The obligatory Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) post: With virtual working and online learning on most of our minds

This post has been in different stages of draft for a week or more and I am just doing a quick edit of the below before pushing it out – well aware that anything written on this topic soon becomes out-of-date. For example, the Facebook group mentioned below has gone from about 8000 members to 44000 in the last week.

Seeking the positivies

I would imagine I am in the majority on Coronavirus – namely a group thinking the response seemed excessive but unwilling to speak out too loudly in case this really does spread and start killing a far greater percentage of populations.  As we now hit pandemic stage it feels more real – not least in furthering all appreciation of the incredible medical service staff we have around the world who battle on whatever the conditions. However, whilst turning the corner feels a way off yet we can see some real advantages starting to emerge.

From trade shows, MBAs, sports events and more we are seeing rearrangements and cancellations.  For those, like me, who have been banging the drum for a long time about the advantages of online learning and remote working this might be ‘our time’. 

Remote conferences, trade shows, etc.

For trade shows and conferences the downsides to restrictions are that we lose some of the advantages of events – for example, they can help us find things through serendipity and “on the fringes”, including through chatting and socializing.  This is more difficult when self-selecting webinars and other online events that act as the equivalent of conference sessions. One thing I am trying to do is to network in a wider sense, including reaching out to people on LinkedIn and attending webinars from organisations I have not previously engaged with. Ongoing communicating can replace some of this, not least through peer networking online.

It has always been a bit ironic that some of the biggest online players in their different fields also have huge people gatherings – such as Microsoft, Workday and Blackboard events. In some ways you have to hope the move of events such as the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference (BBTLC), for 2020, being moved online will further encourage improvements in the offers of those companies. On a side note, I think it is nine years since I last attended, and presented, at BBTLC! Time flies!

Remote learning

A Facebook group – Educator Temporary School Closure – is already showing the power of informal collaboration and networking in helping those impacted by school closures. This is a massive network already with sharing and supporting in a collaborative way. The disadvatnages are there though – not least Facebook’s poor file management and search. For those of who have been community managers, intranet editors, etc these problems can be frustrating and group owners are clearly playing a loosing battle with people just posting the same questions over and over again. Basically a knowledge management nightmare – but better than no social learning at all!

Of course a problem of the speed here is that people are “getting by” dealing with immediate needs – will organisations find time to breath and realize there are specialists available to help (such as online community managers)? I am torn here a little as I advocate simple solutions but also aware that there will be lots of bad practice – for example generating huge files, duplication of effort due to lack of sharing between organisations, eLearning that ignores accessibility standards, etc. For teachers this is rapid professional development and hopefully, as Donald Clark writes, they will be better teachers for the experience. This all said, it does feel like there are clear opportunities for learning technologists and other groups to help the overwhelming load of free offers and advice that is currently being pumped out (yes, including this article I know). For example, plenty in this image (that was shared with me this week) is debatable:

It is depressing that it has taken something like this to lead to a change for so many. For example a TES article describing this as a chance to start to experiment with flipped learning really got my eyes rolling – I was helping deploy such models at scale about a decade ago (and there are obviously plenty of practitioners with more experience than me).

Parents stuck at home with their children will hopefully also be more useful advocates for digital learning in the future – both for their children but also when back into their own workplaces. In addition, they will have seen many of the difficulties teachers face and we may have a better balance of teacher/parent expectations overall in global society.

Perhaps the real advantage for schools, universities and other education institutions is that this is offering something of a holy grail in education – control groups.  We often hear that you cannot deprive learners of opportunities.  Thus education research is difficult.  Here we have a perfect opportunity to compare, at scale, data against previous years and those not impacted by closures as control groups. We should have some real data about what kind of models work, provided people have some time to number crunch!

Remote working

Remote leadership, willingness to delegate and trust are challenges that have long existed for those who are used to working in virtual teams.  These are now ‘normal’ issues for many more people and we can reimagine work around outcomes, not time spent, and develop our online networking skills. Clair Lew and others have lots of great tips on what meetings can look like remotely and more.

Hopefully commuting will be increasingly seen for what it is (a waste of time and energy for many) and better ways of working will be established. Obviously this does not relate some of the wonderful people out there who will continue to be tied to their place of work in hospitals, shops and other fields. That said, interesting to see Microsoft’s new Teams offer to healthcare being launched at this point in history.

I have written before about my love of Teams and it seems, from browsing Twitter and other sources, that it does seem to have become the de facto platform for many. As Rachel Burnham says, Teams is now everywhere. This is where I would like to add a celebratory gif. Rachel hits a good point though that L&D teams seem to be reverting to thinking about Teams as an LMS. Similarly schools closed for Covid will think about “lessons”, “timetables” and more. These may be useful starting points but the platform can (and should?) be more transformational (of course many are firmly in the S stage of SAMR currently).

Saving the environment

Science fiction is full of examples where mankind has to face a major event to limit the damage it is doing to the planet, World War 3 in Star Trek for example.  The virus so far has cut pollution in China and offers to cull airlines following the collapse of Flybe and US-Schengen travel.  Many of us will have spent time in pointless or, at best, overly long meetings in the past and this might make us far more appreciate of the implications of travel.

Hopefully the numbers will remain not too bad

This site has some really good graphs and number crunching on the implications of the virus spread, even at this stage the numbers are relatively small and that is something of a positive to hold onto. Best of luck out there to those with health conditions, elderly relatives, etc who are at risk.

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