Remote learning is here to stay: Here’s how to succeed

“There is little point in designing a groundbreaking learning environment if the institution is unable to keep track of records, process payments or manage data efficiently”

Teachers, administrators, course designers and students are grappling with the impact of lockdowns and social distancing on the education sector.

 Education – especially at a post-secondary level – is a highly international sector, with students and experts frequently crossing borders to study and teach. The COVID-19 crisis has dramatically accelerated changes in the way we live, work and, indeed, learn. Many of those changes are here to stay.

With countries outlining long-term recovery strategies that are both varied and uncertain, business continuity for the education sector is contingent on digital engagement and remote delivery.

While the challenge we are facing is both unexpected and unprecedented, the changes can be seen as a rapid, if highly disruptive, the advancement of the steady trend towards digitisation that was already underway in the education sector before COVID-19.

As it becomes increasingly clear that education delivery practices won’t be “snapping back” to their pre-COVID state, there are a number of issues that the sector must navigate.

The virtual classroom

The design of online learning environments should begin with educational needs rather than IT prescriptions. Look closely at what makes successful offline learning environments and then engage the solutions that will best replicate and extend those in the virtual setting. Virtual classroom environments must be designed and delivered in a way that provides flexibility and allows students to pursue learning in this way to maximise the benefit to them.

Students cannot be expected to simply watch a video. Any virtual classroom environment should include engagement features that encourage two-way interaction and participation that simulates or exceeds what they would receive in a physical attendance environment.

Polls, question-and-answer modules and real-time chat between participants should be integrated into virtual classroom environments. Implementing school management systems like Compass Education can be a great way to use technology to monitor engagement and help facilitate communication between parents, students and teachers.

Besides providing the tools that students and educators need to successfully engage in remote education, they must also be supported to use them. Ensure that your staff and students are meaningfully consulted about their expectations and experience of online learning and use that feedback to refine your delivery and maximise the educational value.

Managing records and payments

The back-office functions of your digital pivot are just as important as the student experience. There is little point in designing a groundbreaking learning environment if the institution is unable to keep track of records, process payments or manage data efficiently and securely.

A cloud-based record-keeping system with separate portals is vital. Students, teachers, administrators and in some cases parents should have their own entry points and customised dashboards so they can access appropriate data for each of their roles.

A cloud-based record-keeping system with separate portals is vital

You should also find a payment portal that connects with all the payment gateways your students may want to use to pay fees, as well as allowing your staff to easily purchase the materials and services they need to run your operations.

Future-proofing remote education

One of the most common mistakes that organisations in any sector make when responding to a rapidly changing business environment is unwittingly embarking down a path that restricts future choices.

When making technical and operational decisions about how to deliver and administer education remotely it’s particularly important to keep your future options open. While remote education is a necessity now, it’s likely going to be a path that many institutions follow more readily when things return to ‘normal’ again so think carefully about longevity too.

This is not just a business operations issue – it’s also part of your appeal to current and prospective students. The flexibility of the platforms that you engage and their capacity to integrate with different devices, payment and operating systems and student-side digital education aids will determine how attractive your remote education offering is to your target market, and how high the barrier to engagement is for your students.

The way that the world connected with education was already changing before COVID-19. But the demand curve was gradual and manageable, and institutions had the luxury of pursuing online learning at a pace that suited their broader strategy.

The pandemic changed that though, and remote delivery has been irreversibly moved to the top of the agenda. Getting online delivery right is no longer about positioning yourself for a far-off future, but an urgent and existential question that institutions must address now to remain relevant.

About the author: Vijay Sundaram is Chief Strategy Officer at Zoho. Zoho is the operating system for business—a single online platform capable of running an entire business.