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Make do and muddle through

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By Ben Welply, Business Development Manager

We are now half-way through the first term of the new academic year. Despite the new lockdown, the government has resolved that schools, colleges and universities will stay open. Of course, things may change as has proven to be the case thus far. But for now, educational institutions have settled into a relatively Covid-secure routine. Education leaders are trying to normalise practices as far as they can.

But when it comes to normalisation, things can be a bit too normal. Let me offer an example.

As a parent, I look forward to parent’s evenings. I get an opportunity to catch up with my son’s teacher and find out how he is doing and what I can do to help.  2020 will, of course, be different, as I will have a parents’ evening where we don’t meet in person.

To that end, I recently received correspondence from our school, stating that I will be having a 10-minute telephone call with my son’s teacher. My response was, to repeat the immortal line delivered by Bricktop in the film Snatch, “To quote the Virgin Mary, come again?” A telephone call?  Are we in 2020 or 1920?

At a time when Zoom use has increased by 2000%, people in the UK have switched to remote working and socialising. So, why is there a reluctance to use technology that has become second nature to most of us? Or at least offer a choice (as a proportion of parents won’t have access to Zoom)?

Muddling through

The education sector has historically lagged behind the private sector in its technological capability, except for universities. As Vikki Liogier argued in an interview in the Pulse in 2019, digital skills have lagged in the post-16 sector – although there has been a considerable uptick of digital learning recently. State schools also struggled to deliver education remotely during the lockdown, partly because of digital exclusion among many families.

But is there also a cultural issue going on in educational institutions? As Katharine Birbalsingh (CBE), headmistress of Michaela Community School in Brent has said:

“The problem we have with school improvement is that too many people have no idea what excellence looks like. So they think what they have is really good. They then get offended if someone suggests that it could be a whole lot better.”

Could this in part be due to the British psyche of making do and muddling through, striving through adversity – that Scott of the Antarctic predisposition to ‘man-haul’ everything rather than use dogs? Do our institutions have a tendency to turn its back on technological advances and cooperative learning because of our culture of British exceptionalism, as writer Fintan O’Toole recently argued?

Embracing the digital

I don’t know the answer to that question. What I do know is that, since March, businesses that deliver training and education have had no option but to do what they can remotely. Speaking with providers, this has been achieved using the tools already available within the business. Think email, post and telephone.

Today more and more people are confident in using systems like Zoom and Teams to maintain ‘face-to-face’ contact. This provides the benefit of improved interaction and team-building.

The temptation for institutions must be to stop at this point. Remain with your substitutes for in-person meetings or move quickly back to the old normal of 100% face-to-face learning. In other words, confine yourself to what you know and muddling through.

At Aptem, we have found that the more progressive training organisations are not happy to settle. The pandemic, tragic though it is, has also opened some people’s eyes to new possibilities. They want to discover how things can be a whole lot better. This aspiration involves investigating processes, looking at what other organisations are doing, exploring how to simplify tasks and how to do things at a distance.

They have found that distance learning, while not suitable for all delivery, can offer flexibility to students. Many have even discovered that remote capability changes the way they deliver learning. As Chandra Orrill et al. put it, facilitating a “shift from thinking about teaching as providing information to thinking of learning and creating learning environments”.


These forward-focused organisations have found that the core component of a good learning platform is simplicity. Using a single system is preferable to multiple systems. It cuts down on processes and the potential for elements to be missed or forgotten by staff working remotely.

This simplicity means staff are spending less time on administration and are free to focus on the value-added tasks that need their attention. With all the data in one place, management oversight becomes straightforward. It occurs in real-time so senior leaders can instantly access the information they need.

If you are fed up with muddling through, get in touch to see how Aptem could help. And best of all, we’ll be delighted to show it to you using the right technology and not on just a 10-minute telephone call.

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