Technology in Learning: Pandemic Creates Transformational Opportunity

Businesses went global before all the technology was properly available, I remember in the late 90’s during my days at Accenture , we were working on a global Renault VI / Mack Trucks project and most of our transatlantic communications used to be via email or going to a conference room with a couple of TV sets that would connect us from Allentown in the USA to Lyon in France.  The picture used to be choppy and the sound would come in and out, but the video conference was preferred over the email and cell phone charges were prohibitive unless it was an emergency.  Over the next decade the connection improved a little but was not much different at for other global projects at Schlumberger and NCH.

When we opened the Sunbonn office in Pakistan in 2001, things had changed significantly, I could connect with anyone in the Karachi office via google hangout and we could talk, see each other with the click of button and there were no costs for using this service.  We later adapted to Go to Meeting and WebEx to connect multiple locations more reliably even though the cost of using the service was a little high, which changed with facetime and zoom.  We are now using zoom for not only internal and client meetings but also for virtual training sessions.

The reason I wanted to share this story is to emphasize that innovative new technology is here to stay, as long as there is a business need, technical innovation will happen to solve the new business needs.  As more people adapt to the technology, competition will come which will lead to commoditized pricing leading to mass adoption.

This technological transformation is going to trickle down to education, especially higher education and sooner than most people think because the pandemic has served as a catalyst in getting reluctant faculty to move their syllabus online overnight, counselors are now conducting counseling sessions via zoom, recruiting sessions have been limited to virtual recruiting in most cases, heck even graduations were conducted virtually for a lot of colleges.  On one hand, out of necessity, college activities have moved to online while on the other hand the cost of higher education has been going out of hand, hence technology in higher education is here to stay, hence the questions in education are,

  1. How does technology distort or amplify communications?
  2. What does it mean for teaching and learning with technology?
  3. How should learning theories consider these impacts?

1. How does technology distort or amplify communications in higher education?

First of all, communications are one of hardest things to do, there is a difference between being heard and understood which has nothing to do with technology.

Second, we all need to do a better job of trying to be understood by practicing key habits such as summarized below from earlier blog at

  • Understand your audience
  • Plan the meeting with empathy by putting yourself in their shoes
  • Tell it like a story


When people are separated by due to geographical reasons or due to current pandemic situation, when students cannot do in person presentations, zoom has served to be a great alternative in Spring and Fall 2020 to complete the coursework.  The technology did allow the students to be understood better due to the ability to see facial expressions in the communications granted they had to follow the rules of being understood.

2. What does it mean for teaching and learning with technology?


It means that great things are around the corner for teaching and learning.  Just like technology has impacted business communications, technology will now impact teaching and learning.  In the business world, the industry had shifted to virtual global training and development models after the recession in 2009 and I feel like the same thing is going to happen to higher education due to the pandemic.

I believe, just like in businesses, some universities are going to embrace this opportunity of pandemic and combine it with the challenges of rising cost of higher education.  These universities will also listen to the needs of the by leading their organizations through a transformational change with applied learning offered in mixed teaching and learning modalities.  These are the universities that will be movers and shakers of the 21st century education system. Practitioners of Learning Technologies / EdTech are best positioned to have an opportunity to lead this transformation in higher education.

There is a lot of opportunities that will emerge for incorporating technology into teaching and learning models such as Artificial Intelligence, Personalized Learning, Distributed Learning, etc. We just need to make sure that higher education institutions follow some simple principles:

  • No automation for the sake of automation, need genuine business case
  • It is not human or machine question, it is human and machine to deliver education
  • Overhauling existing policies is as important as implementing new process and tech.


3. How should learning theories consider these impacts?

Higher education as an educational model should define the pedagogy of instruction that they want to utilize for instruction in the college or department or even at the university level.  Technology should not dictate what pedagogy is used for instruction and should support whatever pedagogy has been selected for instruction.

As an example, UNT at Frisco has decided that the pedagogical model used for instruction in New College will be from the constructivist in the form of Problem Based Learning (PBL).  In this pedagogy, the students work on a real business problem in small groups with no predefined answers during and after classes.  With the pandemic, we elected to make the class synchronous hybrid meaning the modality of teaching was online and, in the class, every other week allowing the students to work in breakout rooms via zoom one week and face to face in the classroom the other week.  Instruction design had to be changed to accommodate the mixed modality of teaching for the students even though the pedagogy did not change.

Transformational opportunities exist to leverage machine learning to deliver personalized content by using instruments to collect data about the students such that content can be served based on the preferences of the user.  The key challenge with this approach is student data privacy and policies to protect the data that do not exist currently in higher education even though student privacy is covered under FERPA.

Higher education is in need of transformation, the cost of education keeps on increasing, pandemic crises has caused a huge drain on the finances of most universities while businesses have lowered the bar of entry level employment by removing the requirement of a college degree in a few high paying jobs.  At this time of crisis, some higher education institutions will emerge as winner, some will survive while some will close their doors forever.  The ones that emerge as winners will have embraced new creative delivery models enabled by technology.