Last week, my friend Dan posted this photo of his desk.

Many of you in the world of subscriptions, customer loyalty and membership are already familiar with the work of Emory’s Daniel McCarthy. He’s a great researcher and an all-around curious and insightful person.

I got to know Dan because our work overlaps in many ways. He teaches students at Goizueta Business School about how to value corporations based on the strength of their customer relationships. He calls this method CBCV–Customer Based Corporate Valuation. It’s truly groundbreaking and if you haven’t looked into it, I suggest you give him a follow. Or subscribe to my podcast SUBSCRIPTION STORIES to hear my interview with him (he’s my guest for Episode 8).

But I digress.

The reason I am sharing this photo of Dan’s desk is because of all the equipment he has on it. Multiple screens–one for his Zoom connection, one for presenting, and one for taking notes, as well as his phone, a fancy mic, an external camera, an external keyboard and lots and lots of remote controls (question for Dan–why so many remotes?). Outside of the range of this image is professional lighting as well.

Dan is a teacher. His job is to help students develop the skills and knowledge to thrive in their professional careers in the most powerful and efficient way possible. That is the “forever promise” he makes to members of his classes. That is how most teachers and schools engage in this Membership Economy. The “what” and “why” are clear and constant. What is changing is the how. Over time, new tools and techniques are developed that change how teaching happens. And new content is developed and learned as well.

Sometimes the impetus for “changing the how” comes from an outside force unrelated to teaching–which is what is happening right now.

During this global pandemic, schools at all levels are moving to either hybrid or remote-only models. Most teachers are not able to meet with students in person, to lecture from the front of the room, to oversee classroom project work and provide real-time live coaching.

This is a moment when teachers, staff and administrators at all types of learning institutions need to take a step back and reconnect with their forever promise–and then think about how they would deliver on that promise if they were launching their institution today.

The job of schools is to figure out how to best deliver on their forever promise of preparing their students for their future by providing them with the skills and knowledge they will need. The “products” schools provide to their students will need to change as they strive to help students achieve the promised outcomes. For the moment, there is no access to labs, performance halls, sports fields, art studios or science labs.

But there are other tools that can be deployed.

Many learning organizations are embracing new tools and developing new teaching techniques, or using them in new ways.

Recently, I attended an online conference. The keynote speaker had pre-recorded his talk. He took advantage of the digital medium to insert some magic, a “behind the scenes” view of his home, surprising props, and some cool special effects.

In many ways the presentation was more compelling than a speech might have been, with him just talking from the stage. While the conference attendees watched the recording, we could “chat” in the text box about what we were seeing, and respond to the questions posed by the speaker. This created an additional layer of connection. And then–surprise–the speaker was participating in the chat, answering questions real-time as his presentation was running. It was a powerful and engaging learning experience.

After the presentation, we broke out into small groups, with volunteer facilitators, to discuss key questions. Many of the people in my group said they wouldn’t have been able to attend had the event been held in person.

There are other examples of how to engage remotely–a friend is doing cooking classes from her kitchen, using a “charlie cam” over head as well as one facing her, so you mostly see her talking, but can also see what she’s doing at the same time.

And through my work creating video courses for LinkedIn Learning, I have seen what they’ve been able to do for learners with their prerecorded courses broken out into 2-5 minute lessons, followed by short quizzes, and through enabling group “cohorts” to go through the material together and discuss through online communities.

What if teachers had their lessons recorded, with high production value, and then used the class time for digital discussion, Q&A and 1-1 coaching? The first year recording the course would be a production, but after that, they’d be able to reuse the lessons or even share them with other teachers. Students would get a more flexible and personalized experience.

Another big advantage could be the inclusion of guest speakers. When I give a guest talk for a class, I often have to fly to get there and the whole thing “costs” me 2-3 days. In contrast, I can talk to a class digitally and it’s just a 30 minute or 45 minute break in my day. And I gave several guest lectures to business school classes and other groups last spring when we were all sheltering in place. So there’s tremendous potential to bring in outside perspectives from all over the world, at low cost.

Distance learning also can increase flexibility and participation. Grandparents could “volunteer” to facilitate small groups, or tutor 1-1. Children who are too sick for school but well enough to listen could watch lessons from home. And people all over the world could have access to the teaching of specialists and experts.

The possibilities are great.

I’m not saying that this is the best way to teach, or the only way to teach. I very much want kids and teachers to return to the classroom–my kids too! But I am saying that there are many powerful techniques that can be applied today, at low cost (I know, I do many of these things myself, without a team), that can help learning organizations and their learners achieve their goals, even during this pandemic.

I hope our public school teachers can gain access to the kind of setup that Dan has at the business school, as well as the training to go with it. There is so much potential in digital learning. But it requires some education and some new skills, as well as a willingness to use new approaches. And public school teachers are expected to engage learners of all ages, many of whom are less motivated than your average B-School student, without a good technology set up.

Since most of my work as a consultant and speaker is now online, I have invested a few hundred dollars in good lighting, sound, camera (although I don’t have as many screens…). There are less expensive options too– a standing lamp right behind your screen will do wonders for your Zoom game. And the corded earbuds that come with your phone sound a thousand times better than just using your built in mic…Many people tell me that “everyone” tells them they sound fine without a headset or corded earbuds…trust me, you’ll sound better and reduce ambient noise with even a cheap option. I wish that all teachers had at least a decent camera, mic and lighting, and that they would apply their wonderful creativity to the possibilities of digital learning.

I also wish the community would engage proactively to provide resources and expertise to support educators in this time of great change. Here in Silicon Valley, not only are there many experts on digital User Experience, it’s also where much of the groundbreaking ed-tech is being developed. I’d love to see more collaboration in our schools junior colleges and universities.

I know that some say that it’s not worth the effort because once there’s a vaccine/adequate procedures/herd immunity we will be able to go back to the way things were. As a mom of three kids and an extrovert, I am so eager to go back to connecting in person. I miss the camaraderie and see what we lose in terms of relationships, connections and well-being by being forced to keep our distance.

But I think that this time presents a unique opportunity to develop new tools and processes to better help teachers teach and learners learn. People like Dan McCarthy are on the cutting edge of remote learning, and I know they’re going to quickly develop strategies that can expand what’s possible, both online and in person.

And in our new normal, I hope that these additional resources continue to be used, as there are definitely situations and individuals for which the benefits will be great.