Reimagining Work After the Pandemic

home office toyParody home office toy for kids watching their parents working from home - see actual toy below

 

As we move towards the winter of 2020, the pandemic is still the most dominant factor affecting work and school in America. In March of this year, the rise of COVID-19 cases forced a reimagining of work and school. I'll leave school for future posts and focus here on work. 

I could have used the title "Reimagining Work" as a title on a post in any of the 14 years that I have been writing here because we are always reimagining work and the workplace. But 2020 has also been the year of social and cultural uprisings throughout the world, a record number of hurricanes, catastrophic fires in California, dire warning about climate change, and an increasingly divided American political system. 

I saw a panel on this topic focused on reimagining the office and work-life after COVID-19. I think it's too early to say what the results will be, but it is clear that some things have been forced to change. The question is how many of those things will remain or will we return to some of what we were doing in 2019? 

Before the pandemic, it would have been safe to say that having offices were critical to productivity and creating a company culture. Estimates I found vary on how much work has moved out of offices. In April, I found that it was estimated that about 62 percent of employed Americans were working from home. Work from home was already a trend before 2020 but the number was closer to 25 percent. Prior to the pandemic, just 3.4 percent of Americans worked from home, but at the peak of the shutdown, an Upwork report in partnership with MIT found that nearly half of the U.S. workforce was working remotely

Will there still be competition for prime office space in major urban centers? Will companies be maintaining but downsizing their workspaces?

around the world, and many focused on solutions that were seen to promote collaboration. Densification, open-office designs, hoteling, and co-working were the battle cries. a couple of years ago. During the pandemic, many people have been surprised by how quickly and effectively technologies for videoconferencing and other forms of digital collaboration were adopted. For many, the results have been better than imagined.

According to McKinsey research, 80 percent of people questioned report that they enjoy working from home and 41 percent say that they are more productive than they had been before.

As I said, this reimagining was happening before the pandemic. In the 2017 book, Reimagining Work, the focus is on the business leader working in what the author calls a "new on-demand economy" positing that "traditional management strategies are becoming obsolete."

That obsolescence is driven from the bottom up. A skilled workforce wants much greater flexibility and more control over their work. That is not something major corporations really ever considered offering in the last century.

That flexibility began in this century with many startups and smaller companies. It's easier to turn around a small boat than it is to turn a large ship.  Some of those smaller companies - Uber, Lyft, Handy, Airbnb, Task Rabbit - have become big and the flexibility was built into their culture. Changes have already happened more broadly in the way companies recruit, develop, and train talent. As the book says, growth for a company is more than just expansion. It also means maturation, adaptation, and evolution. 

During the pandemic, employees were freed from commuting and work travel. That has given them more personal time and greater flexibility in balancing the work-life balance that has been part of attracting new employees for the past twenty years.

For employers, this shift means they can access new pools of talent without considerations of the location while saving on their real-estate costs.

I have had several jobs that were done virtually with only a few visits to the actual company offices. One of my sons started a new job during the COVID-19 summer and he has never been to the company offices. He did his interviews by videoconferencing and has met his co-workers only online and on phone calls.

I don't think total isolation from the office and co-workers is ideal, and there has been speculation about the effect these shifts will ultimately have on "office culture" - morale, company loyalty, camaraderie and other difficult to assess elements.

Almost everyone is looking to return to some reopening and return to whatever the new normal turns out to be. Though President Trump had predicted it would be "by Easter" or "when it gets warmer," no one really knows when we will return. Before a vaccine is available, the office experience of January 2020 will not return. those few offices (and schools) that have reopened require masks and have redesigned workspaces to ensure physical distancing. Companies are restricting movement to avoid typically congested areas (like elevators, break rooms, dining areas, conference rooms). The classic "hanging out at the water cooler" of the 20th century may be gone forever.

But we know that there is value in the social capital that comes from those informal conversations, meetings, and social engagements, not only with co-workers but with clients.

That panel I referenced asked questions that we don't have answers to at this time. Will corporate cultures and communities erode over time without physical interaction? Will planned and unplanned moments of collaboration become impaired? Will there be less mentorship and talent development? Has working from home succeeded only because it is viewed as temporary, not permanent?

Important questions. No answers yet.

 

MORE 

Another webinar on "Reimagining Work in the Pandemic and Beyond" from Harvard Business 

A report on "Reimagining work in the era of COVID-19"




* I used a parody home office toy as an illustration above but Fisher-Price does actually offer such a toy - but no crying baby or wine included.

Sponsored Posts

broadcastI received another query today about whether I accept sponsored posts on this blog. These are posts when a blogger gets paid to talk about a product or brand on their blog. I don't accept them.

It is not so different from the spokesperson advertising we have seen for the past century in print and then on radio and TV. Now, you see lots of posts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and even in Google search results that are labeled "sponsored" - as they should be labeled.

Why don't I accept sponsored posts? It's not that I am opposed to making money. Tim and I have some ads on this blog for Amazon and Google ads, but they don't get much attention or make very much for us. That surprised me because this blog does get a good number of hits. Part of it is that on mobile devices those ads are kind of lost. Part of it might be that our readership is just not into shopping.

It's not that I have such high moral values (though I do hope they are reasonably high!). When I see sponsored posts on a blog, I question the other posts a bit. I also wonder when I see a rave review of a product/service on a blog that is not labeled as sponsored whether or not it is sponsored.

Ideally, a sponsored post is an endorsement of a product or service that you actually use and like. That might be true for some but I have to believe that a lot of sponsored content is just there for the money.

I have a Facebook group about edtech and I was hesitant to allow vendors to join. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish a vendor from a user. I ask when they join if they are a vendor, staff, faculty or student, but I allow all of them. But sometimes I wonder that when a vendor posts there does it look like I am endorsing (or getting paid) for that product placement.

Am I being foolishly moral about this? 

Online Learning Has Its Advantages

learning online in cafe
    Image: pxhere

It is unfortunate that the emergency move to online classes in March 2020 is often being seen as the definition of online learning. This is especially true for administrators, faculty, students. parents and the general public who had no experience with it previously. I would say that what is being offered this fall should be of a higher quality if schools used the spring experience and a summer of planning to prepare for the possibility of being fully online again. perhaps the perceptions of spring will be improved.

In a journal article that I am working on now, I say something that may not be supported by research but is supported by every faculty member I have talked to for the article: It is easier to move a good online course to a face-to-face (F2F) format than it is is to take a good F2F course and put it online. Many articles have appeared this year saying that the elements of a good online course are essentially the same as a good F2F course.

For example, if I am designing a brand new online course, I will be including all the "handouts" I would use in-person but also ones I wouldn't have included in creating a new F2F course. For example, in-person I might take 15 minutes to explain to students an upcoming assignment. For the online version, I will need that explanation in a document or as an audio/video file. If my online course is ever used to teach F2F having that explanatory document or video available for students who want to review it again after class and especially for students who missed the class session would be very useful. For the online version, I will need to create "lectures" that are chunked into smaller segments. For he F2F class, I might use those mini-lectures to flip the classroom as before class "reading" assignments. For the online course, might even rethink my entire approach to lectures.

One thing we learned from the rise of MOOCs was that there were a lot of people who wanted to learn but had no interest in credits or a degree. They took courses to learn what they wanted to learn and most of the time were not even interested in using all of the course or "finishing" the course as we would expect in traditional courses or training. This was initially the biggest criticism of MOOCs - students did not complete the course - but we came to see that completion was not an objective for most of these learners.

Skills and career advancement are the primary motives for many nontraditional learners, and online courses allowed that with a number of advantages. While in some jobs an additional degree or a certificate can mean advancement in salary and position, you can also "move up" by acquiring new skills. Online courses, degrees and certificates allow learners to continue working while they study.

Pre-pandemic, Santa Clara University surveyed hundreds of distance learners about how online learning impacted them and more than 50% of respondents recognized and appreciated the benefits of online classes.

Traditional and non-traditional learners can take online classes and the advantages apply to all. Some of the most often mentioned advantages are:
- flexibility in scheduling (most of my online graduate students have been working full- or part-time)
- lower costs
- options for preferred learning spaces
- options to take courses from other campuses or institutions
- self-paced learning
- technology and other skills learned by being an online learner

Flexibilty includes MOOCs and other offerings that allow those seeking a degree, credit, a certificate or skills advancement to start a course immediately. Even traditional programs with a 16-week structure might also offer accelerated eight-week courses. This accelerated course should have the same academic requirements and only works well for learners with no significant work or family obligations. They are sometimes offered in "intersessions" between semesters when students may be taking only one or two courses.

Some terms that have become much more familiar this year in the online learning experience are asynchronous, synchronous, hybrid, and HyFlex. Asynchronous refers to a fully-online course that does not hold scheduled meetings and students complete work at convenient times but must still have assignment deadlines. Synchronous courses, like on-campus courses, have set meeting times where the instructor conduct classes using a video conferencing service. Hybrid courses offer a combination. A course might meet once a week synchronously (on-campus or online) and the rest of the time asynchronously online. A fully HyFlex course (AKA converged learning) offers the option of F2F attendance as well as a synchronous offering of that live class session and a recorded version that can be used asynchronously. 

Although most online courses run asynchronously in order to provide maximum scheduling flexibility, some also offer or require learners to participate synchronously at set times or meet with an instructor during virtual office hours. This year, I am seeing more schools offer the options of hybrid or HyFlex courses that combine online and F2F which can increase or decrease the flexibility of being fully online.

There can be cost advantages with taking online classes. The caveat to this is that in most of higher education, online learners pay the same per-credit tuition rate as on-campus learners. There are exceptions with MOOCs, certificates, and a few fully-online degree programs. An overlooked cost advantage is that the fully online student saves on not needing campus housing or meal plans and on commuting and parking costs.

Students can also save money by using cheaper digital textbooks. But the real saving there occurs when faculty embrace using Open Textbooks (generally available for free) and other open resources. I have found that faculty in designing online courses are much more likely to consider those resources than F2F instructors.

The learning space for the online student can be their dining room table, home office, work office during lunch, a local library, a coffee shop, or a park on a nice day. "Learning styles" may have fallen out of favor but clearly each of us have ways of learning and settings where we learn best. I write notes, drafts, and final versions directly on my laptop. My wife likes to spread out paper notes and references on a big table and work on her tablet.

One of the big attractions to MOOCs was that it allowed you to take courses from anywhere in the world. A student at a small community college could take a course in artificial intelligence offered by Stanford - an opportunity never available before. I took about a dozen free courses online back in 2012 when the MOOC was a hot topic even though I have no need or desire to acquire additional certifications or degrees. I took them from elite universities in the U.S. and beyond that I never had the opportunity to even consider for my own degrees.

Not having to be restricted by geographic location means attending an elite school or finding the best professor for a subject doesn't require relocating and possibly (in the MOOC option) not paying any tuition.

Anyone who has taught or learned online has probably discovered that they have learned technical skills that were not part of the formal course curriculum. Many of these skills will be needed in jobs, such as learning new software suites, doing research online, communicating by using discussion boards, and teleconferencing. 

The advantages of online learning are real. They are best appreciated when the instructor learner has made the choice to learn online. That was not the situation in March of this year, but hopefully, it has led schools, faculty, and students to learn by necessity how to learn more effectively in the online world.

Will education after 2020 be "forever changed"? I doubt it. The pandemic may have been a seismic event, but moving the tectonic plates of education is very difficult.

On the Road to Learning With a GPS

map locationWhile I was driving in an unfamiliar neighborhood this week using my GPS I started thinking about how great it would be if there was something like a GPS for learning.

Of course, there is adaptive learning and adaptive teaching. That is the idea of delivering a custom learning experience that addresses the unique needs of an individual. It does that by using just-in-time feedback, pathways, and a library of resources. This is not a one-size-fits-all learning experience.

When I was studying education in college, we learned about creating a "roadmap" for learning. That was a long time ago when a paper roadmap was the way to travel. It was not adaptive. The user had to adapt. With the Internet came mapping websites. You put in a starting place and a destination and it finds a route. At first, there were no alternate routes, but when sites like Google Maps became available you could select alternatives. If you wanted to avoid a highway, you could drag the route around it.

Then came a GPS. We tend to call those devices a GPS but the Global Positioning System (GPS) is what makes that device work. It was developed in order to allow accurate determination of geographical locations by military and civil users using satellites. Those devices had all those mapping things, plus it went with you in the car and, most importantly, it was adaptive. If you went down the wrong street or a road was blocked, it adapted your route. 

When Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze and other apps became available on smartphones, the makers of of GPS devives took a hit. Your phone knows where you are and where you want to go. It redirects you when needed. It gives immediate feedback on your progress and tells you your anticipated next step in advance.

Those first mapping programs weren't exactly what we would call artificial intelligence but today that is what drives mapping programs forward.

My driving notion of an AI/GPS for learning is here, though it's not quite a set-it-and-forget-it device yet. Several companies, such as Smart Sparrow, offer adaptive learning platforms. I know of a school using Pearson's program Aida Calculus (see video below) which connects multiple forms of AI to personalize learning. The program teaches students how to solve problems and gives real-world applications. Advanced AI algorithms have entered the education space.

Not every teacher or classroom has access to packaged programs for adaptive learning. In my pre-Internet teaching days, we called this approach individualized instruction which also focuses on the needs of the individual student. It was a teacher-centered approach that tried to shift teaching from specific one-need-at-a-time targets.

Over the years, the terms individualized instruction, differentiated teaching, adaptive learning and personalized learning have been sometimes used interchangeably.  They are all related because they describe learning design that attempts to tailor instruction to the understanding, skills, and interests of an individual learner. Today, it is through technology, but we can still use human intervention, curriculum design, pathways and some blend of these.

 

 

https://elearningindustry.com/adaptive-learning-for-schools-colleges

https://www.edsurge.com/research/reports/adaptive-learning-close-up