The Shift to Certification Preparation (and Other Learning) in Isolation
Over the past few weeks, it's become increasingly clear that education as we know is morphing almost beyond recognition. As a Microsoft Insider MVP, the parent of a high schooler, and somebody who has followed the training and certification business for between 25 and 30 years, I've seen huge changes upending all of these worlds.
The Microsoft MVP Summit (March 16-20) was carried out entirely virtually, and Microsoft has announced that all of its upcoming conferences will be handled the same way, pending further notice of a policy change. My son's school district extended its spring break from 1 to 3 weeks, while the district's IT and teaching staff scrambled to create an online learning alternative for ALL CLASSES that will make its debut on Monday, April 6.
And finally, I've seen all the big training providers — including both vendor-based programs like those from CompTIA, Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, et al., and pure training companies such as CBT Nuggets, Executrain, Fast Lane, Global Knowledge, and so on — all step away from classroom-based Instructor Led Training (ILT) to a variety of online alternatives.
The new paradigm for certification training includes distance learning (instructor-led training in classroom format, via camera and remote connection), browser-based courseware, and various self-paced learning options.
Keep Your (Social Distance), But Keep Learning!
Everyone is struggling with a world in which we must still work and learn together, but at a safe distance. Preferably, these activities occur with all participants in their own private spaces, so that there's no chance of picking up or passing on coronavirus as an unwanted side-effect of these interactions.
It's a very different world, with a different set of rules to follow, interactions to engage in, and materials to work with. I see and feel this most strongly for primary and secondary education, where at least some of the impetus behind putting kids in a classroom is indeed a socially acceptable and desirable form of part-time daycare with responsible adult supervision.
Now everything is changing. Experts agree that the best way to get the most out of distance learning requires a disciplined and focused approach. Some of the elements of such an approach include:
1) Prior preparation, through reading, problem-solving, labs or other hands-on interaction with concepts and materials, to get ready for student-teacher interactions and interchanges.
2) Careful definition and exposition of what will be covered, what students are expected to know and understand, and what kinds of questions and problems they should be able to answer or solve.
3) The need to take notes while working through materials, so as to be able to ask important questions, seek clarification or additional explanation and demonstration, and get help and insight from the instructor to make sure skills, knowledge, and understanding meet goals, objectives, and requirements.
4) Opportunities for students to interact with and learn from each other, as well as from instructors and materials. Outside the informal networks found in classrooms and schools, this means some kind of structured social networking so that students can come together, share concerns and perspectives, and seek out answers and information they need.
5) Methods to solicit, create, and file assignments, quizzes, tests, and so forth, so that students stay informed about what's due when, and instructors and other interested parties (administrators, data scientists, parents — where applicable — and other authorized personnel) can track progress, provide feedback and reminders, maintain scores and grades, and keep the educational experience moving forward.
Let's Remake Education in a New Light
We're looking at a new level of digital integration that will reshape the way teaching and learning work. This is an opportunity for real digital transformation, if we can seize the chance to do and get things right. It's probably going to proceed by fits and starts, with bumps in the road here and there along the way.
If we do things right, students will gain access to levels of personalized information and instruction that have been long discussed, but not yet well or full implemented within the learning management systems (LMSs) with which I am familiar. I'd like to see us build our way into a future where the result is ultimately an improved educational experience for everyone.
For an interesting idea of the kinds of things that might be possible, please read Vernor Vinge's wonderful 2006 sci-fi book Rainbows End, where he takes us into a world of high school that embraces both teenagers and recently-rejuvenated octogenarians having to develop current skills and knowledge to face a modern workplace in the San Diego, CA of 2025. Careful, attentive readers can get a lot of good ideas about what we should be doing with learning from this book.