If it's one thing that Covid-19 has taught us is that we need to embrace and accept the digital age.
If it's one thing that Covid-19 has taught us is that we need to embrace and accept the digital age.

Re-imagining a post-Covid learning environment

By MaryAnne Isaac Time of article published Nov 20, 2020

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There’s no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has upended higher education institutions across the world and severely impacted the traditional sense of learning.

Its devastating effects have further exposed inequality in education as well as test the lengths of damage control, and the government’s resilience to an invisible enemy.

According to Universities South Africa, higher education institutes face short-term crises relating mainly to the continuity of their academic enterprise and to their finances.

However, Covid-19 is also an opportunity to further develop online education, and to embrace online education as a delivery mode.

Imagining a post-Covid campus life is not inconceivable and according to several experts in the higher education sector, the pandemic has its silver linings and can serve as a catalyst for reimagining and rethinking the future of higher education.

In South Africa, there are many universities involved in Covid-19 research and vaccine trials, universities have the opportunity to restore trust in its research expertise and are able to be at the forefront of pursuing vaccine developments or further Covid-19 research and evaluation.

Here are some ways higher education institutions can re-imagine post-Covid learning.

1. Embrace digital and create virtual content

According to research, students are relaxed and comfortable with having their module course material available online.

However, they also prefer having face-to-face discussions and interactions with peers.

Ishwar Puri, dean of engineering and professor at McMaster University, says virtual learning occurs best over short sessions of 10 to 15 minute course lessons, rather than a 50-minute long lecture.

He adds that institutes can create possible blended learning models, where learning seamlessly takes place between a physical or virtual classroom with an online resource library built with open-access resources.

2. Create student engagement through virtual experiences

If it's one thing that Covid-19 has taught us is that we need to embrace and accept the digital-age.

Technology has made life easier during the lockdown, making work and studies much easier through virtual means.

Puri believes that institutes must re-introduce online programmes that are already enhancing the academic readiness of incoming students, as this offers students experiences and eases their social transition into virtual teams or groups.

3. Establish a stronger student support

The pandemic has affected economies and many people on a global scale, and there is no doubt that students are also facing pandemic-related challenges too.

Many students are unable to afford their education, as companies downsize to survive and the ever-increasing cost of living.

Learnership and internships, which provides students with workplace skills and professional competencies, are now being limited or frozen.

Higher learning institutes, together with government and education stakeholders, must rally behind their students at a time like this and nurture future leaders and talent.

They must offer support structures, as education facilitators or talent-nurturers understanding students’ needs and challenges.

4. Consider students’ inputs on course design

Higher learning institutes need to listen, empathise and imagine how to serve the needs of its students.

They must find ways to engage and use student concerns into learning platforms, courses and teaching.

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