The coronavirus pandemic effectively hit the reset button on education in terms of delivery, access, and resources, and the story was no different in the sports sector.
Whether it was national governing bodies rolling out their coaching qualifications, staff and volunteers completing their CPD programmes or apprentices connecting with their tutors, these past two years presented an undeniable need for online learning and remote education.
As an organisation concentrated on education, coaching and people development, Sport Structures had to react quickly in response to that need, not only getting to grips with this new technology, but convincing the industry of its value.
We recently caught up with our Online Learning team to reflect on the lessons of 2021 and look ahead to working under this new normal. As far as the team’s Project Manager Colin Geenes is concerned, this new face of education is here to stay.
"Online learning is not going anywhere,” Colin said.
“I think it was reactionary to the problem faced at that particular time, and I think quite a lot of people didn't expect it to last and thought that perhaps it was a short term solution to getting coaches through the door and getting their learning done.
“But I don’t see why it would go back to how it was before Covid. It’s easier for their learners to attend so I think ultimately organisations are saving money."
As a former competitive archer, Colin reflected on his own experience within the coaching process and quickly saw the benefits of a more accessible education pathway.
“Take archery for example, courses were always every weekend over the summer when archers like myself wanted to compete,” he continued.
“If there had been an online offer, where I could have done most of the course online, in my own time, leading up to one practical weekend, then I would probably have done my coaching course by now.”
This change of direction addressed a problem that few organisations had thought to attack until made necessary by the pandemic, and that benefited not only their learners, but the organisations themselves.
According to Colin, the introduction of online learning solutions allowed organisations to greatly cut down on costs, and with Sport Structures bringing in Online Learning and Data Officer Iestyn Rimmer in 2021, this became a team ready to make the most of its opportunity.
As Iestyn took the reins of creating and curating the online learning resources on offer, organisations equally began to better understand the problems they faced and the solution that this technology represented.
Iestyn commented: “We are still learning as we go, but we have fundamentally changed the way we deliver and develop our courses.
“Where before things looked a bit bland and boring we’ve improved quite significantly. We’re also implementing new ideas, such as the portfolio on our new Level 3 Swim Coordinator course.
“We’re always looking for ways to improve the learner journey, making it simpler and easier.”
An example of the interactive online learning exercises introduced in 2021
Looking ahead, the team are eager to take advantage of online learning’s surge in demand by delving into Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses.
While the focus remains on refining products such as the Level 1 and Level 2 coaching awards, Colin sees no reason why coaches and volunteers can’t benefit from this same technology on a more regular basis.
“We want to focus on soft coaching skills and how we can encourage learners to keep progressing,” he added.
“We're also looking at sport psychology, nutrition and hydration, and we’re in the process of developing a strength and conditioning CPD course with Andreas Michaelas.
“It's all well and good for coaches to get their Level One, Two or Three, for example, but if we can create more resources, whether those are courses on leadership styles or how to communicate with your athletes, learners can reap the rewards no matter their sport.”
For Colin, this effort comes down to providing learners with a more rounded and comprehensive experience.
Marrying the lessons learned from 2021 with ever-improving technology and organisational demand, the goal of the online learning team remains the same: to ride this new wave of educational innovation and elevate the sport community’s long-term learning objectives.