Man distance learning from home.

Can Distance Learning Build Your Resilience?

10th September 2020

We’ve been championing the cause of distance learning for years, so in anything resembling ordinary circumstances we would be relishing the news that the whole world has basically moved online.

But since the hyper speed digital transformation we’re witnessing right now has been propelled by a global pandemic… not so much.

However, sometimes a lightning strike during a dark night drives us in the right direction and that could well be the case with billions of educational, commercial and personal interactions transferring from the physical world to the digital realm.

Your distance learning degree will strength your skillset and elevate your employability. But can it also build your resilience in many different dimensions?

We believe it can – read on to find out why.

History’s biggest education disruption

According to the UN, the Covid-19 pandemic is history’s largest education disruption – 94% of learners worldwide from pre-primary to higher education level were affected by the pandemic. This equates to 1.58 billion children and youths in 200 countries.

Educators in developed nations like the UK were rightly concerned about the ability of children from low-income households to harness technology in order to stay connected with school and friends during lockdown, and their struggles without school meals. But in many global areas, these problems are magnified significantly. For instance, Covid-19 is compounding the problems faced in education in sub-Saharan Africa, where 47% of the world’s 258 million out-of-school children lived before the pandemic struck.

While distance learning can’t solve the systemic issues that make these educational models so fragile (like conflict, emergency, climactic hazards and political instability) perhaps it can be used to mitigate against their effects, reduce disparities and improve the social and economic resilience of sub-Saharan societies. This is no small challenge, but it is one that will be central to educational leadership for years to come.

Benefits for current distance learners

At ARU Distance Learning we’re fortunate to already be adept in terms of the technology, teaching methods and philosophy that support high-quality online learning.

And looking forward, this means that our graduates are in a privileged position to not only graduate with career-enhancing qualifications, but also (and often as a valuable by-product of their studies) to be highly digitally literate and tech-savvy. In a post-pandemic world where 82% of business leaders plan to allow long-term home working, these transferrable skills have even more vocational value.

However, established higher education institutions with little or no prior distance learning offering have been forced to rapidly deploy learning models which usually take years to develop and colleges, schools and universities worldwide without the ability to switch rapidly to online learning (regardless of whether this leads to sustainable positive outcomes in the long term in any event) have often been left scrambling around for shoestring solutions.

Back to the future for educational resilience

Positive stories have emerged from this tumultuous environment however – for instance Jamaica’s teachers have been upskilling to develop their online and blended learning skills in direct response to Covid-19.

In terms of a unified global approach, the World Bank had already been calling for the development of a new global EdTech readiness index which would identify gaps and address disparities by ranking and rating nations based on criteria such as infrastructure (devices and connectivity), content (digital learning and teaching resources), policy and institutions (EdTech policy and institutional capacity assessed qualitatively), and skills (digital skills, literacies and competencies). Improved EdTech readiness would benefit us all as an ecosystem of interdependent global citizens in the future, both in and outwith times of crisis.

Meanwhile, in order to ‘establish approaches to develop more open and resilient education systems for the future’, in July UNESCO, the European Commission and the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) have partnered to launch the Responses to Educational Disruption Survey (REDS). The aim is that this large-scale study will garner data on everything from school closures and reopening experiences to the success of distance learning, adaptability of teachers and effect on issues like gender inequality.

Hopefully, the information on many of these types of studies can be analysed and combined to formulate solutions that level the playing field in global educational resilience. If this transpires, perhaps future data scientists will soon be working on projects like accessible AI systems which can deliver distance learning at scale all over the globe.

In an ideal world we would already be reaping the benefits of an EdTech-ready world where distance learning (and the infrastructure necessary to deliver it) was open to all, but the types of collaborative projects we’ve described might yet deliver this outcome faster than if the pandemic had never happened.

Distance learning and employability resilience

Unemployment is one hugely unfortunate consequence of Covid-19 and millions of us have been forced to rapidly reassess our priorities – browse LinkedIn any day at the moment and you’ll see posts where career professionals have been forced to adapt quickly and accept jobs in completely unfamiliar industries after losing their long-term positions. For people in this situation who want a practical and economical way to upskill for a second career, a distance learning degree can be an attractive solution.

Meanwhile, although global travel is trickier right now than ever in many ways, some of us who have enjoyed working at home might not want to return to offices whatsoever, meaning that the popularity of online degrees for careers which can be carried out from anywhere in the world, such as digital marketing, may surge.

Distance learning can help you retrain for a new and more fulfilling career no matter your age and experience. Alternatively, it could be the key to a specific career that allows you to earn a living wherever you can charge a laptop and find a decent Wi-Fi connection.

Final thoughts

So can distance learning build your resilience?

As you’ve hopefully gathered, in the right circumstances it’s clear that it can build resilience from a micro to macro level, improving outcomes for individuals, communities, societies and economies.

But if you’re in a position to undertake a distance learning degree soon, in many ways the timing has never been better for capitalising on the benefits it brings in terms of direct and transferrable skills.

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