When lockdown was first announced it left many of us who work in the education sector wondering how we were going to continue to promote and deliver learning. We had played around with the idea of online learning with limited success in some areas.

This however was a completely different ball game, we were no longer able to meet face to face with individuals, conventional classroom learning had been completely stopped. Functional skills, reps training and most of the other learning that we were involved with had virtually come to an abrupt halt.

For the first week many of us were shell shocked trying to deal with the effects of the virus and all the implications that was having on our day to day to life. On top of all that we were also trying to work out what we were going to do in relation to learning.

During the first couple of weeks of lockdown it became very apparent that there were huge skills gaps not just amongst our members but society in general, and these were particularly apparent in digital skills. People were now having to do, and for many this was the first time, online banking, online food shopping, online schoolwork for their children, online services for local authorities, in fact just about every aspect of our life had become digital.

This alone presented many challenges, the first and most obvious was how to teach digital skills to individuals on-line, when they do not have the digital skills to do it. Like so many times before the URTU learning project continued their help and support for people with basic courses in digital skills, and on-line CPD courses to keep our members skills updated. TUC e-Notes which are short on-line courses to update union reps ensured they continued to have the skills they need to undertake their roles effectively.

We also have to recognised that some aspects of the way learning is delivered may have changed forever, the effects of lockdown forced us to look more urgently at the way courses are delivered and how we promote them. We have spoken with educational providers who have started to deliver a wide range of online course using virtual classrooms, either via Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other video based online platforms. One of the main advantages is that learners can now come from a much wider geographical area than may have been the case previously, but a disadvantage is individuals who have limited or no internet connection, and limited knowledge of digital skills.

If we can try and take anything positive away from the virus, from the terrible consequences that it’s had,  is that fact that in many areas not just education, organizations and individuals have had to re-evaluate the way in which we do certain things. I think for education this is and can continue to be a positive thing, online learning certainly as a huge part to play, virtual classrooms, whilst they won’t take away from the traditional classroom environment they certainly have a new place in the modern learning environment.

We have come to understand just how big the skills gaps are, and where they are, and that we are also continually looking at how we can address them. We can come out of this with a stronger attitude and be better prepared to build our future.

Simon Walker

Project Worker