What has the pandemic taught me
Peter Lavender – Professor of Education, University of Wolverhampton, UK.
Without a doubt, we live in interesting times. Researching the impact of COVID 19 on universities across the world, Crawford et al (2020)  note that most universities have closed their campuses and increased the move to online learning, but few have a fully virtual and online delivery strategy, even those who partly deliver online. However, some online businesses and entrepreneurs have prospered, whether it’s bakers, toymakers, dating apps, delivery companies, online tutors, or milk delivery services – all of them have learned to adapt rapidly .
But it’s the individuals who are learning that intrigue me: and the number of times other people tell you what they have been learning, without being asked. Latin, the plays of Shakespeare, knitting, local history, baking cakes. As if it’s quite the normal thing. Journalist Zoe Williams asks, ‘What has lockdown taught me?’  and it’s a question we should all be asking. For some, the answers lie in what they have missed most – the conversations with friends over a meal, being free to go where you wish, or to take a holiday. For others, the lessons have been harder – how to work while supporting children and grandchildren at home; how to eke out the food; how to manage mental health.
Most people agree that we will all be changed by this experience. Looking outward many of us who work in adult education believe that we should build on the learning that individuals have done, capitalise on the catastrophe as it were.
One example here, is a further education college (equivalent to TAFE in Australia) that urgently wanted to find out how students were dealing with the new online learning environment and responses to the changing pedagogy in lockdown. A research group was rapidly and enthusiastically formed to explore teaching methodologies and the learners’ experience, determined to keep what works for the future. The results, which showed that most teachers were creative and inspiring in their interpretation of the curriculum also found that whilst students really enjoyed the remote one to one contact with the teachers, a significant minority didn’t really want to continue with learning online. In another college, some 42% of young people say remote learning has made their mental health worse . We need to consider disbenefits as well as the benefits of learning in a new way.
But the most exciting thing for me is that staff and students have felt empowered by this new research group and want to be part of it, because at its heart it values practitioner-led research, and at its centre believes in the voice of learners and staff as the basis for change. And the stories of people learning and teaching are a rich resource for research.
Around the world it’s the ingenuity of people and their stories that come through – whether it’s the skies over Cairo alive with the home-made kites of children; the Black Lives Matter movement; or an appreciation of how low paid workers hold the country’s health together. The value of learning is in all these things. So let’s keep asking, ‘What has the pandemic taught me?’ The answers might surprise us.