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James Clack, Head of Digital Learning at Active IQ   

In one fell swoop the COVID-19 pandemic saw education establishments and training providers close their doors. Almost overnight, remote learning and digital platforms took over from face-to-face classroom teaching. As shocking and upsetting as this was at the time, five months on, many teachers and training providers can see that, when planned and managed effectively, there are many benefits to digital delivery. Far from being the ‘stop gap’ to tide us over COVID-19-enforced closures, online learning has well and truly earned its place in the education landscape.

Learning technology is a huge business, estimated to be worth upwards of £12 billion globally and projected to reach £260 billion by 2025. Whether we like it or not, digital learning is here to stay. I for one, am extremely excited about this prospect, but I don’t always feel the same level enthusiasm from the wider physical activity sector. In fact, throughout the two decades I’ve been involved in education, I’ve seen much resistance and reluctance to embracing digital delivery options, with many regarding it as a substandard vehicle for education that simply doesn’t match up to ‘bricks and mortar’ classroom teaching.

Pre-lockdown, there was plenty of data indicating that in-person attendance courses were the preferred option by our sector: but we still have 92% of employers needing to provide some additional training to fitness staff to ensure they are work ready. So perhaps face-to-face learning isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Also, ironically, much of the ‘top up’ learning and CPD has been delivered digitally even before the COVID-19 pandemic in order to fit around people’s work…  is a simple solution not staring us in the face?

Another interesting insight from ‘Raising the Bar’ are the concerns around the duration of training or qualifications, with 73% of employers believing that personal training qualifications and assessments should take no less than six months to be completed. But setting strict parameters on an arbitrary length of study does not take prior knowledge and experience, learner motivation and engagement into account.

We all learn for different reasons, in different ways at different paces. When everyone is in a classroom learning in the same order at a pre-ordained pace to hit simultaneous targets, some people will be pushed on too fast while others are held back.  Digital learning allows for individual pacing, enabling people to take longer over more tricky aspects and make swift progress in areas that come more easily.  This requires personalised input from teachers and trainers to identify where support is needed for learners. But that support doesn’t have to be given face-to-face: it can just as easily be done in real time by phone or Zoom.

As we emerge from lockdown, the best solution to my mind is a hybrid approach which combines an effective and high-quality online programme utilising flipped classrooms with face-to-face time in a classroom and on the fitness facility floor. Training to work with people requires physical interface with others.  But the bulk of the theory work can be covered online with people learning at their own pace with remote one-to-one teacher support where necessary.

Digital delivery and assessment constitutes a valuable tool in tackling some of the learning and development challenges that we currently face.

Let’s not allow prejudice against digital delivery to hinder our progress. There are many great examples of online learners thriving, not just surviving, during lockdown and we must be ready learn from this experience.

We cannot dismiss digital learning: it’s here to stay.