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Learning for September and beyond, preparation becomes action

September is here and, with it, the start of the new school and university term, and for thousands of students this marks the return to the classroom, whether in physical or virtual form. Although it’s been a while (yes, I know that’s an understatement) since I was in full-time education, the passage of time hasn’t dulled my memories of preparing for the start of the new school year; the annual trip to the shops for school uniform and shoes (Clarks Commando’s for those of you with long memories), and excitement building about meeting up with friends after the summer break.

This September, with the global pandemic still in flow, the return to school and learning has been a long time coming for some – and will look very different for many. I know from talking to friends across the sector, many educators approach the new academic year with an adrenalin-rich blend of excitement and nerves. 2020 is far from a normal year, so these feelings are heightened for many.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been involved in the learning and education sectors for the much of my working life, but September is invariably the time when I reflect on the process and cycle of learning.

It always gets me thinking about what’s needed to prepare for the year ahead – what goes on in the background to get educators, trainers, students and learners ready for the process of education. And, this year, I’ve also been pondering what we need to do differently to ensure we’re able to respond to what’s happening in the world around us.

  1. Session delivery – teaching and learning

Ahead of pupils returning each September, educators focus on lesson-planning and content creation to meet the demands of the curriculum set out by awarding bodies. This year, they’re also contending with challenges of curriculum adaptation and the practicalities of welcoming students into the classroom (or not, as the case may be).

In the university sector, we’ve heard how institutions are adopting a blended model offering a range of options to students; implementing appropriate social distancing measures for those able/wanting to attend in person and rolling out digitally-enabled learning so that students can commence their studies online, if that’s their preference. This concept of an “extended campus” is being adopted by educators around the world, although sometimes it’s easier said than done. I was talking to a friend who’s a professor at an east-coast university and she’s grappling with the practicalities of delivering meaningful sessions to students who are in multiple time-zones – she’s planning to flip the model, providing a range of supporting content to embed learning.

In the corporate sector, September is when many L&D teams launch programmes of learning for the year ahead. Traditionally it is also the time when many businesses welcome new recruits, particularly cohorts of apprentices, into the fold. These plans have continued, but many have taken new steps as part of their preparation, using technology (automation or integration) to enable the process. For some it’s about just-in-time production of materials, and delivery to multiple home addresses, driven through the adoption of automated/on-demand print. For others, this has involved planning for the delivery of learning materials in a digitised form, complementing delivery in the classroom and online.

  1. Embedding learning – revision and revisit

Whilst learning often occurs in the classroom or training session (virtual or face-to-face), what happens around and beyond these sessions is often more critical. I remember the days of marking up my text-books with highlighted passages and sticky-notes as reminders for the topics I needed to revisit and revise. As my American university friend suggests, she’s prepared by building up a bank of supporting content for her students which complements her sessions. These will take various forms including papers and rich media content which students can access in their own time (and time-zones), supporting the process of embedding the topics she delivers.

For many roles and training programmes, process manuals, handbooks and guidelines are needed to support learning delivery, particularly when the training relates to complicated environments and industries. Just like my school days, learners derive real value from content that can be bookmarked and annotated, then revisited time and again. But in a world where we’re adopting more technology, they’re looking for content which is accessible on the platform and device of choice. And, they need those notes, bookmarks and annotations replicated and synced across various platforms. Employers and training providers alike can prepare for this by making use of pragmatic technology, such as the KnowledgePoint solution, MyLiveBook, which offers all the revision benefits of traditional learning material (highlighting, annotations, bookmarking etc), but delivers learning in a digitised form.

  1. Assessing learning – exams and testing

Anyone who doesn’t believe that AI and automation affect their daily lives was certainly given a wake-up call last month with the publication of this year’s A level, GCSE and Btec results. The first pass caused uncertainty and chaos, and untold stress for students, parents and universities.

But beyond the headlines, we heard about the role of teachers in providing their assessment of student performance and grades, (before their assessments were subject to the now infamous algorithm). One of the things we heard from students, teachers and parents alike was the inconsistency and injustice of this approach.

The process of assessment and moderation should be one which is consistent and pragmatic. As a business, we’ve considerable experience of working with exam boards and their assessor pools. The cycle of preparation starts now for next summer’s exams with assessors being recruited, and in the spring they’re “educated” on what to mark and how to mark, which involves both training and guidance. In the summer post the exam period, the assessors need to put the training and guidance into action. Preparing a pool of well-prepared assessors, requires a systematic and considered approach, one which can be underpinned by technology. I have no doubt, the sector could be doing more now to help mitigate and prepare for the times ahead.

  1. Recognising learning – graduation and celebration

This year many under-graduates have become graduates despite the absence of a formal ceremony recognising their achievements. My son is amongst this number and, although he’s received his degree certificate from his university, he’s lamenting the fact he didn’t get the opportunity to accept it from the Pro VC (nor have a celebratory lunch with friends and family).

The process of recognition is critical for learners at all levels; from informal certificates handed out by classroom teachers, to certificates of attendance and achievement from corporate training bodies, and the official certification recognising and recording success which are issued by exam boards. Watching certificates of all kinds rolling off the presses at KnowledgePoint continually serves as a fantastic reminder of the hours of preparation and learning educators and learners have put in to get to the point of achievement.

In conclusion, it is true to say education is evolving at a faster pace than any other period in recent history. There’s growing awareness among educators that education needs to evolve to meet tomorrow’s reality, particularly in light of what we’ve learned over the last six months. Beyond tools and technology, learners and students need to develop new skills to solve problems, collaborate effectively, and express ideas in new ways; helping them to navigate multiple careers during their working lives.

The education and learning sectors have pivoted to online learning and remote teaching during the pandemic, bringing adoption of learning and educational technologies to the fore. I believe the effects are set to persist, with hybrid (blended) models embedded throughout the learning and educational cycle, but perhaps used in a more thoughtful way. And hopefully the sector will have learned the lessons of preparation and consistency, so that we’re better able to deliver the cycle of learning for years ahead.

Ray Brown, Sales and Marketing Director

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