MANY correlate online learning with the new normal but it is not the whole story. Online learning is essential as an enabler of learning so that the whole business of education will not stall, but there are more facets to pay attention to in defining the new normal.
I look at four aspects to ease our way forward
1. Shift of learning space: From public space to personal space.
What this means is instead of going to schools and university premises to get some education, or learn, learning now happens at home – in our personal spaces and boundaries. With technology, this transition of spaces has happened since Web 2.0 because learning can now be done through our personal devices without having to go physically to an institution. The difference now is in this personal space our typical social interactions shift from physical to virtual interactions. We still interact with the learning community that we are in. We still exchange conversations with classmates, teachers, and lecturers. We are not cut off from the learning community, just a shift in our communication channels.
2. Shift of delivery methods, or teaching methods: From one size fits all to individualised and differentiated learning.
In a typical class, students will be taught with the same books – listen to the same lecture, do the same activities in class, and complete the same homework assignment. At the end of the semester, all students will sit for the same exam and will be evaluated based on the same rubric.
Individualised and differentiated means teaching each student uniquely to meet the unique needs and pace of various students. The academic goals may remain the same for a group of students, but individual students can progress through the curriculum at different speeds, through different resources, based on their own particular learning needs. Some students might learn better through watching videos, while some need to read the textbook. Each student is unique in their learning, especially now when learning takes place in their personal space. Accessibility varies from household to household, and distributing learning resources can be challenging for educators. Therefore, educators now can design lessons according to individual needs of students and give them flexibility to master the subject.
3. Shift of responsibility in the teaching and learning process – Active participation of household members.
Now that learning takes place in personal spaces, most likely in students’ homes, family members become an active agent in the teaching and learning process. The entire household act as learning facilitators – providing guidance and assistance to make the learning process pleasant for students. Although teachers can always deliver lessons and learning materials online, but learning needs interaction with the physical world. When it comes to the need for references to the outside world and physical interactions, household members need to play a role - showing real life examples, demonstrations, or even having simple conversations. Household members need not be professors or “guru cemerlang”, just simply be present to facilitate the process. Support by household members gives students the conviction that learning is an activity that is absolutely imperative and uncompromised.
4. Shift in learning evaluations – From final exams to formative assessments
Malaysians most often contradict themselves when it comes to exams. We remonstrated when classroom-based assessments were introduced and it remains our constant criticism about exam-centric education. The new normal does not lend itself to methods of evaluation like final exams as exams are laborious to manage in personal spaces. Therefore, alternative means of evaluating learning have to take place to monitor student achievement.
Formative assessments like science project demonstrations, maths challenges, and traditional book reports are now a more desirable means of gauging student learning progress. The purpose of evaluation activities now shifts focus from assessment of learning (grading) to assessment for learning ie we use the results to know whether the intended learning outcomes have been achieved by the students, or should they need extra work to help them master a certain topic.
These four aspects alongside technology enhancements must be considered when the new normal for education is implemented in the coming months.
Technology is a crucial enabler and it is the best choice that we have under the circumstances. The criticism about online learning not addressing equal access and also quality education is unfounded. Online learning is here to stay as it enables learning and has benefited about 6 million students in schools and higher learning institutions.
While Malaysians continue to guess how Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education will take on the education new normal, we must always fall back on the fundamental purpose of education. When a person gets educated, he or she becomes a better person.
Based on the National Education Philosophy our aim is to produce intellectually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually balanced and harmonious individuals who will then contribute to the harmony and betterment of the family, society and the nation at large. Fall back onto this philosophy, and everything will fall into place.
Rosemaliza Mohd Kamalludeen
Kulliyyah of Education
International Islamic University Malaysia