CATEGORY

LEARNING

 

The university experience hangs in the balance with students paying more than ever before to continue their higher education, during a time where they may not even be able to move to the city where their university is based. What effect does it have on the university-student relationship to have such formative years move entirely online? For starters, the pressure is on for educators to provide value and sustain student interest and engagement levels, and to tackle somewhat unexpected challenges.  

Sarah, a lecturer from Newcastle University, says: “the key thing we noticed when we switched to online teaching at the start of lockdown was the lack of engagement online with students, this was surprising considering how they’re typically so comfortable online and on their phones.” She and her colleagues found students reluctant to partake in dialogue and discussions, with few willing to even use instant messaging or chat functions, even more hesitant to turn on their cameras in seminars and tutorials. Overall, during lockdown, they discovered the students were generally uncomfortable fully engaging in sessions. While she originally figured she would be battling IT issues and stuck on imaginative content creation, Sarah has found herself spending more time thinking of how to simply inspire debate and conversation while addressing these new needs, behaviours and confidence levels.  

It strikes a noticeable and perhaps surprising difference between the webinar-mania from the professional world over the last year, compared to the awkwardness of students using the same platforms for learning when technology is arguably their strength.  

In her online classes at the end of the 2019/20 academic year, Sarah tested and found success in readjusting the session format into panel discussions where students could listen in and observe academics and specialists break down and analyse key topics. It’s helped take the pressure off students and prioritised absorbing and understanding the course, over the focus on whether someone has turned their camera on or not. Nevertheless, it still leaves the teams facilitating learning and nurturing students concerned about how to ensure engagement with online content for this coming academic year. Universities have a vital role in fostering curiosity, innovation, and creativity. If students are switching off, we need to understand why. Here is where matching the flexibility and accessibility of technology with a deeper understanding of audiences and their motivations can really help boost the connection in learning.  

Gen Z audiences, for example, are known to expect instant communication and feedback. From friends and parents but also educators too. Is current heightened connectivity also providing increased feedback and understanding of their performance and progress? When Stanford University ran an informal survey on how students felt sharing video during lectures, two-thirds of respondents reported they have been in a situation where they felt uncomfortable having their camera on in class. When asked why, respondents said they were self-conscious about being seen in class, weren’t in private spaces and/or didn’t want to show their current living situations. Lockdown arguably blurred lines between professional, school, and home life for everyone, and we mustn’t forget that university students living situations are often going to reflect where they are emotionally, financially, and personally. So how can we balance professors needing to know their students are ‘present’ and students needing to feel comfortable or like their space hasn’t been invaded?  

Maybe the answers lie in reinventing the environment instead of replicating the traditional. A new learning environment should mean a new look into innovative approaches to spark interest, participation, curiosity and commitment. It can sound scary and resource intensive at first, but it can be something as simple as integration of Twitter threads for bursts of insightful information in a way that relates to the audience to help tap into the concept of microlearning. Particularly vital during a time where distractions are constant and attention spans are significantly shorter, the expectation to learn primarily from reading long blocks of information may soon be a thing of the past. Or, it could be something more captivating to make the learning experience more meaningful for students. Inclusion of game like elements such as immediate feedback, visualised progress and staggered learning across levels (i.e. have you understood X before moving onto Y?), are ways to enhance the online learning experiences. Various studies [Tan and Singh (2017) and Glowacki, Kriukova and Avshenyuk (2018)have been carried out over the years in the field of gamification in higher education by using gamified tools such as Kahoot, with many specifying its effectiveness for learning transfer, boosted motivation and overall engagement.  

Adding gamification or game elements is a great example of how taking advantage of technology can help to boost more meaningful learning in a way that’s fun and novel, yet also insightful and informative for students. Boundaries can be pushed further with other innovative approaches, utilising artificial intelligence aided virtual assistants or virtual, immersive environmentsAll of these approaches represent a look into how the near future of learning in higher education is developing, particularly as younger generations are in constant search of and desire for new and exciting experiences. 

This is part of a series – check out part 1 here 

Schools have long followed the most traditional approach to learning and potentially struggled the most when it came to lockdown learning. With a dramatic range of learning needs, ages and attention spans, examinations, and home situations, it has been hard to deliver lessons with the same consistency and rigour over a screen or via a platform. Helen, a Chemistry teacher from North London, says the COVID-19 lockdown turned her world upside down from one day to the next. 

In a school, not all teachers are following the exact same schedule, facing the same challenges, addressing the same needs, or even required to deliver materials the same way. So, when we moved to remote learning, those different circumstances suddenly became even more accentuated.” Because the immediacy of the lockdown, Helen and her colleagues faced a scramble to work out how to balance teaching in terms of prioritising age groups in need of more personalised tutoring across MS Teams, and in terms of who had more availability. Sometimes this meant everyone doing less, sometimes it meant people without caring responsibilities taking on more than their share. It was almost unavoidable.” Lesson materials were uploaded and shared, homework was returned, the practicalities of teaching and learning continued, but something she genuinely noticed and felt hard to replicate was the pastoral care – both for students and staff.   

On paper, the move to more online learning could be great. By the day younger generations are increasingly familiar with and adept at technology. There is ample potential for bringing learning to the screen. One study showed learners recall more when using virtual teaching methods than with traditional methods, a comparative study of the same core content but through different mediums, which proved a 76% increase in learning effectiveness. With this in mind, going virtual shouldn’t mean a drop in attainment, but of course the theory is not always the case in reality.  

As we have seen, schools were an area of society that were never going to stay ‘closed’ forever and though reopening has its share of challenges, we wonder how technology could assist in the teaching and learning ecosystem of the future.  

Firstly, teachers and schools would argue there is more to their role than just delivering learning. In the move to screen time learning, the biggest missing piece for them became the complexity in sustaining pastoral care – for students and colleagues alike. Pastoral care can feel juxtaposed online, especially when so much can be noticed by watching students in the classroom, picking up on individual moods and behaviours. A significant part of pastoral care is the support network between teachers and co-workers within schools. Grabbing each other for a quick word in between classes, comparing notes and building a better picture of what works and what doesn’t. Coming out of lockdown, Helen says that she came to really value how everyone managed to sustain that teamwork in order to create more flexibility for each other.     

Could schools take a page from the corporate world’s book and adopt team catch ups, incorporating more teamwork and collaboration into the day? Easier said than done though as teachers are renown for having barely any time in the day already, adding another call or meeting maybe wouldn’t be the best use of their time when they may feel stretched or that their focus is needed for curriculum creativity and innovative ways to capture student’s attention. However, the way to navigate that issue, is to design solutions with the teacher’s needs and schedule in mind. Digital platforms can centralise easy and instant creation and sharing of learning materials, that teachers can then adapt in delivery to the needs of the students. The experience can then be enhanced though, by including elements that will support the teacher’s working day. Features that facilitate immediate feedback, flag good news to the wider team, and enable recognition can provide automated motivation boosts during a day where they may not get an actual thank you for their dedication. Within the same platform, messaging can connect colleagues interested in or working on similar areas to improve collaboration or provide functionalities that enable teachers to ‘raise their hand’ for an offline conversation about a concern they may have regarding work, materials or safeguarding. By using personalised, digital solutions a fragmented day becomes streamline.

Asking for help or getting recognition could be sped up for instantaneous responses, and all the effort needed to “connect the dots” becomes less labour intensive, so teachers could then spend less time on frantic creative content creation, and more time on the personalised, pastoral care that technology can’t exactly step in and help with. Innovation doesn’t need to result in overhaul, but we won’t necessarily enhance the learning experience by just moving materials online or creating video content for classrooms. Real change comes by understanding your audience, and identifying where connections can be made, where they struggle, and how to enable small improvements for huge steps forward. A bit like every great teacher we’ve ever known.   

Approaches to learning and development (L&D) are constantly evolving in keeping with evolving tools and expectations. Although before the events of this year, educators and knowledge professionals arguably, at least felt more able to control, influence and grow with the changes. 94% of L&D professionals have recently reported they have had to change their L&D strategy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and another 59% thought their organisation’s adoption of digital learning was immature given the developments. L&D have had some advantages in their court for a while; technological tools and platforms opened up doors for sharing information immediately and internationally, for creating more dynamic materials, and for creating different paths for learners to follow that suit their own personal approaches and needs.

But L&D spans a huge area and depending on your focus you’ll no doubt be facing a myriad of different yet equally complex challenges today. Perhaps the biggest shared one though, being how to engage your audience. An audience who you now predominantly have to access via a screen. The pressure is on to keep materials relevant and interesting yet easy to digest, that learners can take away with them and apply in their everyday lives once they shut their laptops.

For a while, people responsible for L&D have needed to get even more creative in how they reach their audiences, who are becoming even more overwhelmed, distracted, and unfulfilled in their relationship with learning. Gen Z smartphone users unlock their devices on average 79 times a day. Office workers are interrupted every 11 minutes. Only 26% of employees strongly agree they learn or do something interesting each day. But, actually, it would be wrong to regard these as hinderances to the learning process. Gen Z may be untethered and online, but they are also an incredibly passionate and aware generation. Office workers may be short on time, but bite sized learning is proven to lead to 20% better knowledge retention. The circumstances of the last few months, although initially a shock, could now be the call to action for schools, organisations, and companies to enhance their offering – whether for the remote student, remote employee or apprentice – in order to appeal to what the modern learner is looking to attain from the experience. We are all looking at opportunities to react in order to pull audiences back in, nurture commitment to courses, and improve learning transfer rates.

Join us over the next few weeks as we take a closer look at the current state of education, learning and development, understanding recent experiences and assessing new approaches across 3 distinct areas: classroom based learning, higher education, and workplace development.

 

 

People are often quick to put themselves down. “I’m not creative”. “I can’t draw, I’m not a designer”. “I couldn’t do what you do”. We’d argue that, actually, anyone can be a designer and more people today are involved in design than what they probably realise. We all live in a world surrounded full of services, solutions, innovation, and transformation. Behind every product or solution, is a development process, with people working on the development – or design – that will make their offering stand out from the masses. The best way to successfully stand out is to create something that is wanted, needed, and enjoyable for the end users. Made with them in mind. For us, Design Thinking is the path to achieving this.

Design Thinking is essentially an immersive approach for creative problem-solving. It’s about looking at processes and products with a people focussed lens. It brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. It offers tools for understanding, inhabiting, and moulding the end user’s experience, to teams who are not traditionally close to a customer.

By approaching product or process development through Design Thinking you change your immediate focus (create/produce item), reframe the challenges you’re tackling (what do we want it to do versus what the user will need it to do), shift the scene you’re setting development in – with simple values to bear in mind.
Empathise: think about how people will use what you’re creating, think about what clients need to achieve through it. Observe them, understand their needs. Looking at things from different perspectives and reviewing the wider data discovered from this, unblocks mindsets and identifies criteria that could have been otherwise missed.

If you use a narrow perspective, you will get a narrow result. The reality is different needs and pieces don’t always fit together neatly. Design Thinking guides teams to design and develop with all the pieces in mind, from the beginning.

Connecting the Dots

Though there is a determined set of steps, we wouldn’t consider it to be a rigid process primarily as it encourages flexibility and iteration. The guidelines help teams who aren’t trained in design follow a structure – starting by removing them from the embedded mindset of “this is how things are done around here” or “we are here to create a profitable solution” – taking them on a journey of innovation and improvement.

Once you have ascertained the drives and needs of the end users and match them with the environment it needs to operate in, you can paint a picture of the opportunities available to you for design and development. Based on the requirements and setting, basic, low fidelity experiments (sketches, outlines…) help you begin to test and ideate, gradually improving the ‘experiments’ fidelity and detail with your learnings.

It’s an approach where, for once, it is recommendable to get comfortable, generate lots and lots of possibilities, unleash ideas and go a bit wild. For the best results, trust and psychological comfort is hugely important.

When people share ideas they need to feel they are in a safe, permissive environment, especially when trying to invent and innovate in radically different areas to what their own perspective or thinking usually sits. Hence why one of the key principles behind ideation is to suspend judgment in the team. Reviewing, refining, and selecting the wide range of ideas created can come later on in the steps, around prototyping and testing.

Testing a product before implementation seems self-evident, but Design Thinking helps teams take it one step further by prototyping before developing the end product or solution. Beneficial for many reasons, as it creates a safe space for failure and is a cheaper-than-making-the-real-thing way to understand and evaluate usability. It also means you start assessing the solution in a realistic setting long before it ever goes to market or reaches the end user.

You’re a Designer Too

More companies should turn to Design Thinking as a key to success. Structures, processes, traditional mindsets, pressurised management, can all end up absorbing and burying vision and creative problem solving. To develop a great product you need to keep the focus on the setting it will be used in and who will use it. This is relevant whether you’re developing software or a shoe or a system for signing into work. Empathise with the end user, let your teams loose on the problem with fewer psychological restrictions, and move rapidly and back and forth between creation and testing to provide something truly usable and user focussed. You’ll find that you’ll learn more along the way and make discoveries you would have never otherwise found until implementation.

At Motivait we have a well-defined process, founded in Design Thinking, but we never lose sight of the need to be flexible. It’s a process to remind us to ask less conventional questions, in order to get less conventional answers, often helping clients to get unstuck from how they’d been looking at the challenge themselves.

So, how do you convince employees that they are potential designers?

Design Thinking is not Design, any more than Agile is Engineering, or Lean is Business Management. Promote and foster a creative work environment beyond the virtual borders of design. Encourage knowledge sharing, be an open book and inclusive with your work and ongoing projects. By supporting employees to be connectors, collaborators, and facilitators, you may well find you’ve created teams of designers.


How to work remotely using Design Thinking 

  • Recreate the work environment your employees are used to: organise calls for brainstorms, set up catch ups where people can feel comfortable sharing anecdotes or stories – you never know where the next idea will come from
  • On fuelling creativity: Try to not lock people to their laptops. Ensure people are feeling able to take lunch breaks, go for walks, sign up to online courses, as well as meeting deadlines and performing well. Don’t keep people on a call “until the problem gets solved”. If ideation is going nowhere, then break up the session and regroup later. It will give people a chance to look at the problem from another angle.
  • Make sure everyone has access to the same tools and information: Digital ideation tools should be simple, accessible, and allow for unstructured creative freedom.
  • Promote Inclusion: Bring everyone together to solve problems, including necessary people in the tasks that are required, and people who may not usually be included in brainstorms.
  • Embed now for success later: Design Thinking should always be your primary toolkit, remote or not. Get people thinking about what areas they would want to enhance with Design Thinking so that they feel they are building to a positive future, rather than a return to old ways.

Written in collaboration by Begoña Repiso & Pablo Heydt

 

Play and games have been associated with formal learning since the times of Plato in ancient Greece. Today we can see an increasing trend towards the use of games and game-like experiences within education, both of children and adults. For the most part, these experiences come in two flavours. The first is that of Games Based Learning (GBL), sometimes referred to as ‘Serious Games’, the second is ‘Gamification’. Read more