Virtual working as the new online learning


Now that everyone shifted to virtual working, we are seeing lots of the same queries raised about that as we have seen for the past 20 odd years regarding online working: Is it as good? Can it really work? Is it cheaper? Is it just the same thing but online? Can I do it in my pyjamas?

Maren Deepwell (disclosure: my partner so what you’re getting in these posts are the off-cuts of ranty dog walking conversations) is writing a book on Virtual Teams, as she’s been doing it since before it was trendy, in the same way you liked that band before they were mainstream. She addresses this commonality between online learning and virtual working, stating:

“in the past twenty years we have continued to focus on fixing education with technology. And now, technology is offering solutions to ‘fix’ the workplace. This is where lessons from Learning Technology can really teach us a lot about what’s ahead and what we can skip in order to jump right to a better new narrative.”

I feel I’m a bit mea culpa in this, in not really rethinking online work. I think it’s interesting that many of us who have worked in online education for a significant time, don’t take the principles we have developed for online ed and apply them to work. We decry the tendency to simply replicate lectures online, but then do the same with meetings. We call for educators to use technology to its advantage to realise new pedagogies, and then recreate face to face conferences in Zoom. We stress the need to rethink your teaching approach to ensure learners are not adversely affected and then conduct line management via Teams.

In some ways the reasons for this are the same as adopting Zoom lectures in the online pivot – it is an emergency response. We haven’t had time to reimagine ourselves and our institutions as operating in virtual (or at least hybrid) context. But I’d propose that those of us loosely in ed tech might want to talk with the people in HR or senior management and consider what are the abstracted principles from online learning that can be applied to virtual working. It may be that the online working pivot may turn out to be more impactful in higher education than the online learning pivot.

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