With the outbreak of COVID-19, we are living in unprecedented times. Overnight, many of us had to adapt, improvise, and overcome, as we were nationally encouraged to stay in our homes via our TV sets. This created an immediate shift. Those businesses that ‘have always done it this way’ were forced to do things a different way, to embrace working from home (WFH) and become digitally flexible. Students around the world who were attending lectures and seminars are now tuning in to a busy Zoom room with their peers, watching their lecturers make use of a headset and webcam. School-age children are homebound too, with many parents attempting to homeschool them and find tools and methods for continuing their learning and development. Corporate education has had to pivot instantly, making sure that standards do not drop despite the instantaneous adjustments.
This Black Swan event is turning out to be one of the biggest benefits for learning from home (LFH) that the world has ever seen. But, how are people finding it? We’ve found some interesting takes on recent events.
Nicholas Bloom, Professor of Economics, Stanford University
Professor Bloom is well-known in the WFH world for his study with a 1,000 employee Chinese travel company. Here’s what happened in his own words.
“So what we did in China is we took 1,000 people, and we asked them who wanted to work from home, and only 500 of them volunteered — only half of the people up-front wanted to work from home. And after the end of the experiment, of the 500 that worked from home, quite a few changed their minds, and I think about 30 opted to come back in. Working from home actually worked well for the employees in China who chose to work from home: They were 13 percent more productive, and the quit rates halved.”
What does he think about the effects of forced working and learning from home on mass populations?
"So with COVID-19 you have a couple of things: One is there’s no choice. Everyone’s being forced to work from home, whereas in China, only half of people even wanted to do it. And the half that didn’t say it was very lonely and isolating. And then, finally, just the intensity. So I think coming in at least one day a week — but typically two or three — gets you connectivity to the workplace, helps with creativity. Most creativity is done in face-to-face environments. It encourages you to be ambitious and motivated. Full-time at home can be pretty miserable. Most people don’t enjoy it, you know, week in week out.
It’s a bit like exercise. Exercise goes from everything from a half an hour a week in the gym to full-on marathon training. We’re, like, throwing the entire US into the exercise equivalent of full-on marathon training by sending people to work at home five days a week, all the time. And I suspect for most people, it isn’t going to work well."
Professor Bloom also gave some advice for businesses on managing their human resources, but as you will see, this advice is applicable to lecturers and corporate educators too.
“The key advice is to recreate social contact using video conferencing, two ways. First, group interactions. For example, the whole group can meet for a 30-minute video chat at 11:00 every day to catch-up on their personal situation, chat about the news or life in general — no work talk. Second, individual interactions. For example, every morning and every afternoon spend, 10 minutes video-talking individually to each of your employees. This is time-consuming but critical for keeping employees happy and productive through the next few months. In the longer run, it will build valuable loyalty by sticking with your employees through the good times and the bad times.”
Evgeny Shadchnev, CEO of Makers (software e-learning company)
The transition might be fairly easy from a modern technological perspective, but mentally, it is going to be a challenge. That was the point of Professor Bloom and it is backed up by Evgeny Shadchnev, who is the CEO of software e-learning company Makers, which was one of the pioneering companies running digital coding bootcamps.
Here’s their USP in their own words: Remote-first training for a remote-first world. Our world-class coaches have trained hundreds of students via remote training so we’re confident we can deliver the same level of peer-to-peer support virtually.
The community aspect of Makers is what makes us special. Even in an online format, we’re well-equipped to ensure that we’re the best coding bootcamp in the world at supporting you holistically. It’s more important now than ever to prioritise wellbeing.
Support, community, wellbeing, these are the core values of Makers, and Shadchnev explained why and how this connects to the COVID-19 outbreak in an interesting piece for Edtechnology.co.uk.
He states “We live in a digital world – and our role as a software bootcamp is to train and shape the future workforce. While we enjoy training a full cohort, we also know that life can present challenges to that outcome.”
“This includes the unprecedented arrival of COVID-19. We’ve acted swiftly to protect the wellbeing of our students – and started distance learning. But we’ve always offered this option because long before the outbreak, we needed to help those who couldn’t come into the classroom due to their personal responsibilities. They included – and still include – the mid-career changing stay-at-home mum who needs to work her training around childcare, as well as the individuals who simply can’t afford to study in London for the duration of the programme.”
So, how exactly does a coding bootcamp service that is already remote, adjust their service to a client base that is going through huge personal adjustments due to the coronavirus?
“This is critical for anyone running courses; how do you keep students emotionally nourished throughout the learning process? Mental health is important – and we’ve always incorporated activities during our programme to ensure everyone stays strong and connected. In the classroom, we offer daily meditation, yoga and wellbeing coach sessions organised by our chief joy officer and break sessions to engage with others. But achieving this is harder when everyone is remote learning and in isolation from their fellow trainees.”
To make learning from home easier to adjust to, Makers have introduced 1 on 1 holistic coaching sessions, daily meditation, an emotional intelligence curriculum, yoga over a video link, and a #wellbeing slack channel. They’re also hosting ‘virtual water coolers’ for students to have light-hearted chats once they’ve done their work and to show that they’re all in this together.
In terms of setting the standards for a reaction to COVID-19, this is about as good as it gets.
Wharton University of Pennsylvania
One university in the US has taken a very bold approach to the coronavirus outbreak by putting a heavy focus on leadership in times like these. Perhaps they are right, tough times may call for tough leaders. So, what have they done to back this up?
“While today’s global public health crisis has changed everything, Wharton remains committed to providing you with the best executive education even during this time of great uncertainty. We are offering five open-enrollment programs in their entirety through a live, synchronous virtual learning platform. Program curriculum is highly interactive and powerful, filled with practical business insights that you can put to use right away in your organization.”
The five courses that they have launched on their learning from home platform are:
- Becoming a Leader of Leaders: Pathways for Success
- Business Essentials for Executives
- The CFO: Becoming a Strategic Partner
- Venture Capital
- Strategic Marketing for Competitive Advantage
These courses come with a heavy price tag, costing thousands and thousands of dollars, so Wharton decided to put out a free toolkit called “Four Steps to Steer an Organization in a Time of Crisis”.
These nanotools, produced by Mauro F. Guillén and Dr Felix Zandman, Endowed Professor of International Management at Wharton School, are designed to educate business leaders about how to steer their organisations in the right direction to cope with COVID-19 and other epochal events as well as how to ‘ride the wave of economic recovery’.
Adan Camacho, Founder of OnlineTeacherHub.org
Camacho claims it’s not only learners who are having to be patient in their adjustment, but online teachers too, he told us “What you're seeing right now is a trial by fire, in real-time, of companies' infrastructures, both technical and human. Companies are facing challenges in making payments to teachers on time, interviewing teacher candidates in a timely fashion, and allocating teachers to students. Growing pains, if you will. The companies that are able to juggle their way through this chaos without skipping a beat will end up attracting more and more students and teachers, as companies that drop the ball lose more and more market share. The wheat is being separated from the chaff!”
Now, students who struggle to access teachers are beginning to look at self-guided study methods like Coursera and Futurelearn (read accounts from their founders and developers here) in order to keep on top of their learning in this new and difficult time.
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