Will digital learning replace schools

Digital instead of frontal : What can be learned from the corona crisis for digital education?

Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) feels “tailwind” in education policy, of all things, from the coronavirus pandemic: digital school lessons, studying in virtual lecture halls and working from home - all of this is now “born out of the crisis,” she says.

Exactly on the day on which most of the federal states reopened their elementary schools after months of homeschooling, she and Education Minister Anja Karliczek presented her plan for a “digital educational space” on Monday, which should improve digital education and online learning in Germany in the long term.

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Your vision for the time after the pandemic is still a rather rough outline. Because digital education must include all levels of education, take place throughout life and across generations. In Germany, however, there is currently a lack of technical equipment and infrastructure.

What is planned in the initiative?

A nationwide platform should function like an online portal and "marketplace" for educational content, through which schoolchildren and teachers can be networked nationwide and find learning content from a wide variety of providers - there are already many "very good digital educational offers", says Merkel; now they should be widely visible. A national educational platform is to be created on which, in addition to learning and teaching material, certificates, degrees and assessments can be stored in a secure manner.

A “single sign-on” should be available to all learners and teachers - that is, the simple possibility of logging into the portal only once for all content and services. It would make sense to use the “digital student ID card”, which the federal states want to introduce by 2024.

Upon request, the Federal Ministry of Education said that the National Education Platform was planned as a metaplatform that networks digital offers across the entire educational biography - from primary school to professional development. This year, four prototypes are to be developed in a competitive process.

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On Monday, Karliczek's ministry first presented the “SchulTransform” platform, which is intended to promote the digital transformation of schools. A self-check shows them where they stand in terms of technology, lesson development and personnel planning - and gives recommendations for action.

There is also a portal with digital offers on communication tools, learning platforms and available learning content with which digital lessons can be designed - right through to further training offers for teachers. However, reference is not made directly to materials, but to a very heterogeneous mix of commercial and public providers from whom they can be accessed or requested.

How are the plans being received?

Digital expert Uta Hauck-Thum complains that digitization continues to be understood too much as a platform for learning materials that retain their original form. However, it should not only be about the digitization of existing lessons: "If the digital educational space is only used to process traditional task formats, nothing will change in the teaching and learning culture," says the educational researcher.

The SPD chairman and digital expert Saskia Esken calls for “better coordination of digital skills and learning content”: Teachers must be given access to modern teaching concepts and content and “supported in the individualization of teaching and learning processes” in order to be able to provide differentiated lessons.

Karliczek also spoke on Monday of a “huge individualization instrument”. Chancellor Merkel is concerned with what will become of the transfer of knowledge at school: "How many more poems will I learn by heart if I can look up the texts online?"

The current President of the Standing Conference (KMK), Brandenburg's Education Minister Britta Ernst (SPD), assured that imparting basic knowledge - reading, writing, arithmetic and digital competence - is and will remain a core task of the school. However, through digitization, learning can "become much more individual".

How will learning change?

The Potsdam primary school teacher Nadine Spörer advocates that digitality should take place as a matter of course in everyday teaching: “Don't be afraid of the digital school!” She appeals.

"In the future, children and young people will basically learn hybrid", says the professor for elementary school education and didactics at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Uta Hauck-Thum. What pupils need in order to acquire contemporary skills is a fundamentally changed lesson, accompanied by a functioning, intuitively designed platform that should open up different rooms with tools for cooperation - already in elementary school.

In order to impart contemporary skills, it must be understood that educational experiences will fundamentally change in the 21st century: "It is not about preparing conventional learning content in digital form, but about fundamentally rethinking teaching and learning processes" - this must also be reflected in a changed examination culture be embedded.

Educational experiences would "no longer be equated with adjustable learning processes that result from individual students' engagement with digital media, but rather arise in the context of cooperative and collaborative discussions". Ulrich Kortenkamp, ​​professor for didactics of mathematics, also says that it is not enough to simply tap into the knowledge available on the Internet: "Learning can be more successful with good support than when everything is offered at once." Schools still have to teach how to acquire knowledge independently. The educational platform must strengthen “the transition between guided and independent learning”.

Kristina Reiss, educational researcher at the Technical University of Munich and head of the German Pisa studies, says: "Many digital tools enable individual support and adaptation to the level of performance or the interests of a student."

As an example, she cites simulations in science lessons or working with audio and video in language lessons: “It is important to support teachers in developing the wide range of options for their own lessons - but of course it is just as necessary to work with teachers to provide motivating offers to be expanded in a targeted manner. "

The weighting between digital and analog lessons is first and foremost a question of age. Young pupils first have to learn to read, write and do arithmetic - using conventional methods, says Reiss: “We can take a big step in the digital world, but only if the pupils learn things at their own pace and do them with the teacher can discuss. "

The lessons must also be about good, critical and questioning use of technology. “We have to make the students more aware of what it means to deal with digital media, what happens to their own data.” The students also have to learn how much they should reveal about themselves - and what formative significance algorithms have for society to have.

What skills do teachers lack?

It is currently becoming clear that there is an enormous range of teaching staff, says Birgit Eickelmann, education professor with a focus on digital learning at the University of Paderborn. Some are very advanced in the digital world, while others lack basic technical requirements - this goes so far that they have difficulty sending links in e-mails. "We notice: we forgot some on the way."

Sending tasks by e-mail or learning platform without stimulating learning processes, i.e. without collecting and correcting them again: "That cannot be the future and nobody here is surprised that this does not convince neither the teachers nor the children and young people." The impulses and experiences of the pandemic are helpful, but concepts must go further. She is encouraged that many of her students are now very interested in digital education.

“There is good software and equipment, but teachers need to be better prepared,” warns Reiss. Education researcher Wilfried Schubarth from the University of Potsdam sees it similarly: "Technology alone will not fix it, you need digital didactics for which most teachers are not prepared." Teacher students and teachers have a strong need for further training for new formats. It is also to be feared that digital teaching will widen the gap between privileged and disadvantaged students. "It is important not to replace the direct interaction with the teacher with digitization."

What is missing in the concepts of politics?

So far, the focus has been on technical equipment, says Eickelmann - how to get a modern school with digital learning, what makes learning in modern society, that is not given enough thought. Paradoxically, she even fears a setback for digital education as a result of the corona pandemic - precisely because many long for the "old" normalcy back.

And the current image of school and teaching in a culture of digitality is unfortunately a greatly simplified one: "We saw that as early as autumn, when face-to-face lessons were hovering like a holy cow at the ministers of education," says Eickelmann.

Nevertheless, one has to look now to see which experiences can be “saved over” into the future. Overall, Germany must become much faster, the federal states must act in a more coordinated manner - and the issue of equal opportunities in digital education must finally be dealt with.

Jacob Chammon, head of the Education and Digitization Forum, also appealed to the Chancellor at the online forum: “After the crisis, there must not be a back to normal, but a new normal.” Classroom teaching, digital devices and content must grow together. This could also save teachers time to work on relationships with students.

How important is technical equipment?

Digital expert Uta Hauck-Thum sees schools neither technically nor conceptually prepared for the world of tomorrow. Educational researchers see the fundamental problem that better-equipped pupils from their parents have an advantage in distance learning - so the origin also decides again and again about the education, criticizes Pisa researcher Reiss.

One vocational school teacher reports that two thirds of the students only have their cell phones available for studying. "It should be difficult to use it to build motivation for complex content, for example in the natural sciences or technology," says Reiss.

Lifelong learning and updating - is that supported politically?

Hardly, says Eickelmann: “If such mechanisms can be found, the schools have usually done it on their own up to now.” Unfortunately, the schools are diverging more and more: Some “just go through the roof”, others only manage the bare minimum .

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