CASE STUDY_Lockdown Learning

*and key takeaways

After a summer of increasingly relaxed health measures, of cottage life and backyard gatherings, our society is tentatively edging toward the back-to-school period. It sounds like our post-pandemic life will have to wait a few more months (please, no jinxing), while we continue in this COVID fight. Though this September won’t resemble one from pre-pandemic years, it will still mark summer’s end and, for many people, school’s beginning. The prospect of in-person learning is a joyful thought for many, but a by-product of the pandemic  is that many learners are warming to the idea of a status quo that involves online learning.

At Digital 55, we’re always looking for opportunities to work alongside post-secondary students — in-person and now virtually. Over the course of the 2020-2021 school year, we lucked out and had the privilege of working with an inspiring team of fourth-year students (shoutout to Adam, Andrew, Daniel, Glen, Liam, and Matias) completing their capstone project at Western University’s Ivey School of Business. And this summer, we welcomed Gabriel Gebreselassie, a fourth-year student from the University of Toronto, as a research intern and production assistant (and a wizard at dropping philosophical nuggets on the meaning of life, which we appreciate).

We asked these students to share some of their thoughts on the last year, the highs and lows of remote learning, and the lessons worth carrying forward.

Here’s what they had to share:

Where is the flow?

The students reported it was difficult to find flow, which then impacted their quality and quantity of work. Flow is a state reached during an uninterrupted time, and the number of interruptions chiming at students this past year was more than ever. Trying to attend classes, complete assignments, troubleshoot technology, socialize, shop, workout etc. was a lot of life happening right from the same seat.

Is this thing on?

Technology made learning from home possible, but it also sometimes made it impossible. The infrastructure wasn’t there to support entire households relying on the Internet for work and school. And even for those who had a reliable connection, they troubleshooted communicating with people who didn’t. 

The students mentioned that some professors fumbled through  navigating online platforms, though some students pointed out that less time was wasted from professors not having to struggle with in-class technology (Hello?… Is this projector on?). For most students, the online environments made contributing in classes difficult; for example, the raised-hand function was often ignored and overused, which hindered the students in communicating. Never mind the inevitable digital lag. 

Echo chambers

With the world fully online, “echo chambers” have become prevalent — in both the mass media and, apparently, in the classroom. One student spoke about the serious implications of students getting lost inside their own worldviews and perspectives. Online, the echo can keep ringing because there are no in-person meetings to offer a different perspective and help to ground the students in reality. This is a potentially serious issue that requires much further consideration across all levels of society.  

A new work/life balance

All students agreed that the ease of attending classes was improved. There were no commutes and no need to even get dressed. The flexibility that online learning offers — in how, where, and when the students can learn — is an undeniably positive by-product of this pandemic, and it will be difficult to leave behind. However, it was noted that there was less recognizable downtime in-between classes and more pressure to use free time to do schoolwork. And being on screens all day.… Can there truly be a work/life balance?

Much like work from home, online learning has its opportunities and challenges. Its self-directed nature can leave some learners feeling disconnected and disengaged from their peers, instructors, and the overall learning experience. But it also offers greater flexibility and more options for learners, including the less traditional post-secondary learners — those with busy schedules and increased responsibilities. Those learners in particular are looking for quality learning experiences that can enhance their careers, provide career-change training, etc. — think microcredentials, microcourses, and self-paced learning. As we move through the reopening phases and head closer to the “back-to-school” period, a new status quo will emerge. Though many classes will take place in actual classrooms, there will also be many classes online, or even a blend of the two. And that latitude in how and where we learn will be a part of our new status quo. 

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