The blended reality of future learning
Why the new school is still (partly) old school
Interskills’ Business Development Manager, Anna Tripodi, expresses it plainly. “COVID effectively ended the excuse to put it off by leaving us all with no real choice.”
When digital technology became mainstream in the 1990s, and the ‘information superhighway’ promised to connect everyone seamlessly, business-as-usual started to evolve. As internet speeds and improved portability reduced both the technical and cost barriers to voice and video streaming, the idea of decentralised, remote workplaces, (with team members connecting and sharing in real time), became a practical possibility.
However, there was resistance. Many organisations, including those in the education sector, remained wedded to in-person, office/campus models of operation. Staff and students were still required to be ‘present.’
Then, in March 2020, a tiny RNA virus arrived on our shores and everything changed. As Interskills’ RTO Manager Paul Malloy recalls, “Suddenly, the future had arrived. One day we were thinking about how the virtual classroom might look, the next we were doing classes on Zoom.”
As the pandemic intensified, working from the dining room table and doing home-schooling became a daily reality for millions. While some individuals and organisations suffered, others thrived. Adapting to the new world of work and study was not as ‘impossible’ as many had imagined in 2019.
At Interskills, the physical campus may have been quiet but the entire team were busy re-imagining working arrangements and course delivery models to meet the new reality. “It was definitely a challenge,” Paul Malloy admits. “But working in the education sector, especially as an RTO, means you have to be quick on your feet. After all, we’re constantly encouraging our students to be flexible and open minded, so when COVID came we really had to walk that walk.”
As we rolled into 2021 and viral variants and ongoing restrictions kept us apart, there was a moment when many thought we would never get back to offices and tute rooms. However, as the initial panic and uncertainty morphed into a more moderated approach, a post-pandemic normal began to emerge.
Welcome to the ‘blended’ age. Part physical, part virtual. “We soon realised that we didn’t have to choose between them, but that we could have both,” Anna Tripodi explains.
Indeed, in her role as Business Development Manager, (which involves being in constant contact with industry), Tripodi has seen first-hand how blended models are being embraced by businesses and service providers across a range of sectors. “If the world of work is increasingly blended, then we owe it to our students to match that reality.”
In practical terms, what this means is a mix of in-person and distance learning. Some days on Zoom, some on campus. Some lectures live, others pre-recorded.
As the head of Interskills, Paul Malloy sees the benefits clearly. “Some learning experiences need to be personal. You need to get hands-on,” he says. “But why should we force you to catch a bus on a freezing cold morning for a lecture when you can just as easy sit home and watch it in your pyjamas?”
In short, providers like Interskills are looking to leverage the advantages of both the old and new, with the resulting blend being less rigid, and more tailored to individual students and circumstances.
Zooming out, what the post-COVID blended reality challenges providers to do is not merely be more nimble but to finally move beyond the one-size-fits-all approach. “People often think that society is becoming more impersonal,” Malloy notes, “but this is an example of how technology can help to make things much more personalised.”
“It’s no longer my way or the highway,” Anna Tripodi adds. “Education in the 2020s is now much more about dialogue.”
After more than thirty years working in education, Paul Malloy welcomes the step change, and is clearly keen to embrace a more dialogue-driven approach. “Luckily for us at Interskills, and our students, we’re a naturally chatty bunch.”