Preparing learners for work: what have we learnt from online schooling?

Teaching and learning online is not a new concept and has been with us for many years.  Many FE and HE educational establishments over the years have experimented and implemented various approaches to the blended, online, flipped, and more recently the hybrid model of engaging learners in learning.


But what has the pandemic and COVID-19 taught us about online learning and professional skills? Most learners know about, and may also have used a learning management system, or technology apps in their classrooms, for engagement to learning activities.


The sudden arrival of COVID-19 launched the educational system in crisis, with face-to-face learning having to quickly be replaced by ‘virtual’ teaching. For many schools and colleges, this incorporated video conferencing to support collective engagement, emulating the ‘classroom’ environment as much as possible.


While video conferencing (Zoom, Teams) has had its benefits for engaging learners, it is ultimately a corporate tool, predominately used for business meetings prior to CoVID-19. Therefore, these platforms offer a range of skills and technologies that go beyond simply a communication tool.


But as educators, have we managed to identify and highlight these characteristics within the learning environment and ensured that the skills become part of our students’ own skillsets?


For many teachers, Zoom enabled them to deliver a lesson to a group of learners. Although this was classed an ‘online learning’, it was in effect, simply a method to have learners in ‘one place’, that served a vital need during the pandemic.


However, there are many capabilities offered by Zoom that relate to the ‘real world’ of business professionalism. These include: How to engage an audience, professional behaviour, meeting etiquette techniques, how and when to ask questions and alternative methods to communicate such as using the chat function and raising hands.


While teaching on Zoom, how many teachers alerted their learners to the skills they were developing in this new approach to ‘being in the classroom’?  Will the future of online learning – hybrid engagement – allow learners to develop professional skills? There is real scope here to establish methods of engagement for meetings, engaging an audience, being responsive to Q&A and prioritising tasks/interruptions that present themselves in both face-to-face and online meetings.


Online and blended learning is here to stay, offering many students greater flexibility and widening access to education locally, nationally and globally.


So now is the time for educators to reflect on approaches to remote learning for the future. As more online and hybrid courses continue to be developed, we must consider the many skills for professional development that can be included to maximise the opportunities for our learners.

By Surjit Uppal, Digital Consultant, Career Colleges Trust