education and Training Foundation take part in Wellbeing Wednesday each week and post on their Twitter feed @E_T_Foundation findings from the event #wellbeingwednesday, and this may well provide support and positivity to learners and tutors alike.
Support has become readily available throughout the education sector. The Education and Training Foundation have also produced guides on remote working and provide an Enhanced Digital Teaching Platform designed to help learners and tutors alike – visit: buff.ly/2yioKyj. Further Education News has also provided a wealth of free resources to help tutors and learners to respond to the impact of COVID-19 on learning. TES Further Ed contains some interesting articles on blended and virtual learning, providing some food for thought for when lockdown ends and face to face learning resumes.
Blended learning, that is tutor lead, learner lead, face to face and online may well be the future. It certainly lends itself well to adult learning. Learning takes place when the learner has ownership in the direction and content of their learning programme. The tutor is well able to carry out reviews online however, many forms of assessment, particularly that of the micro teach in the Award in Education and Training do not. Maybe going forward, online teaching will become the norm and how we deliver courses will change; requiring different approaches and methods within teaching and learning with adaptation to the new requirements and environments.
In the meantime, we shall do our best at TLCT to provide the best learning experience for our learners no matter the course or approach to delivery. Whether it be a virtual or real classroom we shall endeavour to provide a positive and inclusive environment in which our learners can achieve and succeed.