The rush to digital education is on…..finally

As a long-term advocate for the potential of digital technology to transform education, I’ve become increasingly frustrated by the slow pace that digital approaches have been adopted and integrated into education compared with other industries, particularly in the corporate and adult learning space.

Investment and Demand High

It’s certainly not due to a lack of investment in digital technology with $20.0 B invested in EdTech in 2019 – the highest ever. And it’s also not due to a lack of demand for digital education with 110 million students enrolled in MOOCs in 2019, a 10% increase on 2018. As a long-term educator, it seems to me the industry has been held back by outdated teaching paradigms ground in physical classroom learning with teachers/trainers/educators and their institutions being either unwilling or unable to make the switch to a truly 21st Century, digital approach. Don’t get me wrong – I love teaching in F2F formats in real time with real students. However, F2F teaching is inefficient and ineffective as a primary format for disseminating knowledge. What’s needed is a blended “omni-channel” approach.


Which brings us to the present COVID19 crisis that’s forcing educators everywhere to embrace digital “en masse” in a way that was unimaginable 3 months ago. Educators and their institutions around the world are flat out doing their bit to flatten the curve by converting their F2F classroom materials into a variety of digital formats for their newly remote learners. Webinars, eBooks, YouTube videos, podcasts, online assessments, even old-fashioned phone support – you name it, a tsunami of digital materials is being prepared, uploaded and distributed for learner consumption. The problem is that simply digitising existing classroom content and using substitute processes to deliver the content is a non-engaging, labour-intensive pedagogical approach. While it’s a commendable short-term means to address the COVID19 challenge, this approach don’t harness the power of digital technology to fundamentally change the educational process, enrich learner experiences and deepen knowledge acquisition.

Integrated user-experience

We need to design an integrated user-experience (learner) based approach to education rather than a segregated producer-oriented (teacher) based one. Content needs to be available asynchronously and delivered through self-paced processes and broken down into bite-sized chunks, modularised, interactive and multi-media. Courses need to follow a “Why, What, How” format with self and peer assessments enabling learners to check their progress and provide the opportunity for self-reflection and social learning. Platforms like Zapnito’s add a synchronous and interactive experience for double and even triple loop learning.

Self-Efficacy Beliefs

Ultimately, we need to move from a Behaviour/Stimulus/Response mindset as educators to a Social Cognitive one where learners are seen as proactive influencers of their own behaviour rather than reactive responders to external stimuli. The focus needs to switch to boosting learner self-efficacy beliefs – their confidence in their confidence to undertake challenging tasks through personal mastery, role modelling, feedback/coaching and safe psychological and physical spaces.

The COVID19 crisis is an unprecedented event with tragic human consequences that’s providing a unique opportunity to transform education. For the sake of current and future generations, let’s not squander it.

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