OMO learning, path to sustainable education post-COVID-19

Experts in the education sector have introduced Online-Merge-Offline (OMO) learning, innovations, and new methods to effectively sustainable education in times of crisis and uncertainty.

OMO learning caters to the new needs of students and teachers in the post-COVID-19 era. OMO learning utilises a hybrid infrastructure that combines Open Educational Practices and real-time learning spaces, both online and offline.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit all parts of the world, disrupting every sector of the global economy. Education, being one of the most vital sectors in building the future was not left out, as the pandemic posed great challenges to the sector.

Over 1.6 billion children and youth in 188 countries, accounting for 94 per cent of the world’s student population were affected by the pandemic as at October 2020.

This followed countries implementation of policies such as travel restrictions, closing of borders, and shutting down schools to contain the spread of the disease. 

The unexpected health crisis pushed educators to design and implement innovative learning methods in response to the pandemic, giving rise to a significant increase in the use of distance learning technologies and techniques.

While both teachers and students are favourably disposed to OMO learning, however, findings showed that a comprehensive set of core and functional competencies are needed, including the use of online platforms, communication skills, class management, and effective use of resources.

Also, more effort should be put into classroom design such as infrastructure to efficiently support OMO learning, as it is a new approach toward the future of education to ensure sustainable education in a complex and uncertain world.

Due to the pandemic, teachers now have to teach the same courses twice, offline for in-person class and online for the students who cannot come to the physical classroom.

This can be extremely time-consuming and exhausting, because dividing students into offline and online classes to learn separately might reduce class interactivity and efficiency, which negatively affects learning outcomes.

Given the rise of confirmed COVID-19 cases in some countries, distance learning continues to be heatedly debated, and calls for policies and procedures to maintain educational continuity amid these uncertainties, to create a more dynamic and flexible mode of learning.

To this end the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), recently launched an initiative calling for more research and debate on how knowledge and education should be designed in a complex and uncertain world.

Accordingly, OMO learning uses ClassIn X, a newly developed smart tool that extends the learning space by merging the physical classroom space with the online space using Open Educational Practices (OEP). This provides more flexibility for teachers to teach both online and offline students simultaneously.

This approach can also create a more dynamic and authentic learning process, as both online and offline students can interact and work together, along with the teacher.

According to a study carried out by UNESCO at Chinese universities, teachers and students mentioned several crucial elements for successful OMO teaching and learning experiences. Some of the items discussed included classroom infrastructure such as interactive boards, ergonomic chairs and tables, access to the internet, and cameras.

While describing their experiences in the OMO learning space, respondents believe that sufficient infrastructure support can facilitate communication for offline and online students, foster collaborative learning tasks and discussion.

For instance, one of the students said: “Offline facilities give people a sense of advancement. Freely movable chairs, large screens that can be directly projected on all sides, free-speaking classrooms, online teaching, multiple teachers, streamlined content, and different teaching methods, are features of an OMO class. It made me feel fresh and interested while learning a lot of knowledge.”

One teacher highlighted the value of the big screen used in the context of OMO learning, saying: “The equipment in the OMO classroom is much more than traditional chalk and a blackboard. We use big screens in class with advanced technologies [to] teach in real-time both group[s] of students (online and offline).”

Furthermore, teachers found that ICT skills are necessary for them to manage the learning space, noting that part of their daily activities include making PowerPoint slides and designing interactive quizzes or assignments.

“In the OMO teaching mode, teachers are required to use advanced teaching software to upload courseware and interact with it in real-time using hand gestures, hence we must be familiar with the tool and platform,” they said.

Also, the UNESCO study found that openness and flexibility are two of the most recognised functions of OMO technologies. For instance, students can revisit recorded lectures online, under an open license to learn again at their own pace. Students can also contribute to the teaching materials that are stored on the cloud, real-time.

However, since OMO learning differs from either traditional classroom instruction or fully online learning, specific training procedures are needed to advance the competencies of teachers and students to address integrated long-term and sustainable implementation of current and potential future scenarios.

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