The University in your pocket

As students return to college online across the country, Learnovation, the global annual learning technology event, is also being held online this year from October 13-15.

Learnovation is organised by The Learnovate Centre, one of Europe’s leading research and innovation centres in learning technologies, based at Trinity College Dublin.

Entitled ‘Living and Learning in a Changing Workplace’, this year’s Learnovation event focuses on how to transform learning experiences for employees, students and customers in online learning’s biggest year ever.

One of the world’s leading experts in online learning, Professor Gilly Salmon, is a keynote speaker at Learnovation 2020 . Professor Salmon is the founder and CEO of Education Alchemists and spent 30 years in the university sector in the UK and Australia holding various positions including Pro Vice-Chancellor.

Speaking to The Learnovate Centre ahead of Learnovation, Professor Salmon said the dominance of the college or university campus is unlikely to return as even the world’s most traditional universities are adapting for a very different future.

But third-level institutions have an opportunity to ensure students still experience the same ‘rite of passage’ by increasing collaboration and peer-to-peer interaction online.

Professor Salmon’s talk is entitled ‘Seizing the Pivot for New Learning: pursuing principles and practice post-Covid’. She says:

“I don’t think we will be going back to the dominance of campus; some of the very high-end, research-based, traditional universities across the UK are preparing for this not to be temporary. The new normal looks different but the focus should be on increased flexibility so that students can go to campus if it is safe and appropriate to do so but they are offered an equivalent experience if that’s not possible. This might not be the last time this happens so we need increased flexibility for the future and the ability to switch, in an agile way, between one mode and another.

“The concept of going to university is completely embedded in our culture. Students see it as a rite of passage; our moment of freedom; to find ourselves. That is going to change, there is no doubt about that. Universities and students will have to work even harder to enable people to make cross-cultural connections and start to understand the world of the future through their university education rather than thinking it will happen by chance, by being immersed in the university campus.

“We have to embrace the idea of the ‘university in your pocket’ so that everything can be done through mobile devices. So, students are carrying the university or college with them rather than going to a campus. But they need to have all the features that a physical campus would have – places to meet socially, places to listen to your lecturer and, crucially, places to work with other students.

“Already there has been a been a marked increase to bring courses completely online and bring them out to the world because of the dependence that UK and Irish third-level has on overseas students. We’ve probably seen the halcyon days of being able to import students. Instead, we are going to have to export learning out to where they are. That has been going on for a while but there will a major ramp up in trying to reach students that are not located in our country in a range of new ways.”

Professor Salmon adds that people across the corporate and the university world stepped up massively during the worst part of Covid but now it is time to step back and re-think the future.

“It might take a bit of time and I am sure this academic year will still be very disruptive and will not meet some expectations. But we should be hopeful that this is the moment of pivot; to change to something that is successful for all. There are lots of advantages to moving online. It is a lot more equitable for everyone and saves times as well. So, it’s not all bad, it’s different.”

The Learnovate Centre Director Nessa McEniff adds that there is no doubt that this year’s college experience is very different for students across Ireland.

“However, we believe this is the perfect time for third-level institutions to embrace the benefits of elearning and see how it can add to the university experience. Online learning has huge advantages for both students and the institutions as it increases equity across the student body and universities can increase their offerings to students in Ireland and overseas.”

Learnovate Academic Director and Director of Research at Trinity College Dublin, Dr Ann Devitt adds that we need to make sure that the things that make us human stay at the centre of education.

“In all the changes that we have had to make in our lives and our education settings over the last few months, sometimes the procedural aspects of learning have been to the fore – getting people into school or online, getting materials online and so on.  But we don’t know how long this situation is going to last so we must  make sure that those things that make us human stay at the very centre of what we are trying to achieve in education. We need connection to learn and to keep us motivated. In an online context, it takes imagination and careful consideration to make those happen, but we must be committed to always trying to achieve that.”

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