On July 26th, ClassIn’s latest Thoughtful Leadership webinar delved into how to create a sustainable education ecosystem through the lens of online professional development. Moderator Lingyue Zheng presented honorable speakers Nor Fadzleen Sa'don, Academic Lecturer of English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC) under the Ministry of Education Malaysia, and Cheryl Witha, Senior Learning and Growth Partner at Leaderonomics and Founder of Lift as You Rise.
Speakers detailed the definition and significance of sustainable education, how online professional development furthers sustainability, and actionable strategies to achieve a sustainable education ecosystem.
A Holistic View on a Sustainable Education Ecosystem
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
“As you can see here, there are altogether 17 sustainable development goals, what we call SDGs. However, in the context of our discussion today, we are going to focus on two SDGs,” Nor Fadzleen Sa'don framed her presentation in the broader initiatives set out by the United Nations.
“The first is SDG 4. It is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” Sa’don specified. “The second SDG we are going to focus on in my presentation is SDG 16…Basically, we want to create an institution that can promote peaceful and inclusive societies.”
"We want to create an institution that can promote peaceful and inclusive societies."---Nor Fadzleen Sa'don, Academic Lecturer of English Language Teaching Centre, MOE
Drawing a close association between continuing professional development (CPD) and sustainability, Sa’don outlined three main aspects to CPD, including the creation of lifelong learners, mindful training, and the development of a sustainable ecosystem for global learners.
Three Steps to Build a Sustainable Education Ecosystem
With conceptual frameworks established, Sa’don set out to introduce three steps to build a sustainable education ecosystem through online CPD, covering classroom designs to cross-sector collaboration.
1. Sustainability-based curricula and learning culture
“For this part, we want to integrate lifelong learning through MOOCs and micro-courses,” she explained. “Right now, the trendy way to have online CPD is to have micro-courses.”
Beyond class formats, Sa’don stressed that “You must promote critical thinking, design thinking, and problem-solving capacities.”
2. Promotion of interdisciplinary studies
“In my opinion, and this is from my research–this is very important if you want to align with the global market of jobs, opportunities as well as to have socioeconomic mobility,” Sa’don stated.
She foregrounded two learning approaches that emphasized the agency of students. The learning buffet model where students can freely pick and match whatever they desire to learn and heutagogical strategies that empower students to take charge of their learning.
In addition, “it is also to support trans-institutional research and collaborations…and this is something that is widely promoted by global ventures and institutions worldwide,” Sa’don said.
3. Incorporating stakeholders and market needs
“We want to have workers who can continue to upskill and reskill themselves,” Sa’don referred to the findings of the Gartner infographic. “We have to make sure our courses are in line with what the market or the job requires.”
To help learners, trainers, and course providers navigate the upskilling process, Sa’don presented the framework created at ELTC for the Ministry of Education Malaysia. According to the four tiers of competencies, learners can clearly gauge the level they are at.
With the three steps at hand, what does an institution of sustainable education look like?
“We are using IMPROVE as our online learning platform to empower continuing professional development. So far we have 194 micro-courses all together,” Sa’don introduced. “We are not just providing training and online CPD to Malaysian teachers. We are also training ELT professionals from various countries…We felt that learning should not be segregated according to geographical parameters.”
The Three Es of a Sustainable Education Ecosystem
First and foremost, education. “How we can create a sustainable education system by education is to provide equal access lifelong learning,” Sa’don nodded at United Nation’s SDG 4. “Apart from that, we want to provide education for sustainable development and global citizenship, meaning that everybody can learn everywhere, and this is the concept of buffet learning.”
For the second “E”, environment, Sa’don discussed an effective learning environment. With great flexibility afforded by recordings and open communication, Sa’don believes trainers are able to focus on supporting and empowering learners.
Emotion, an often overlooked factor, is crucial in a sustainable system. Sa’don reflected on how conducting online CPD with learners of different countries enabled learning strategies based on cultural diversity. Moreover, Sa’don addressed cognitive overload in online learning, something to keep in mind when designing modules.
“This is I think how we can create a sustainable educational ecosystem, making sure that they are safe, creating something friendly for our learners to study and to promote lifelong learning,” Sa’don concluded.
Sustainable Education from the System to Individuals
What does sustainability mean in education?
“Sustainability is somewhat a hyped word today, don’t you think? Everyone is using it, and it covers every single industry,” Cheryl Witha began her sharing with a broader image. “A better world is everyone’s business. And what is a better way to actually create a better world than from education?”
“If we want to create a world that is sustainable, we need to think about what is the end in mind…So when I look at sustainability in education, this is the view that I see,” Witha laid out how different components in an educational organization can work together for better sustainability.
Vision: A clear, bigger-picture vision from the top will carry through to every part of the organization, and the follow-through has to go to the very bottom.
Organization structure/operations: Are we finding the right and matching talents to advocate our vision of sustainability? Do we do things that are sustainable in all the operations?
Culture: With the right culture in place, it is effortless for individuals to embody sustainability, whether it is conducting events, teaching, or working. For instance, Witha highlighted how Leaderonomics allows employees to pursue passions beyond their own industry.
Curriculum development: In the process of creating courses, we have to bear in mind things like what kind of leader you want to be in those courses. If we are teaching business administration, for example, we ask what the purpose is to provide services to people.
Partnerships: We want to apply empathy as we are working with people of different cultures. And think about how we can learn from people from various backgrounds.
Accessibility: The great courses and tools we have online only make sense when more people can access and understand them.
Witha encouraged the audience to also take into account how learning has changed due to the pandemic. “A lot of focus has gone to self-learning,” Witha explained, pointing to a trend built on mobile apps, online webinars, online coaching, access to global speakers, and collaboration.
Why is sustainable education important?
“If we look at how professional development advances sustainability, it has helped us with upskilling. Anyone, anywhere, anytime,” Witha cited benefits such as relearning, developing potential, and building bonds.
“I think one of the most important things in education is upward mobility,” she emphasized. “In creating quality education, the whole point of it all is to change people’s lives.”
"I think one of the most important things in education is upward mobility...In creating quality education, the whole point of it all is to change people’s lives."---Cheryl Witha, Senior Learning and Growth Partner at Leaderonomics and Founder of Lift as You Rise
Witha introduced the powerful story of Hammed Kayode. “I spoke to this guy from Nigeria. He used to live in the slums. Education changed his life. Now he’s in the UK running courses. He has his own leadership foundation…So when we talk about sustainability in education, we just have to open our minds to what is possible.”
Although education is no doubt life-changing, there is no need to be overwhelmed by grand ideals. “You don’t have to change hundreds of people’s lives. Just one. Just one person, and that one person will create a domino effect to change other people’s lives,” she explained.
Wrapping up her presentation, Witha characterized sustainable education as a rewarding experience for all: “When we are helping others learn, it is actually helping us as well.”
Q&A: Younger Learners, Online Engagement, Teacher Burnout, and More
Kicking off the Q&A session with a question from the livestream audience, Sa’don addressed how to talk about online professional development with primary school students.
“If you are teaching younger learners, one of the concerns is how do you get them to focus when you are teaching,” Sa’don identified the main difficulty of speaking with this target audience.
In the meantime, she cautioned that you don’t necessary need to dumb down the materials for kids. “We can find certain courses where we can apply, for example, how we can do project-based learning or social enterprising even for primary students.”
Knowing Witha as a prolific and engaging speaker, audience member Lucy wanted to know how she overcame constraints of an online environment and met different student needs.
Giving helpful tips of naming students, interacting in the chatbox, and watching out for nonverbal cues, Witha reminded the audience that “Anyone who sits in Ms. Cheryl’s class, you have to open the cameras…So you set the stage–this is how my culture is, and they you try to get them used to it, and it becomes habitual.”
Additionally, “you can come up with simple simple ways to gauge their learning needs…try to use activities that engage with them,” Witha encouraged, giving a fun and instructional anecdote about how she conducted an online stress management workshop with college students using balloons.
An education ecosystem cannot be sustainable if the educators are drained. In-class audience member Diana raised a question on how teachers can “keep your sanity” in the face of overwhelming workloads.
“Before we can create passionate learners, we have to be passionate trainers and teachers ourselves. And I think one of the things I could share is we must be able to set boundaries,” Sa’don maintained. “You must know which one is the main priority…So I think as a teacher, it is very important for you to reflect everyday what am I going to focus on today. Is it my students? Is It my wellbeing as a teacher, as a trainer, or as an individual.”
“You can’t pour from an empty cup,” Witha also attached great importance to self-care. “And one point I can add is basically this. Do understand that we all have a DRB–what is a DRB?–daily reset button…Every day when you wake up, you reset. These are my goals for the day.”
As the event came to a close, Witha left the audience with an easy and actionable tip: “You schedule everything in life. Do you schedule time for yourself? We all need to do that. In your schedule on a daily basis, take if it is 5 minutes just for you alone.”
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