Distance Learning Austria

Distance Learning in Austria: A Retrospective and Outlook

Since the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic, Distance Learning has been a part of everyday life for students and educators. We look back on these three-quarters of a century from an e-learning perspective and take a look into the future.

March 2020: The Covid 19 pandemic hits Austria with full force for the first time. Everything must close – including schools and colleges. More than one million schoolchildren and around 380,000 students have to swap the blackboard for a laptop screen and the lecture hall bench for a shared couch. Everyone is talking about distance learning. The rest is history: Openings and lockdowns alternate, distance learning remains a fixed part of everyday life for learners and teachers. As studies and surveys show, the sudden shift to distance learning presented challenges for most stakeholders. The good news is that the longer it has been learned and taught from a distance, the better students and teachers have learned to cope. True to the motto “Whoever says ‘Distance Learning‘ must also say ‘e-Learning'”, we look back on the past one and a half years from an e-Learning perspective and show how the experience gained will shape the future of education and training.

How it went

At the beginning of the Covid 19 crisis, which marked the start of Distance Learning, one feeling spread among teachers and learners alike: Overload. Scientific research backs this up with numbers. Studies of the University of Vienna(study of the Center for Teacher Education as well as study “Learning under COVID-19 conditions”) show that the change to distance learning was perceived as a burden by students as well as teachers. This situation has actually worsened with the second school lockdown in the fall of 2020. Students stated that they were overburdened by high academic demands, the independent acquisition of learning material and the necessary independent structuring of everyday life, as well as the alternation between home learning and face-to-face teaching. Teachers cited the lack of information at short notice from policymakers and the multiple burdens of digital teaching on the one hand and caring for their own children on the other as the biggest challenges. Nevertheless, both sides have grown from the crisis. Students made progress in terms of self-organization, independent learning, and computer use. The latter also applies to teachers: 85% said they had made progress in dealing with digital forms of teaching.

Learners and teachers at universities have experienced a similar situation. As a survey by EdTech company Studo found, about 56% of students felt fear or panic at the onset of the pandemic. Those students who were able to cope well with their studies despite distance learning had their e-learning skills to thank for this, according to the aforementioned study “Learning under COVID-19 conditions“. Universities also faced challenges in the ad hoc shift to distance learning, but – as recent reports show – these challenges were well met as the crisis unfolded. Learning management systems and interactive tools have become an integral part of the didactic repertoire for teachers at universities. Students have also made friends with distance learning: According to a Studo survey, two-thirds of students were already satisfied with digital teaching in December 2020.

What will remain

Learners and teachers at all levels of education have grown to appreciate Distance Learning. In some cases, so much so that it will remain a fixed part of the education system. In the School Hours Act, Distance Learning is firmly anchored in Austria and is to be used in the future “when the school building is unusable, in cases of disaster and for other compelling reasons”. But it is not only in the event of a disaster that teachers and learners will come into contact with aspects of distance learning in the future. Higher education institutions, in particular, are embracing blended/hybrid learning based on lessons learned during the crisis. About half of the students can imagine this mix of online and face-to-face teaching on a permanent basis.

One aspect that is often ignored in the discussion: The increased use of digital teaching makes sense not only from a didactic and security perspective, but also from an ecological one. Learners, and in some cases also teachers, save themselves the trip to school or college, which means a CO2 saving – urgently needed in times like these.

What matters in the future

As e-learning professionals, we are naturally pleased that the mood regarding digital teaching and learning has turned positive. Distance learning is an opportunity to strengthen and further develop digital teaching and learning formats. However, this opportunity can only be seized if schools, universities and all teachers agree that distance learning works differently than conventional teaching – and not just on a technical level. In order for remote teaching to be successful, there are a few requirements that we in the e-Learning business preach every day. First: Successful digital teaching needs an e-didactic concept in the background. It is not enough to digitize analog materials one-to-one. Content has to be adapted, teaching strategies have to be changed. A presentation that is appropriate for a face-to-face unit may be completely out of place in an online unit. Secondly, there is also too much digitization. In distance learning, the possibilities of digitization should only be used where it really makes sense. Just because units take place online doesn’t mean that all digital possibilities have to be exhausted. Too many tools and technical gimmicks can have a negative impact on learning success. This brings us to the third point: the focus must always be on the learning objectives of the learners. Whether and how content is digitized and communicated always depends on the respective learning objectives, which form the basis for successful distance learning.

Those who know skillbest have probably discovered our corporate philosophy in the last few lines. We would be happy to talk to you about how we can make your distance learning or e-learning project successful(er) on the basis of this philosophy, which has been tried and tested over many years.