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2020 - The new normal, the next normal and resilience

This year 2020 has been another horrible and illusory year. I do not know the last time I saw so many publications, blogposts and conferences dedicated to this year of the pandemic. Now at the end of the year, it seems to be back to academics and scholars trying to learn the lessons. I myself have not published so much in such a short time, and mostly on demand, nor have I attended and keynoted so many conferences. One of the most respected and recognized articles is the one from Aras Bozkurt (2020), where I wrote the Swedish case. I am Guest Editor in three Scientific Journals and co-editor of one book and writing another, all from my home office in Lund, Sweden. In my Blog post from December 7, 2020, I tried to summarize some of the recent conferences this fall. When it comes to my publications this year, please visit my Publications website, my ResearchGate, and my LinkedIn. I contributed to the ICDE PEesident Forum 25 November 2020, and wrote some Blog posts and some Vlogs. Read more from the ICDE President Forum 2020. 


The most imminent challenges that were highlighted across all regions were:

  • Infrastructure and connectivity, resulting in increased inequalities with regards to access to education, where already marginalised learner groups suffer the most

  • Financial challenges, especially related to infrastructure and connectivity

  • Reputation of online and distance education harmed by emergency remote education of low quality

  • Mental health problems affecting students and staff

  • Lack of capacity building and support systems in the educational ecosystems

In this blog post, I reflect on the year and the lessons learned and predictions for the future, post-pandemic 2020, which have also been my topic in my narratives, publications and talks. At the end I include some articles for deeper insights, both my own and those of others. Some concepts have become very explicit, "trendy" in this 2020 and are used in most articles. Such concepts are: resilient, re-calibrating, agility, normal, next normal, new normal, ecosystem, change, social distancing, socialization, trust, braveness, leadership, unpredicting, motivation, school-closing, connectivity, ZOOM, but perhaps most important is the concept and understanding of wellbeing

The pandemic has affected students' learning effectiveness on an unprecedented global scale. Education systems have responded differently in this context. Some have adopted homeschooling programs and distance learning and offer free online resources, while others deliver paper assignments to students' homes or use public TV and radio stations. What is missing is systematic, efficient, and scientifically collected first-hand information from schools that is needed to assess the extent to which teaching and learning have been challenged, continued, and adapted by the current crisis. UNESCO is conducting an interesting global study Towards resilient education systems for the future - A new joint study launched by UNESCO and IEA

UNESCO is conducting this study in collaboration with REDS. It aims to fill this information gap by collecting internationally comparable data from governments, school leaders, teachers and students on how prepared they are for distance learning in times of school closure, as well as during a subsequent reopening phase, and what measures have been taken to ensure that all students have the opportunity to continue learning. The study attempts to answer the following overarching question:

How has teaching and learning been affected by disruption and how has this been mitigated by the measures implemented, both across and within countries?

The study aims not only to provide insights into the impact of teaching and learning interruptions, but also to explore the contextual factors, issues and implemented interventions that may influence the success of distance education for students in different countries. The study is aimed at all different levels of education and will focus on issues around readiness for distance learning, available IT and educational resources, perceptions of success of strategies, student engagement, and inequalities in learning opportunities during interruptions. In addition, questions about student and teacher well-being will be explored.

According to Tony Bates (2020), higher education has responded remarkably well to an unprecedented crisis in an incredibly short period of time. However, it remains to be seen if the lessons learned since March 2020 will be applied as we move into 2021. It is clear that Covid-19 has exacerbated pre-existing inequities in the system, particularly in terms of student access to bandwidth and equipment. Institutions that already had experience with online learning unsurprisingly handled the shift to emergency distance learning better. However, the crisis also showed many institutions how much further they have to go before blended learning or digital learning is integrated throughout the institution, and that much work remains to be done to improve emergency distance learning. And finally, at least one report suggests that many faculty and administrators do not believe that the Covid 19 pivot will result in major long-term changes in teaching and learning. I do not think I share that view.

Motivation and managing change are more important than ever if leaders are to manage the upheavals affecting colleges and communities while maintaining the relevance of their institutions. Leaders will need to harness the energies of disparate groups and channel them into quick, decisive action. Simultaneously, specific skills that have served higher ed leaders will endure and be used in new ways.

College Leadership in an Era of Unpredictability is designed to be a primer for the generation of existing leaders who must meet today’s challenges and the new generation of rising leaders who hope to take the reins. In the coming months and years, leaders will need to harness the energies of disparate groups and channel them into quick, decisive action with the proper motivation. Old skills that have served higher ed leaders will need to be used in new ways and new skills will need to be developed

Some overall lessons learned from this year and what conclusions can we make?

  • The main aim for education is about social learning and well being
  • The new normal, and change requires changed attitude, competences, skills, values and norms, as well as competences, skills,
  • The ecosystem I crucial 
  • Trust and transparency are crucial
  • Online and distance learning requires careful planning and new competences. Institutions need to implement strategies for digital transformation and provide necessary competence development and capacity building for all staff, not just teachers.
  • Brave leadership and especially digital leadership are crucial for change.
  • There is a need for curricula 4.0. The society is the curricula.
  • Courses must be reviewed and redesigned to fully integrate digital elements. This demands teamwork between different competences: teachers, educational technologists, media production, librarians. Digital platforms and tools need to be integrated into campus teaching. 
  • New forms of assessment and examination are needed in the digital space. There are increased focus on project and problem-based learning and assessments and exams aligned with that. 
  • Flexibility in all means, space, time, path, mode.
  • Learn to know your learners.
  • How do students access their courses with greater integration between online and on-site as well as more blended learning solutions. The digital campus will become an established concept with a variety of platforms to facilitate networking, socialization and collaboration as well as teaching and learning. 
  • Online conferences will continue to thrive, largely replacing expensive and unsustainable international on-site conferences.
  • Virtual mobility programmes will become the most widespread internationalisation strategy as physical mobility becomes more restricted due to sustainability concerns and travel restrictions in the wake of covid-19.

Further reading

Bates, t. (2020). For a summary of all 15 reports to date, go to Research reports on Covid-19 and emergency remote learning/online learning

Bates, T. (2020) A review of online learning in 2020. Blog post.
Bozkurt, A. et al. (2020) A global outlook to the interruption of education due to COVID-19 Pandemic: Navigating in a time of uncertainty and crisis Asian Journal of Distance Education, Vol. 15., No. 1, May 31 
Downes, S. (2020) Lessons from the pandemic. Blog post.

Hodges, C., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T., & Bond, A. (2020) The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning, Educause Review.

Martin, F., Polly, D., Ritzhaupt, A. (2020) Bichronous Online Learning: Blending Asynchronous and Synchronous Online Learning, Educause Review.

Ossiannilsson, E. (2020). Some Challenges for Universities, in a Post Crisis, as Covid-19. In Burgos, D., Tlili, A., Tabacco, A. (Eds.). Radical Solutions for Education in a Crisis Context. COVID-19 as an Opportunity for Global Learning. Springer, Lecture Notes in Educational Technology

UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank (2020). What have we learnt? Overview of findings from a survey of ministries of education on national responses to COVID-19.Paris, New York, Washington D.C.

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