Online learning can help weather the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic | D2L Middle East & Africa
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Online learning can help weather the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic

  • 8 Min Read

With the WHO’s declaration of a global pandemic, and cases of COVID-19 rising daily in hundreds of countries around the world, “business as usual” is no longer an option for schools and higher education institutions. We understand this is a turbulent and scary time for everyone. We want you to know we are here to support you through the weeks and months ahead.

According to joint guidance issued days ago by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), UNICEF, and the WHO, schools in countries that have confirmed transmission of the virus have been urged to support students holistically and through strategies such as remote learning as the world copes with this emerging health crisis. As of March 11, 39 countries across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and South America had announced or implemented school and university closures. However, when a school closes its doors, that time is lost forever. For this reason, a growing number of school systems and universities have announced immediate plans to move to virtual instruction and online learning, allowing students to continue their studies without interruption while facilitating social distancing to control community spread of COVID-19.

The ability to transition from face-to-face courses to supporting faculty and learners at a distance can help schools and universities alleviate many of the concerns that come with extended closures. We acknowledge that the abrupt shift to an online learning approach may be a bewildering and even frightening experience for those involved. We hope you’ll check in frequently on our emergency resources page. It’s full of practical help, from getting your initial course content online in 5 minutes to effective use of virtual classrooms, all the way up to complete adoption playbooks for higher ed and K–12 schools.

In an article posted to his blog last week, author and online learning expert Tony Bates offers valuable reassurance for educators who are considering moving to an online approach for the duration of this health crisis. “The LMS is where the students should go first; envision your lectures not as the main or even only source of content in the course, but just one of several learning resources within a more complete online learning environment,” says Bates. “This is where online professionals can be of particular value in helping you design and create that overall online learning environment. The LMS is the online equivalent of your physical campus.”

D2L supports schools, colleges, universities, and companies all over the world. Most of the virtual schools in North America and many globally have trusted D2L for years, along with many of the largest online colleges and universities. Hear from University of Arizona, Southern New Hampshire University, Fanshawe College, and Pima Community College on their experience with the Brightspace platform.

Leaning on D2L’s 20+ years of experience in helping schools and higher education institutions shift fully online or to blended learning, we have built a strong understanding of what is necessary to make learning work outside the classroom for periods of time. We are committed to working closely with customers to develop tailored plans to cope with extended closures.

Despite school closures and the need for social distancing in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the Brightspace LMS platform offers teachers, parents, faculty, administrators, and learners of all ages the ability to continue to connect face-to-face. Learning and instruction can continue without interruption, facilitated by a platform that enables instruction, assessment, and feedback through virtual classrooms, video-based feedback and video assignments, annotations, and rubrics. For those students who may require additional support or motivation, Brightspace can keep individual learners on track with automated nudges and progress them through their learning with the automated release of content and assessments.

Furthermore, to support administrators, instructors, and learners in this time of need, and to help you get the most out of Brightspace products and features, we have hundreds of video tutorials available online, and our team is here to support you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

As the world navigates this unprecedented health crisis, educators and learners are learning to adapt and move forward. In the face of all this change, we are fully committed to helping schools, colleges and universities, teachers, faculty, and learners make the shift to online learning one of the easiest and simplest decisions during this very tumultuous time.

This work to move to a more online ready model will continue to add value to your students long after the pandemic recedes. It will make you that much more a part of the digital transformation of education.

If you are looking for guidance as you navigate this move to online learning, we’re here to help. Check this blog and website frequently for additional resources. We’ll have webinars from D2L and partners, including Southern New Hampshire University and Gwinnett County Public Schools, who will share their experiences and lessons learned in shifting from face-to-face to classes online.

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Fueling up:

Upskilling to grow careers

Name: Zaria
Age: 27

Policy prescriptions: Invest in a Learning-Integrated Life; Transform the learning of today with new partnerships; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

Zaria has five years of work experience and is ready to change jobs and enter a field that has high growth potential in her region. The national government has been investing in collecting better skills-based labour market information for years and has developed a public platform to offer individuals specialized tools to assess their skills against current market needs, and to locate employers that are currently hiring.

On the employer side, the human resources team is closely examining a recent internal skills audit done at their organization and determines that the organization needs additional digital marketing specialists. They initiate a search for individuals with the skills they will soon need and spot a strong candidate in Zaria who requires only light training on regulatory issues regarding the sale of electric vehicles, along with some formal skills development courses on social media marketing strategy. After a successful interview, Zaria is offered the job.

Upon joining, Zaria will receive an educational benefits stipend from the company, and access to a company-provided platform of curated programs for skills building from approved providers. Upon completion of a set of courses, Zaria will receive a credential from a company approved program verifying her technical knowledge and marking the end of her probationary period at the company. To ensure she continues to build her skills, she will move into a formal mentor program with one of her colleagues to receive continual peer-to-peer feedback on her demonstration of skills and knowledge. information

This affordable and accessible learning through employer-funded training has enabled Zaria to begin working while also upskilling to ensure her long-term success in the company and growing industry. The employer is investing in its employees, and company leaders are thinking further into the future about the skills the company needs, and the types of job candidates who will succeed. This match, based on skills potential, was made possible because of government investment in high-quality labour market information and a national platform that matches job candidates with career opportunities based on the candidates’ skills and the identified skill needs of a given job.

Taking the road less travelled:

A networked postsecondary education

Name: Sam
Age: 18

Policy prescriptions: Transform the learning of today with new partnerships

Sam is a prospective postsecondary student who has always been interested in pursuing a global and interdisciplinary education. Sam’s siblings have all instilled in her the importance of studying abroad, having spoken fondly of their academic exchange semesters, field research trips, and intensive language immersion programs. She is inspired, but unsure whether this pathway will be available if she chooses not to complete a four-year degree at one institution.

Sam is interested in understanding how emerging technologies can be used to modernize and improve government services—an area in need of talent not only in her home country of Canada but also abroad. She could take on a general political science, public administration, engineering, or computer science degree at the university close to her home, but none of those degrees feels like the right fit to build the skills she needs to pursue this career interest.

While researching options, Sam learns of a new degree completion pathway that allows students to take courses from a network of universities, colleges, and polytechnic institutions throughout Canada and stack them for skills-based  credentials that are recognized by major Canadian employers. A set of four of these credentials grants an individual a degree-equivalent endorsed by each institution. Sam identifies the skills and knowledge she wants to work towards and charts out four credential pathways:

  1. Service delivery design
  2. Change management
  3. Applications of emerging technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence)
  4. Machinery of government

With this customized learning pathway, Sam has full flexibility to decide how she wants to structure her courses, the institutions within the network she will study at, and the format and model of courses she prefers—whether live in-class instruction or online courses.

Cost flexibility is built in as well—students pay a standard fee based on the number of competencies they intend to learn rather than the normal standard of ‘credit hours’. The province in which Sam lives has endorsed this networked model of  postsecondary education and adjusted its financial assistance program to better support students. Grants and other non-repayable assistance take into consideration the number of courses the student is taking across all institutions when assessing financial need. Previously, Sam would have been required to be a full-time student at every institution to receive support.

Sam also has the option of starting with foundational courses or applying for Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) information so her existing knowledge and skills can be tested and she can move on to more advanced topics.

Sam completes her first three credentials in three years and uses her certifications to apply for a one-year work-integrated learning experience with the federal government in Germany where she can learn first-hand about the applications of artificial intelligence in government. When she returns home, she applies for PLAR to certify her learning on the machinery of government and is granted a degree acknowledging her four-part customized education.

The collaboration between universities, polytechnics, and colleges to create a networked approach to degree completion, and its endorsement by the provincial government, allowed Sam to graduate as an alumnus of multiple postsecondary education institutions. Her exposure to different thought spaces and networks was highly valuable for ensuring she was engaged throughout her education and set up for post-graduation success. In the rapidly evolving field she has chosen, she understands how important it is to continuously upskill, and is prepared to return to formal education for more stackable credentials as she continues throughout her career.

Route guidance:

Personalized professional development

Name: ZheYuan
Age: 33

Policy prescriptions: Prepare teachers for their own lifelong learning journeys; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

ZheYuan is about to join Marama’s school as a new secondary school teacher. He completed his professional teacher education a decade ago, and teaching looks a bit different today than it did when he was studying. With the incorporation of learning technologies in the classroom, and expectations of teachers delivering competency-based education information, he needs personalized professional development to feel comfortable and supported in this new opportunity.

The school district has been on its own learning journey since shifting to a competency-based education model, and has had some growing pains. Over time, the district has come to recognize that success depends on school administrators working closely with teachers to co-create systems of instruction, and pathways to professional development. The district has its own online learning management system (LMS) for teacher professional development, with a catalogue of content covering a range of subjects including:

  • Strategies for student-centred instruction
  • Design thinking—how to prototype and iterate on solutions to test new approaches
  • Online content—using learning management systems to advance competency-based education
  • Data analysis—interpreting student progress

ZheYuan is excited that he can take on professional learning to suit his needs on his own schedule. He recalls an earlier time when he had to spend nine hours a month in-person taking the same professional development courses as his peers who were teaching very different subjects and had varied skill levels and pedagogical needs than him, which was less than effective.

ZheYuan can also take advantage of his teacher community in the LMS, connecting both in asynchronous chats and in live discussions with other teachers and experts from across his region to ask questions and share his experiences. He sees some upcoming dialogues hosted by his school district to share learnings and signs up for those sessions, knowing he will get a valuable peer perspective from other teachers. ZheYuan is thankful that his school leaders recognize and value professional learning and provide the supports and the time needed for improvement.

D2L Whitepaper Contributors

Lead Authors:
Malika Asthana, Manager, Strategy and Public Affairs
Joe Pickerill, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, International

Contributors:
Jeremy Auger, Chief Strategy Officer
Mark Schneiderman, Senior Director, Future of Teaching and Learning
Brendan Desetti, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, United States
Mike Semansky, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, Canada
Nia Brown, Senior Manager, Strategy and Public Affairs

In the driver’s seat:

Owning the personalized learning journey

Name: Marama
Age: 14

Policy prescriptions: Prepare teachers for their own lifelong learning journeys; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

Marama is enrolled in a school with a competency-based education model information. Students are responsible for owning the personalization of their learning pathways, making choices alongside their teachers in how and when they learn.iii Teachers play a central role in guiding and validating all learning, regardless of where it takes place—offering formative assessments to evaluate a student’s mastery of skills and knowledge. Teachers use data from these assessments, gathered through an online learning management system (LMS), to differentiate instruction and provide targeted supports so that all students progress toward graduation. As a student diagnosed with a learning disability, Marama is supported in her education by this personalized learning pathway.

All students complete an assessment in ninth grade to identify their natural strengths as a learner. Their teachers use the results as inputs to design tailormade educational pathways with learning materials and activities that suit the individual students’ learning needs. In Marama’s case, this includes:

  1. Supplementing lecture-based teaching with structured but independent reading
  2. Shadowing professionals who work on the concepts she is learning about
  3. Taking the stories and lessons she’s learned and sharing it back with classmates by designing a creative and interactive presentation

Over the course of the school year, Marama spends a third of her time in live lectures (sometimes online) with her teacher alongside other classmates—but the rest of her time is spent learning in the ways that suit her best. She can log into her online LMS from her mobile device to access her school resources and complete on her own schedule before the assigned deadline. When Marama finds a concept that interests her, she can ask her teachers and counsellor for support in finding a working professional to speak to, or work alongside for a couple weeks, from the network her school has curated over time. And when she has learned something, she is encouraged to reinforce her learning by applying her skills and developing content to share back with her classmates.

Marama’s personalized learning journey empowers her to own her education by learning in ways that are effective for her, with the support that allows her to be successful. Her teachers have high-quality data about student strengths and performance they can share with her parents to show them how she is mastering specific skills, and where she may need extra support. Her school experience empowers her to embrace her subject interests very early on, and she advances to deeper topics quickly as she submits evidence of learning that demonstrates her proficiency. She graduates having cultivated a mindset for self-directed learning early in her education.