Flex learning, webinars, and more

Many schools have reopened, albeit in an online environment, in the last few weeks. It took a monumental task for these schools to pivot from virtual unpreparedness to an acceptable, though imperfect, learning environment. When the full strength of the COVID-19 pandemic unleashed its wrath and wreaked havoc on everyone, there was unimaginable uncertainty on the future of education. Indeed, a lot of damage was inflicted on students, some scarred for life. From that initial shock, academe, and the regulators acted to the best of their abilities and resources.

Learning institutions struggled to find the best practical solutions possible in the shortest possible time, often without the benefit of testing and trial or the opportunity to review, revise, and improve content, design, and delivery of educational materials. Schools attempted to project readiness and relevance, but more to reassure their publics that everything is being done to minimize learning disruption and leave no student behind. Despite the challenges and shortcomings, schools have succeeded at least in filling a gap that threatened to become wider and unmanageable. There are imperfections in course design, delivery, assessments, and many other aspects of instruction that would not have passed scrutiny in normal circumstances. However, these are not normal circumstances. It is one of those times when an imperfect product is better than nothing, and where criticism no matter how constructive will not be helpful, not yet anyway. In the public-school system, government is being blamed for failure to complete delivery of modules in time, for lack of internet signal, and a myriad of other failures. Critics conveniently fail to point out that these problems have been there even before the pandemic, which only made matters worse.

The approaches implemented range from webinar-type delivery, flexible learning in whatever form schools define it, consisting mostly of a blend of online lessons and paper-based modules delivered and retrieved by traditional physical means, Television broadcasts lessons to students at certain points. Schools with the resources have installed learning management systems, from free setups to the most expensive solutions. As in any learning situation, learning objectives, content, and instructional design should influence the mode of delivery. Instructor training is another key variable for learning success. The pervasive constraints are cost and availability of resources, one of which is time. Under the best of conditions, developing these alternative modes takes time, from planning to deployment. The pandemic negated all that.

Are the solutions now in place the best alternative to a live classroom? The jury is still out, although it looks that they are not, simply because there was no luxury of adequate preparation. Were the efforts for naught? That one is easy to answer because they were not. Having not done anything would have been far more disastrous. At the very least, the experience created an awareness of alternative learning modes that were not pursued vigorously during the good times. Sometime soon educational administrators and regulators will review the overall experience during this pandemic, and they will find failures and lots of what-should-have-been. Whatever they find will not be enough to think of going back to the old or to discard new realities and discoveries. They will also find a lot of good that could be polished and improved to make the new normal even more effective, enjoyable, affordable, and convenient to the learners of tomorrow. COVID-19 may have sparked the innovation, education has long been missing.

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