The 20-21 school year has been like no other. Of all the disruptors that have impacted teaching and learning, at least one of them is here to stay – the shift to virtual learning. With each semester this shift impacts schools’ practices, systems, and purchasing so that leadership can better support their community’s virtual realities. Understanding these changes will be essential to stay relevant, and avoid fossilization, in the educational landscape.
Understanding virtual learning environments will be an ongoing practice. Already, organizations like the Christensen Institute are gathering data produced by the “sudden shutdown of classroom-based instruction.” Their initial round of research has yielded the first of multiple reports published on January 11, 2021. The report encapsulates the realities and identifies the challenges to implementing and teaching in virtual environments. Harnessing that data effectively for your company will require an intentional transformation of information to practice. Below are six ways to make your transition to the virtual world real.
- Know Your Terms: Like any professional practice, knowing the jargon allows you to go deeper into the discipline. In this case, knowing the meaning and uses of terms related to virtual learning like “remote”, “hybrid”, “concurrent”, “synchronous”, and “asynchronous”, sets you up as an informed partner. Asking districts what terms they use and where they are with these modes of virtual learning is an added advantage.
- Do it, Don’t Say it: Your word may be good, but your action is better – even if it is virtual. When in a meeting, have the participants engage with your product and be explicit with the application to virtual learning environments. Providing free demonstrations and professional learning related to your product will be an expectation schools have.
- Train your Staff, Repeatedly: Little is worse than witnessing a presenter who does not know how to use or speak about their product. It discredits them. What’s more, people will wonder “if the representative can’t use it, how can my staff be expected to?” Technology itself changes quickly which, in turn, causes change to happen. Be prepared to invest in your staff’s knowledge. And by all means, engage in mock meetings so that you can agile when technology mishaps happen.
- Tap into Teachers: The Christensen Institute wanted to find out about the dynamics of virtual teaching, so they talked to teachers! Follow that lead and develop a teacher advisory group as an on-demand consultancy panel. Additionally, you can also go where teachers are – Facebook groups, Twitter chats, online conferences – to hear what is being said about virtual education. These areas can also be effective recruiting environments for your advisors.
- Flexible, Personal, Compatible, and Easy: These four qualities transcend any topic related to virtual learning. If your product or service is not getting an “A+” on all four of them – flexible (useful across content areas and grades), personal (customizable for the user), compatible (is able to function with existing tools and regulations), and easy (teachers and students can access quickly and use intuitively) – now is the time to upgrade. Not doing so is welcoming obsolescence, not relevance.
As you think about how these five practices, and their variants, can be applied to your work, I suggest that you conceptualize two larger categories into which every practice can be bucketed. Framing your product or services as either a “solution” or “innovation” conveys clarity of purpose while providing flexibility to meet the needs of particular districts you partner with. With these mantels, you will be able to root yourself in the educational terrain and guarantee your presence in very real ways.