“Why online? These people are not capable of doing things online. It’s too futuristic.” Before the pandemic this was the reaction by almost anyone who first heard about project OZO. And then came March 2020 and we all had to emigrate online. If only we would have been prepared.
Now that we have lived through the pandemic one might ask: “Why online? Aren’t we fed up with online activities? Does anyone actually like meetings online?” Yes, some of us, like teachers and students, are fed up with online activities and can’t wait to return to live meetings. But many who work from home do not want to get back to their offices full-time. Most probably, the typical future work situation will be hybrid: two days work from home and three days in the office.[i] So, it’s complicated.
The situation during the pandemic in any case cannot simply be translated into the future. The keyword of the pandemic is ‘necessity’. We didn’t choose to stay at home, we were forced to. We didn’t choose to keep a distance to other people, we were forced to. We didn’t choose to meet online, we were forced to. At the beginning of the pandemic remote education was called ““emergency remote learning and teaching” with the emphasis on the “emergency”.[ii]
Three years ago we tested the effect of ‘necessity’ on our willingness to be online. We asked representatives of the group who most notoriously embraces being online, teenagers, to be online-only for 24 hours. This meant: no conversations in real life, no physical contact, and no eye contact – just chatting online in the classroom, at home, at work and throughout all other activities.
During the experiment already after two hours of forced online exile we saw students, who would normally be hidden behind their smartphones, secretly talking with each other. After the completion of the full 24 hours all students declared that they had failed. No one had been able to be 24 hours online-only. All students stated that it was an interesting experiment for them but an experiment they would never want to repeat. Well, all students except one: a student who was diagnosed within the autism specter who said the experiment was ok, because finally all sources of information were bundled into one channel. For the others it felt as if life had been sucked out of their communication. Contact online-only felt tiring, boring and as if they were ‘not in the moment’.
So, did the experiment change the willingness of the teenagers to be online voluntarily? Of course not. Within seconds after the experiment had ended they picked up their phones again and hid behind them. But this time it was their choice – and that makes all the difference.
The European Commission
The pandemic has changed the European Union’s perspective on adult education. Whereas only a few years ago we had to sneak in digital literacy as a valid goal for adult education projects and project OZO was accepted with great reservations, now, as a result of the pandemic, the European Commission is imagining a new normal. In the document Adult Learning and COVID-19: challenges and opportunities the European Commission states, among others:
- Digital skills are basic skills, just as literacy skills are[iii];
- There is a need for the adult education sector “to substantially improve the quality of blended and online delivery” because of a weakness shown during the pandemic “to reach those who require the most attention”[iv];
- There is a need to develop “inclusive communities, involving all vulnerable groups in learning and social activities”[v].
So, here you have the answer to the question: Why online?
[ii] https://principalbilly.blogspot.com/2020/04/in-these-unsettling-times.html, accessed 8.5.2021