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Silver Lining for Learning: 7 lessons learned from the pandemic and beyond

Stephanie King

— Sep 08, 2022

“What if the coronavirus forces schools to close down for more than one year?”

That is the question that Dr. Yong Zhao, Foundation Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas, emailed to Dr. Punya Mishra, Associate Dean and Professor of Scholarship & Innovation at ASU, at the beginning of the pandemic. Little did either of them know that this thought-provoking question would spark a web series, Silver Lining for Learning, about education innovation during the pandemic. They’ve been hosting the series since March 2020 with co-hosts Dr. Chris Dede, Senior Research Fellow at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Dr. Curt Bonk, Professor of Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University. To date, they’ve recorded 119 episodes.

Drs. Zhao, Mishra and Dede joined 2022 Global Virtual Summer Camp attendees to present some of the many lessons they’ve learned by interviewing guests on their web series. “COVID-19 did not necessarily start many of the education innovations, but COVID-19 definitely made these innovations more widely known and more globally understood,” said Dr. Zhao.

Here are just 10 valuable insights and advice that the Silver Lining for Learning co-hosts shared:

  1. There’s been a sea change because of the pandemic. “The world is different now in a way that is unalterable that we can never go back,” said Dr. Dede. “We used to live in Kansas, and now we live in Oz.” He explained that the sea change is that the world became hybrid, and everyone learned how to interact across distance, whether they wanted to or not. He elaborated that remote learning opened the possibility of education for many people who’d been marginalized.
  2. Create a community of practice that’s based on passion-driven learning. Young students may not always want to write for their schoolwork…but what if it was writing about Harry Potter or another fanfiction? Dr. Dede invited participants to lean into students’ interests rather than discipline – it will garner more interest from a broader audience of students. “It’s a chance for inclusion in a really interesting way at scale based on kids’ passions,” he said.
  3. Recognize children’s purposes. Dr. Zhao shared that the idea of purpose has become very important in the field of education. But in traditional schools or the traditional education paradigm, Dr. Zhao said that we impose a purpose on students. “You take the courses, you do the curriculum, you complete the assignments, and hopefully when you graduate, you’ll be college and career ready, and you’ll have a happy life,” said Dr. Zhao. “However, today, COVID-19 has created a condition for young children to take learning into their own hands. Can students be the owner of their journey? Allow students to construct their own learning, to follow what’s available in the community and globally."
  4. When given the opportunity, students will show you how powerful they are. During COVID-19, students were given more freedom and autonomy to learn. And what happened? Dr. Zhao shared that students can learn on their own. “They can find meaning or do meaningful things in their own ways,” said Dr. Zhao. “Treat students not just as a recipient of the curriculum, but as genuine, agentic, self-determined human beings who can do amazing things when given the freedom and support.”
  5. Learning is global. Students want to break out from the borders of their learning organizations. Dr. Zhao shared an example of how The Global Online Academy has a group of schools collaborating so that students from different institutions can take courses together. “Learning today has truly escaped institutions and is global learning,” said Dr. Zhao. “Our students will have to live in a globalized world whether they like it or not, and we better learn how to renegotiate that from the get-go.”
  6. Care for the needs of every learner. Understand that every learner has different needs and talents. “If you think about the education systems we have today, they are always targeting these mythical average students – there is no average student,” said Dr. Mishra.
  7. Play is a powerful way for students to learn. Creativity, play and self-directed learning are fundamental ways in which we learn. Dr. Mishra explains that, in many schools, we have scripted curricula and a fixed set of steps that they would go through as if they all develop in the same way. Instead, the way we might want to consider learning is through play and exploration.

Silver Lining for Learning isn’t just about sharing stories with their global audience – the co-hosts have learned much from the experience, as well. “Every episode that we have, all of us come out deeply impressed by the passion, vision, persistent purpose and commitment that our guests show,” said Dr. Mishra. “Each one has found a space where they can play and question assumptions.”
Interested in hearing more stories about how the pandemic has changed education? Watch our Are We There Yet? project interviews on ShapingEDU’s YouTube channel.

Stephanie King

Stephanie King