Remote Learning: An Overview

Article by Peter Merrigan

Remote Learning: An Overview

College education, NVQs, university degrees, on-the-job training courses… in 2020, what do each of these things have in common? They have all, at some point, been forced into online classrooms—what we call remote learning.

There is not a man, woman or child in the world who has been unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic, whether directly or indirectly. And despite what you think about your government’s reaction (go out but don’t go out, am I right?) the online classroom has become a mainstay as we near the end of the calendar year.

We cannot know what the world will look like going into 2021 and beyond, but we can say without doubt that remote learning is here to stay.

remote learning

Remote learning: a definition

Remote learning, in its rawest sense, is the act of studying or learning new practices while not being confined to a brick-and-mortar classroom. As we’ll see in a minute, this does not just mean online courses. ‘Remote’, in this context, means anywhere away from a dedicated classroom and/or a teacher, coach, or professor.

It offers both learners and coaches the ability to connect on a one-to-one basis as well as through the provision of group discussion, and it means that classes or modules can often be taken at the learner’s own pace.

We all learn in different manners and at different speeds. With remote learning, we are no longer that herd of wildebeest that – as we all know – is only as fast as its slowest member. When you remove the limitations of the dedicated classroom, it gives us the ability to excel throughout the ongoing term of our learning.

Remote learning: a brief history

Remote learning has been around considerably longer than you might think, albeit under various other guises. In fact, it predates our online culture. You may know it as ‘distance learning’, something that the Open University championed on its opening in 1969. From its foundations, the Open University planned to employ the use of television and radio to broadcast its courses to the public, jumping on the technological revolution of its era.

Since its launch, more than two million students have passed through its virtual doors.

But the Open University wasn’t where it all began. The term ‘distance education’ first appeared in print in a University of Wisconsin brochure in 1892. The teaching was first carried out via correspondence courses delivered through the mail. When phonographs became a widespread phenomenon, the University of Wisconsin began recording their lectures and sending those records to their distance students. Talk about revolution!

A quick Google search produces more than 1.5 billion results for the term ‘remote learning’. It just took a global pandemic to bring it to the forefront of modern education.

remote learning

Vive la révolution

As we entered a digital age (thanks to the little-known but almost godlike figure of Tim Berners-Lee, without whom we would not have the world wide web), a plethora of online courses sprung up across the globe.

I recall studying HTML back in the late 90s (remember those black-background webpages with white Comic Sans text and revolving GIFs? Yeah, that was me; you’re welcome). The ‘course’, if it could be called such, was a collection of instructions for creating a webpage (a coder’s equivalent to ‘Hello, World!’). And there started my passion for remote learning.

These days, there are a wealth of online courses with professional qualifications or certificates—Udemy, Khan Academy, Skillshare and Coursera, to name just a few. I’ve tried them all. We’ve gone from tuning in to BBC on a weekday afternoon, to having the ability to submit coursework or follow a lecture on our smartphones while sitting on a crowded bus on the way to work.

The internet is a big place, but you can’t throw a pixel without hitting an online course. Finding one that works for you can be the challenge.

Remote learning portals

Many of us know the terminology by now. A web portal is a collection of online resources, all geared towards a common goal. As I mentioned above, remote learning portals such as Coursera and Udemy exist for the sole purpose of educating people – be they college students or on-the-job businesspeople.

They have made remarkable strides in bringing easy-to-manage training programmes to the world of business learning, and setters is no exception. The coaches at setters are adept at integrating knowledge transfer with a continuous-learning model that puts the workforce in charge of their own development.

With online portals such as these, gone are the days of three- or four-year degrees. Many jobs now incorporate on-the-job training or advancement that can take months, not years. I once completed a digital masterclass in only two days!

With micro-degrees, you can get a hyper-focused, career or job-specific programme of education that offers professional development and accreditation. Using these highly structured and concentrated remote learning models, workers everywhere can own their careers.

The changing perceptions of the modern world

remote learningSir Peter Blake said, ‘New technology is common, new thinking is rare’. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we as a people are actually rather adept at thinking outside the box. When the pandemic forced us into isolation, we turned to the online world we had already created in order to get our fix of humanity. And boy did we! I’ve stared at my parents’ faces on Skype or Zoom more in the last nine months than I ever did throughout my teens!

Educators everywhere took the opportunity to continue offering classes to their students through digital means. And, though it has been a tough ride for many, the end of 2020 has ironed out many of the kinks we found in online communications.

The more the technology behind our smartphones and devices advances, the more opportunity we will have to learn new things online.

What does remote learning mean in practice?

There are always advancements or improvements that can be made to your personal or career development. Taking a micro-degree in electronics, or a remote course in engineering, you can do just that. You can delve into a new world of training or enhance your current skillset. The opportunities are infinite.

But in the real world, it means that employees (and their employers) can learn while on the job. Without the need to attend a physical classroom (which takes you away from your daily tasks), you can study at home or in the workplace and you can put into practice those new skills with immediate effect. You can study the theory and apply it instantly.

The portals I’ve already mentioned (Khan Academy, Udemy and an abundance of others) all have one thing in common: take a class, receive a certificate or accreditation, and return to work a more confident and diligent employee. The difference with setters is their approach to continuous learning.

HSE and remote learning

In the Health, Safety & Environment sector, setters has taken the remote-learning base model and enhanced it to further develop a continuously learning work ethos. Thanks in part to the advancements of modern technology, and in part to the global pandemic that meant gathering in physical locations was no longer a viable option, setters developed their own portal, both web- and app-based, and offer online presentations and collaborative learning on a global scale.

But it’s more than just an online course. Coaches from setters check-in time and again to ensure that you are putting into practice the skills that you learned. They don’t teach or preach – they coach change at a company-wide level. The setters programme is one of cultural enhancement aimed at zero harm. It is a psychology that works to build safety directly into the way you work.

A digital classroom for the workforce

I am in no doubt that remote learning is the future. While face-to-face learning will always form a basis for education, we are now in a position to carry our classrooms around in our pockets. Digital classrooms allow for peer-to-peer interaction through video calls (cf. Zoom, Skype etc), which has been highlighted in multiple reviews in aiding motivation and improving graded outcomes, while self-assessments, quizzes and gamification increases knowledge retention.

The cost savings in remote learning outweighs the need for brick-and-mortar classrooms, and it also reduces the need for travel time, time better served in the workplace. In the world of corporate training, that can only benefit the business. As future-of-work strategist Heather McGowan tells us, learning is now part of work and fuelled by purpose. Technology is advancing too quickly for us to rest on our laurels.

The World Economic Forum argues in their Future of Jobs report that it is essential for businesses to support their current workforce through training.

There will be no end to the advances in modern technology and we, as a collective, must utilise it. You don’t find perfect employees. You make them.

Article by Peter Merrigan


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