If we accept that learning is all about interaction and making connections, then education and digital communications could hardly be a better fit.
And now, more so than ever.
The most severe phases of the COVID-19 lockdown presented schools and universities with the unexpected challenge of how to maintain classes and stay on track to deliver the learning outcomes so critical for students’ lives, and Australia’s future.
Many of these students had only started school, or were looking forward to finishing it, before the pandemic threw everything into disarray.
For young children and their families, the challenges of maintaining the routines and discipline essential for early learning were significant.
We all know children today are pretty tech savvy and comfortable interacting with screens, but holding their attention enough to actually learn, day in day out, outside of their typical school environment, isn’t something anyone was taking for granted.
Whether it’s taking part in video classes or accessing learning modules online, teachers – and parents – needed to know that platforms and applications would be available and function smoothly, otherwise the whole learning process would be disrupted.
Likewise, teachers needed to be able to connect with each other and the many other staff key to ensuring day-to-day operations. Platforms such as Zoom and Teams, Office 365, CRM platforms like Salesforce.com, as well as work and personal mobile devices, have been invaluable.
Going the Distance
For those in remote areas, distance learning is a part of life.
But for most Australian students, networks like the NBN - along with mobile and fixed wireless systems - threw an emergency lifeline, ensuring they could continue with their learning amid all the disruptions wrought by COVID-19.
For many experiencing disadvantage and / or lagging in their development – and their families – it has likely avoided them falling further behind.
All Australian students will in all likelihood be better off in the future as the result of the huge forced digital learning experiment that has just been undertaken.
In the future, it will also be a more familiar experience for more and more teachers, which will undoubtedly have positive flow-on effects, especially for those finding themselves unable to physically attend school for whatever reason in the future.
No-one expects that university students would struggle in adapting to remote and unsupervised learning situations – well, some might – as many degrees are earned in relative solitude anyway.
But without the modern digital tools at their disposal connecting them online, to tutors and each other, it’s hard to imagine lockdown not serving a dumbed-down version of the education they were getting before the pandemic hit.
Of course Universities are about more than teaching students.
The ability to connect with and collaborate with institutions - and with the private sector - here in Australia and around the world is vital for ensuring universities continue to expand their research efforts – and IP – which is critical for securing funding and ultimately attracting the best students.
Medical faculties and researchers, along with drug companies around the globe have utilised fast and secure communications networks in their race to work together in developing a vaccine for COVID-19. And these digital assets will no doubt play an even more critical role in connecting the best minds and knowledge across all disciplines moving forward.
Teachers and schools are all about learning, and a key lesson all have taken from the COVID-19 experience is that digital learning can be as, if not more, effective a platform for imparting knowledge as face-to-face interactions.
In fact, even as school students now return to their familiar routines, and with Universities expected to be allowed the return of their much bigger numbers some time, it’s fair to say education across the board is going to be changed forever.
And key to that change is going to be perpetual change, at least for the foreseeable future.
After all, just like with the fast evolving communications networks and clever digital tools that have helped schools and students get through this challenging time, change and adaptation is what learning is all about.