Marie Lou Papazian is CEO and Pegor Papazian is Chief Development Officer at the TUMO Center for Creative Technologies, an innovative learning program at the intersection of technology and design. Created in Armenia, TUMO has now expanded to Paris, Beirut, Berlin, Moscow, Tirana and Kiev. TUMO also is a member of the 21st Century Skills Coalition joined by different public and private organizations to promote the development of transversal skills in Latin America and the Caribbean.
We are all now noticing what we previously took for granted. To enable learners to reach their maximum potential, we rely heavily on interactions among them that result in social convergence, that is, in the coming together of young people from different groups and social backgrounds into a unified and harmonious community. Often by design, but sometimes by habit or intuition, we facilitate dynamics among learners that empower the disenfranchised and the less assertive while allowing their more resourceful and privileged peers to learn to share, and to learn by sharing. At the same time, learners aspire to be like their more accomplished peers, and they strive to be accomplished in their own way in order to become someone others turn to. All this builds the foundations of a more cohesive and productive community. But just as importantly for our purposes, social convergence also leads to impressive learning outcomes. The intrinsic motivations triggered by these dynamics can be a powerful ally for educators.
A productive crisis
Social distancing is suddenly challenging social convergence. As we move from in-person to remote, we are having to quickly retool important aspects of our education strategies. And in this unforeseen and stormy transformation, we are starting to see a silver lining. Many of us in the education community are building more solid pedagogical foundations by being deliberate about every aspect of the social dynamics we previously took for granted. As a result, we are taking a more systematic approach to social convergence. Plus, we are no longer likely to gloss over the significant gaps in connectivity and equipment in learners’ homes. As we reflect on our transition to remote learning models, we are already learning some lessons.
Online ≠ fake in-person
The first of these lessons has to do with fighting the impulse to replicate our in-person environments in an online setting. By now, we are all very familiar with the typical video conferencing image of dozens of faces looking not at each other, but slightly off-screen, as a poor substitute for in-person group interaction. We need to focus on the dynamics that are essential for effective social convergence and to find creative solutions for achieving them remotely, using mechanisms that are native to distributed online environments.
Leading product development
The second lesson, which we learned somewhat reluctantly, is that the education community needs to take on a leadership role in developing new software tools. Clearly, using general-purpose videoconferencing applications and adapting classic classroom support tools for online use are only stopgap solutions. While software engineering may not be our core competency, for many of us, creating learning environments is. Not only are we well placed to design products for collaborative online learning, we also have the most to gain from well-designed solutions, optimized for learning communities that are distributed across different locations, whether in students’ homes, or in online classrooms in remote localities – and the most to lose if they don’t become available soon.
Hybrid will be the new normal
The post-pandemic world will see a gradual return to normal, including the resumption of dynamic in-person interaction in shared learning environments. Office workers and their managers are currently getting an immersive introduction to working from home and gaining both an appreciation for the shared physical office and a skepticism about how it had previously dominated the workday. Similarly, we learned this third lesson: The optimal learning environment will be a hybrid one, where the in-person shared space plays a high value role but does not monopolize education. At least half of the typical learning processes, including many collaborative aspects, are likely to move online, with in-person acting as an effective social anchor.
It’s time to innovate
Many of us are simultaneously working on two different time horizons. We are deploying solutions to make online collaboration as effective and meaningful as possible in the short term, while designing solutions, policies and tools for the post-pandemic world. For the short term, it is critical that we focus on social inclusiveness and that we be mindful of under-connected and under-equipped learners. For the longer term, we need to prioritize socialization, making it a key design driver as we develop innovative solutions for hybrid learning environments. Ironically, social distancing is accelerating innovation in social convergence. And that is a very bright silver lining.
Do you know of any examples of remote learning solutions that prioritize socialization? Shared them with us in the comments section below, or in Twitter mentioning @BIDEducacion #Enfoque Educacion.
Since March of 2020, TUMO has made the entirety of its program available online and has added new tools and approaches, including the MyTUMO mobile app and a program of hardware lending, to keep learners active during lockdown. 20,000 teenagers currently participate in the TUMO program free of charge. Learn more at tumo.org