The world we live in is in the midst of a major digital transformation that has gradually spread through every industry out there, leaving almost no aspect of our lives untouched. According to some estimates, there are now more than 3.5 billion people around the world with access to the Internet. Furthermore, more than 5 billion of them own a smartphone or some other mobile device. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the way people interact with one another is changing accordingly, as is the way they experience their surroundings.
The transition to online learning
Of course, the education sector couldn’t stay immune to the effects of this ongoing digital revolution. While the digital transformation of the education sector has been in the making for quite some time now, the pandemic has accelerated the process significantly. Once schools were closed and students sent home, even those who were initially opposed to the idea had no choice but to turn to technology in order to preserve the continuity of education for their students. As a result, students at all levels of education, from primary schools to universities, found themselves transitioning to online learning.
The sudden switch to online learning proved to be beneficial in many ways, not only to students and teachers, but parents as well. “Because of the fact that parents were now playing the role of a co-teacher or the support teacher at home during remote learning, they gained a much greater appreciation not only of the use of technology within their child’s learning life, but actually about the education process”, says Julie Evans, the CEO of Project Tomorrow, an education nonprofit organisation that aims to change the lives of children through science, maths, and technology education. “We think that’s a pretty dramatic change that can influence the way we think about schools, and in particular about school-to-home engagement and communication.”
The impact on teachers
The way students and teachers communicate has also changed dramatically as a result of the widespread adoption of online learning. According to a survey conducted by Project Tomorrow, only about a quarter of secondary school students communicated with their teachers via text before the pandemic. However, that number has increased significantly since then, exceeding 60 per cent. Teachers’ responses to digital transformation have been overwhelmingly positive, with the majority of them expressing a desire to learn more about technology and how it can help them provide their students with more engaging content. “Whereas many teachers had previously thought of technology exclusively as a tool for student engagement, we suddenly found with a sudden shift to digital learning technology, that it was the learning platform”, adds Evans. “We also saw that as a result of the teacher’s increased experience using technology, it actually helped teachers become better informed about what constitutes quality in that digital content. We saw an elevated level of sophistication.”
That’s not to say that the transition to online learning was without its challenges. Most notably, there was still a large number of students who lacked internet access at home, including those from low-income families and those living in rural areas with poorly developed infrastructure. As a result, these students were unable to enjoy all of the benefits provided by online learning and were at a greater risk of falling behind their peers. Despite these challenges, online learning is set to play an important role in the future of education, which is why schools need to intensify their efforts to achieve a successful digital transformation.
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Key aspects of digital transformation
Implementing a successful digital transformation can seem like a daunting task, but there are steps educational institutions can take to make the process smoother:
Prioritise digital literacy
Digital literacy of faculty members is a key ingredient of a successful digital transformation. However, a recent survey reveals that only 23 per cent of students consider their teachers to be digitally literate. To address this issue, education institutions need to incentivise digital literacy by rewarding staff members for completing digital training or creating digital content. They can also organise ‘lunch and learns’, where staff and faculty members can get together and discuss what they’ve learned and take part in designated training sessions on technology and digital processes.
Form a strong IT and digital task force
Whether an educational institution’s digital transformation will be successful or not depends largely on the strength of its IT department. This is why schools need to make sure to invest in technological skills and hire new, tech-savvy people who will be able to take their digital task force to the next level. They also need to form a dedicated digital transformation team that will be in charge of implementing new digital initiatives across the campus. Last but not least, they need to explain the benefits of digital transformation to their senior leaders, without whose active involvement there cannot be any meaningful change.
Embrace technological innovation
To get a jumpstart on the digital transformation, educational institutions need to embrace emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, predictive analytics, and blockchain, which will allow them to revolutionise the way students and schools communicate. For instance, by implementing AI teaching assistants and chatbots, schools can enable students to get answers to their questions at any time of the day, rather than having to wait for office hours to ask a teacher in person. To avoid taking unnecessary risks, schools should also form pilot groups, whose task will be to experiment with new technologies and then analyse the results to determine which of those technologies can have a meaningful impact on the learning experience.
Do the research
Before you actually incorporate a new technology into the learning process, you need to ask yourself an important question: what is it you aim to accomplish with this technology? Are you just looking to reduce costs, or are you looking for ways to improve certain processes? Once you have the answer to this question, you need to do your own research and contact other schools that have implemented similar solutions to enquire about their own experiences with the technology. This will enable you to obtain some valuable insights and learn how to use technology in a way that will allow you to reduce teacher workload and increase student engagement.
Introduce new channels of communication
Isolation, loneliness, and the erosion of work-life balance are some of the biggest drawbacks associated with the switch to a remote learning environment. To address students’ social and emotional needs, as well as those of their teachers, schools need to introduce new channels of communication that will enable everyone to engage and collaborate with one another over long distances. However, to make this possible, schools also need to ensure equal access to the technology and connectivity required to participate in the virtual classroom.
Focus on the right skills
As it stands, there is a major gap between what students learn in school and what they actually need to learn in order to join the workforce. Traditional education simply fails to equip students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed, which is something that schools must address through their digital transformation efforts. Likewise, they need to make sure to educate staff on the proper use of technology if they want the implementation to be successful.
The recent switch to online learning has kickstarted a sweeping digital transformation of the education sector, which promises to change the way students learn and interact with their peers, their teachers, and their schools. While this may seem like a daunting task at first, by doing thorough research and learning more about technologies that interest them, and reaching out to other educators who have gone through a similar experience, schools can make their digital transformation a smoother and more enjoyable experience for everyone involved.