University of Oulu, 2016

What will remain of digitalisation when the corona pandemic subsides?

Although the coronavirus and tsunamis are both very unpleasant phenomena, it makes sense comparing them. After the withdrawal of a tsunami, the challenges of reconstruction, repair and returning to everyday life become apparent. The same applies to the coronavirus crisis. Soon we will be at a point where there is a need for reconstruction. In particular, there will be further demand for learning and education and digitalisation offers tools for this. 

Many are wondering right now what kind of state we will return to in terms of remote learning when the coronavirus withdraws from us. How much remote learning and how many digital courses will there be in the future? Will the balance shift back towards in-class teaching and more personal guidance? In general, how will this affect the implementation of education and study, the use of facilities, funding – really everything in education? If the change is radical, what does it mean for me, my team, and the degree programs? I think some of the important questions are about what we want this change to mean and which direction will we take learning in the future. 

We can use a sliding scale analogy here. For example, at one end of the scale everything happens as in-class teaching and at the other end, learning is entirely digital that is independent of time and place. In between there is space for various combinations of remote learning and digital tools. The term hybrid learning has been getting a lot of mentions. The position to which the scale will be set in the future will determine a lot of learning methods. Many people understand the extreme ends well, but finding a suitable, effective, and profitable place in the middle ground seems to be surprisingly challenging. When we move closer to a fully digitalised environment, familiar operations change in a significant way. For example, content needs to reach an increasing number of learners, a team of experts is needed to produce content instead of a teacher, and instead of lecture theatres, we need to think about learning platforms and applications. 

When enough of these things change a threshold is met, after which the changes will have greater effects than the selection of tools alone. The division of labour between different universities in content production becomes an interesting question, in other words, who will produce material for extensive basic courses so that they are not needlessly done separately in each organisation. The steering effect of funding can either support or hinder rational development and finding a balance. Choices about tools and their compatibility become a national issue. The interaction between teachers and students, the strenuous impacts of learning new tools, pedagogical factors and accessibility will become more prominent than before. 

However, the coronavirus crisis has not yet withdrawn from us. We cannot yet see everything that has been affected. We may not yet recognise all of the sliding scales for which the balance needs to be adjusted. What we can do now is to prepare to act quickly and flexibly, preferably by taking the initiative for ourselves and not by adapting out of necessity. 

Fortunately, when it comes to digitalisation, we have managed to get a foothold. We have various internal teams considering, for example, how to tackle practical questions related to digital pedagogy and what is our long-term view. 

Our ambition is clear: Oulu is a pioneer in digitalisation, and this also applies to education. When the coronavirus withdraws, we are ready to get in the game. 

Tapio Koivu
Vice Rector for Education, University of Oulu 

Last updated: 19.4.2021