This year we’ve all had to learn to do lots of things in different ways. Central to my business life are conferences and exhibitions, an opportunity to get together with those who are like-minded, share our knowledge, learn from each other, show our best and get to know one and other better face-to-face.
This month I’ve attended two – Edutech Middle East and Frankfurt Book Fair. Although covering different subject areas, the themes were similar. In the case of Edutech, how are schools and learning systems changing because of the global pandemic and in the case of the Frankfurt Book Fair, how is the publishing industry changing in a brand new online world?
In both instances, the switch in demand to digital services for education and content has been sudden and considerable. This was backed up by major education publishers – on 5th October The Bookseller published an article where Pearson, Scholastic and Hodder all reported that digital sales were sky-rocketing as a result of the global pandemic. In the Middle East, where oil-rich states spend lavish amounts on technology, content and infrastructure, AI has been the saviour helping to manage the massive amounts of data which are being generated by a full switch to a digital learning world.
It hasn’t been a case of having to start from scratch either. There has been massive investment in the education sector in the creation of digital learning resources, the technology to deliver these and the infrastructure needed for learners to effectively learn in a purely digital world for around 20 years. It wasn’t though until these had to be relied on 100%, that they were relied on 100%. The pandemic has accelerated everything. Those publishers whose digital infrastructure and content were strong, structured and ready to deliver has benefitted tremendously whereas those whose wasn’t have had a tough time.
In the world of education in the Middle East, a parallel and similar story has played out to the same conclusion. The technology has been in place for some time, but it was the pandemic which was the catalyst to make a full transition to the widespread use of that technology by teachers and students in their day-to-day lives.
The biggest changes I’ve had to face in my daily life this year is the huge increase in screen time and the complete lack of human interaction other than by a screen that I’m having right now. I’m pretty larger than life and over the years have enjoyed participating in hundreds of physical conferences and exhibitions. I enjoy getting together en masse with like-minded people from my industry or area of specific interest and discussing all the ins and outs of these, meeting new people and learning new facts and points of view. Since March I’ve been out of my house for business on two occasions and now with everyone glued to their screens because conferences are back in full swing, I’ve learned that watching short video precis of conference presentations which some are producing, or having the video and sound on whilst sitting in the digital networking area, or whilst making comments/asking questions in the chat field to the panel, is allowing a different and unique sort of involvement.
At both online conferences, I’ve been able to make new contacts and ask questions which were answered. Whilst I’ve missed seeing people that I’ve known for many years, and I’ve missed the physical interaction which is lost in the 2D world of a presentational live stream or video, I’m finding different and interesting ways to manoeuvre my way through the proceedings of an online conference.
All around us things have changed this year. The feedback from learners I hear both from my own children and those presenting as case studies at conferences is that the educational world they’re in now is one that they recognize more than before. I have noticed the considerable uptick in digital learning that my son’s school have offered this year – a full online learning platform with interactive video, games and puzzles helping him through the maze of really getting to grips with reading, writing arithmetic in year one at school. We had our first year one parent/teacher meeting on Zoom!
My hope is that we will return soon a more normal way of living. I hope to be able to visit in person conferences and exhibitions again that are relevant to my work and business sector.
But for the time being, my trusty laptop and smartphone are doing the hard yards and bringing the world to me.