Pandemics cause change. In the era of COVID-19, many educational institutions have adapted to new requirements of physical distancing, closures, and lockdowns. Interestingly, institutions that purposefully enhanced a culture of student belonging, building resilience and identity along with new brain-friendly student engagement strategies have created even more optimal learning experiences than pre-COVID. Into the future, new high-quality online pedagogies and blended learning will see a positive shift in how we teach and learn.
So, what are some ways that educational providers have excelled in adapting to the new teaching and learning environments afforded by COVID-19?
High-quality “eLearning” has become the new norm; where relevant, often blended with face-to-face learning experiences. Individualised feedback becomes a powerful communication tool when conducted through audio and video modes. More substantial home and school relationships can be forged as connections with families increase. Additionally, student agency has increased when students are provided with more opportunities to take control of their own learning. New pedagogies have emerged from our COVID-19 experiences. Some are so good that there is no going back!
Social contact, coping with stress, and being resilient are even more critical. A rapid shift to online teaching became a reality with significant adaptions in curriculum delivery, pedagogies, and assessments. Our social brain and tribal nature have effectively and efficiently adapted to this. Teachers responded to the brain’s predisposition to learn in a social context (Merrill, 2018) by prioritising learning in a community and maintaining student-to-student and student-to-teacher bonds. However, student identity has changed where we move from one sense of self pre-pandemic to another during the pandemic with its great impacts on social connectedness. Moving from predominantly face-to-face interactions to online, using Zoom, Facebook, and other online platforms to connect to others, changes our neurology and sense of self. That sustained sense of a different self with the ongoing months and years of the pandemic has profound impacts on self-identity for many (see, for example, Bowles, 2020; Jones & Kessler, 2020; Klein, 2021). Innovative ways to create and maintain interactions between students and teachers, including utilizing breakout rooms, setting up project groups, and offering daily check-ins have arguably built a stronger sense of belonging and enhanced learning.
We have found that building resilience and belonging needs to be an integral part of every education provider’s agenda to ensure that students and teachers have the tools necessary to cope with events that may impact their education (see, for example, OECD, 2020; TEQSA, 2020). Digital learning platforms can be used as a tool when aiming to nurture resilience. They can assist in maintaining connections by having regular video calls with students, allowing for a daily routine to be set up as in the classroom, and giving reminders to have plenty of breaks (rest breaks and brain breaks) (APA, 2020).
By actively being taught resilience skills and knowledge, students can not only bounce back from the daily issues they encounter, but offset them and mitigate their impact on their wellbeing (see, for example, Education Service Australia, 2021; Harvard, 2021).
Digital pedagogical tools should continue to be used post-pandemic. Teachers can take their experiences from COVID-19 learning into their future classes. Prioritising mental wellbeing will move to the forefront of education as teachers frame content in a way that supports socio-emotional learning (Mendoza, 2021). Teachers will create strong communities in their classrooms with positive outlooks, and students will feel a sense of belonging and purpose.
Ken Purnell (PhD) is Head of Educational Neuroscience at CQUniversity Australia. He wants students and teachers to experience brain-friendly classrooms to improve achievements and well-being.