Jess Pentelow, Product Manager at Pearson, reflects on our conversations with educators this year about the use of tech-enabled learning, our key learnings this year and what they may mean for digital education moving forward.
There’s no doubt that Covid-19 has driven a digital transformation in education.
Our recent #digitalclassroomsurvey – involving over 6,800 teachers and leaders – found that there was an increase in positive upskilling and receptivity to technology in schools, with digital skills among teachers and students in the UK soaring over the course of the pandemic (81% and 64% respectively).
Similarly, 90% of UK learners in Pearson’s Global Learner Survey (2020) feel that online learning will be a part of children’s education experience moving forward.
But with schools largely back in the ‘physical’ classroom, what’s next for online, remote and blended learning approaches? As we near the end of the academic year, it feels like an opportune time to reflect on some key learnings this year and what they may mean for digital education moving forwards.
So, here’s a collection of considerations and tips, informed through our work with teachers, leaders and experts across the country:
1. Advocating collaborative learning
As educators will have witnessed many times, collaborative learning can improve students’ higher-level thinking skills, information retention and teamwork skills, as well as self-esteem, confidence and motivation. (See: Johnson et al (2009), 'An educational psychology success story: Social interdependence theory and cooperative learning'.)
While the shift to online learning alters the methods by which students and teachers collaborate, the past year has shown that it does not necessarily mean a move towards isolation. For example, many digital tools help to facilitate collaboration for both in-person and remote learning – including the use of shared documents for tasks, discussion boards, group chats and online breakout rooms. As we saw on social media in every lockdown, teachers were also able to collaborate and share resources that support student engagement.
Ultimately, our conversations with teachers highlighted that tools that reinforce class dynamics, enable collaboration, offer insights on engagement to teachers and students alike, and allow you to safeguard interactions from the sidelines are the ideal. However, their use does need to be thought about carefully – i.e. making sure activities lead to discussion and interaction, develop social skills and allow space for further reflection.
2. Enabling timely, effective feedback
Within this new era of edtech, automated feedback is a feature that some teachers are increasingly incorporating into their marking - especially with the shift to more online feedback during lockdowns.
In addition to its time-freeing and consistent qualities, this form of feedback has benefits for students, with timely responses supporting engagement. Research has consistently shown that feedback is most effective when it's timely, specific and helps students know how to improve and move forwards. As such, even with the opportunities provided by automated tools, the ability of teachers to tailor feedback and manage students’ specific issues mean their roles of mentors and guides remain as important as ever.
Many schools are also using regular digital polls to collect feedback from students as helpful indicators of individual progress and opportunities for change and improvements.
3. Empowering more independent learning
According to further feedback in our survey earlier this year, many teachers have seen independent learning skills improve among pupils during Covid-19 and the lockdowns.
Digital learning tools and approaches can help to facilitate a greater sense of responsibility among students towards their own learning – for example, through the use of digital journals to reflect on their learning, or collaborative tools to enable students to learn from one another, seek help when they need it, gather feedback, and provide it for others.
The educators we collaborate with have emphasised the importance of assimilating what works well in the classroom within the digital environment, ensuring appropriate scaffolding and modelling are in place – as well as giving students the time to reflect on their work and act on feedback from teachers and peers.
4. Encouraging parent and carer engagement
The shift to tech-enabled learning is something educators, pupils and families alike have been forced to adapt to over the last year. While this has been a steep learning curve for all involved, the move online has also created new ways for schools and their communities to co-operate – and teachers think this is set to continue. In our #digitalclassroomsurvey, two in five primary teachers, and over a quarter of secondary teachers, expect to see increased parental engagement in learning through technology in the future.
During the lockdowns, some schools shared advance timetables to ensure as many families as possible could engage with their child’s learning journey, as well as online platforms for communication and tech tips. Building on this beyond Covid-19, many are now holding virtual parent evenings, or even providing family portals where parents and carers can access deadlines, feedback and other communications, helping to further engage them in their child’s learning.
That said, while the opportunities that digital learning can provide are abundant, the ‘digital divide’ across access to devices and high-quality internet cannot be ignored. Pupils without physical access to devices and WiFi are at risk of being left behind their peers; and there’s also a need for support and training to enable families and educators to reap the benefits of new systems and platforms.
At Pearson, we are committed to supporting access and innovation, whether it’s providing free support and access to a suite of our learning platforms for teachers and families, or contributing 250 laptops and £50,000 to the Computers for Kids campaign.
Together, we can continue to evolve and power learning anytime, anywhere.
About the author
Jess Pentelow is a Product Manager at Pearson. She is part of the team working on the creation of Pearson's brand-new digital service, ActiveHub, and the development of the pedagogical approach that underpins it.
Some of this article draws on content previously published in Headteacher Update and SecEd.