The spread of the coronavirus has had an indisputable impact on education systems around the world. According to UNESCO, over one billion young people are facing school closures or other disruptions to their education. Educators and policymakers have scrambled to ensure that their students can continue their education.
Within weeks, countries around the world made technology the way that young people are now learning. Stuck at home, many students now rely on technology to continue coursework that would otherwise stop until “normal” life resumes. News coverage about the actions that countries and school administrators are taking to adapt to this pandemic often cite distance learning or digital learning. So what do these terms mean? And how does virtual exchange fit into this new learning environment?
- Digital education/learning uses electronic technologies to teach or learn. Distance learning and virtual exchange are both types of digital education/learning.
- Distance learning is usually part of a formal education institution where learners are separated from each other and from instructors and are instead connected to each other through technology. This has been a common response to school closures because of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Virtual exchange uses technology to connect people for education and exchange. Virtual exchange programs typically serve young people. Many virtual exchange programs are international, connecting participants in different countries in order to help them gain global competencies, among other knowledge, skills, and abilities. Many practitioners feel facilitation by prepared, responsible adults – often but not always educators – is an important component of successful virtual exchange.
Prioritizing distance learning now is a necessary step in ensuring that over one billion young people can continue to develop their knowledge and skills despite this pandemic. However, as time passes and cities and countries around the world resume normal life, entire education systems, not to mention countless young people, will have made technology synonymous with education. Schools and universities that want to continue providing digital learning opportunities will be well equipped to integrate virtual exchange into learning priorities. Certain barriers to virtual exchange will be lowered and educators will be better prepared to provide their students a global education through virtual exchange.
If you are interested in learning more about virtual exchange and how to bring it to youth in your community, visit the Engage page on the Stevens Initiative’s website. You can also learn more about the impact of virtual exchange on youth here.