Andrew Daniel says he has never learned so much as he has in online education – and he's the teacher.
Dr Andrew Daniel, to give him his full title, is a vastly experienced teacher whose last position was headmaster of Monmouth School in Wales – a boys' school with 650 pupils, one of five he has taught at in his 25 years in education.
Now, however, he is with Crimson Global Academy, the groundbreaking New Zealand-based high school (but with global and local students) which launched in April, during lockdown, and which bases its entire operations online. It was good timing – as most of the rest of the world (including the education world) were forced into remote learning anyway by Covid-19.
Many CGA pupils are "accelerated" students who want to benefit from the small live classes and study ahead of their year group. Daniel, speaking from his home in the UK, admits to being an enthusiastic convert: "Covid-19 forced teachers generally to start using technology, something many were previously reluctant to do."
Daniel had no such reluctance. A mathematics expert, shortlisted as a finalist in the UK's National Teaching Awards, his long interest in technology as a teaching aid has seen him involved in projects with US universities in areas such as the maths of 3D computer game designs, artificial intelligence and developing software for maths teaching.
"It's been an amazing experience," he says of his time with CGA so far. "I've been in education for 25 years but I have still learned so much from CGA – it has been a real-eye opener.
"I have talked to a lot of teachers who say Covid-19 has rejuvenated their careers. I absolutely agree – the shift to online learning and teaching is worldwide and brings with it a lot of new opportunities."
Online learning is expected to remain a global phenomenon even after Covid-19. It saw schools shut around the world shut and, at its height, over 1.2 billion children were out of the classroom, according to a report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) in April.
"As a result, education has changed dramatically, with the distinctive rise of e-learning, whereby teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms," the report said. "Research suggests that online learning has been shown to increase retention of information, and take less time, meaning the changes coronavirus have caused might be here to stay."
The WEF said some research shows that, on average, students retain 25-60 per cent more material when learning online compared to only 8-10 per cent in a classroom. That's mostly due to students learning faster online as e-learning requires 40-60 per cent less time to learn than in a traditional classroom setting – students can learn at their own pace, going back and re-reading and accelerating through concepts as they choose.
"There is nowhere to hide in online learning," says Daniel "You can see everyone, the reading and other work is done offline and this gives rise to deeper, more intense discussion and lessons – and the students learn how to be independent."
Another WEF report, published in September, said "…collaborating online might prepare high school students with the kind of organisational acumen, emotional intelligence and self-discipline needed for modern careers, particularly those that allow for the growing trend of working in remote, distributed teams. The sooner students master those proficiencies, the better off they'll be when they reach the job market."
More professional positions involved telecommuting and offer access to fast-growing, well-paying careers. These "new collar" jobs (as opposed to blue and white collar jobs), often require specific skills fast becoming in demand.
"In these roles, employees can expect to work in geographically dispersed, virtual teams," the WEF said. "Members will have to know how to collaborate efficiently, conduct online research and analysis, use resources like AI and the cloud, speaking and presentation skills, seek continuing education, exercise emotional intelligence, and become more self-motivated and pro-active."
That, says Daniel, is precisely why online learning excites him: "I think there are three main advantages. First, the use of technology, smaller classes which mean you can do so much more with the students, and the international perspective. It is actually better than face-to-face teaching.
"Just the other day, I was taking a maths class with A-level students from Brazil, Russia, the Middle East and the Far East, all in different parts of the world. Because we were online and have access to global information, I was able to pull up information from universities in the UK, US and Hong Kong. That's so much better than a boring old maths lesson from a boring old text book.
"The other thing is the enthusiasm. Everyone I work with, staff and students, are just so enthused by what they are doing – they just want it to work and are working hard to make it so."
CGA started small, launching in April with just 15 New Zealand students but now has 130 students learning online in 21 countries. Accelerated students make up about 44 per cent of CGA's roll. About 70 per cent of the students are part-time; the rest are full-time Year 10-12 students on a three-year programme. Those part-time are students who want to broaden their curriculum and take subjects not traditionally offered by schools, like computer science and psychology.