Has the COVID pandemic revamped the future of higher education?

When the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill in 2020, business and economic activity was not the only area to bear the brunt of this virus, with the education system suffering a terrible blow too. Schools across the globe shut down, with 1.2 billion children forced to move from classroom learning to e-learning. Today, many states are opening up their schools in a phased manner but places still affected by the pandemic continue to have children sit behind screens and listen to classes delivered online. The question remains – will this shift to online learning persist in the post-pandemic era? 

Educational Transformation and the Twenty-first Century

The twenty-first century has, without a doubt, forged a new relationship between man and technology. Man in his quest to discover and improve the quality of life went on to innovate and create gadgets essential to everyday functioning, from phones to tablets, kindles, laptops, and more. With technology intertwined in a person’s life, the education sector saw the need to integrate with it to facilitate better learning. 

Due to this, the traditional chalk-and-talk method of teaching gave way to classrooms that included computers, projectors, and other media. This form of blended learning-enabled better engagement and allowed teachers to utilize different metrics to track the performance of various students. Studies show 60% of teachers feel blended learning has a positive impact on a student’s academic performance. It makes better use of classroom time, allowing educators to provide individual attention to students who need it. 

According to the Edtech Review, student’s performance increased by 8% when mastering high school algebra through blended learning methods. 70% of students surveyed claimed that they learned better in classrooms that facilitated blended learning. Videos were now a preferred form of learning while interactive quizzes assisting in the gamification of education made it more appealing to young learners.

For those with access to technology and effectively connected through the internet, online learning was responsible for 25% better retention rates. Given that students can work through courses at their own pace, they learn faster online. It is undeniable that younger age groups still need a properly structured learning environment and the guidance of teachers but higher education has been able to make this shift very effectively. A survey-based in the UK found that 68 percent of parents were in favor of technological tools in education as they made it easier for them to assist with their child’s homework. 

The Impact of the Pandemic

With the arrival of the pandemic, to reduce disruptions to coursework and research, educational institutions switched to online solutions to adapt to the situation. Not only were classes taken on Google Meet, Zoom, Jitsi, but e-learning technology came to play a more significant role than ever before. The definition of blended learning by Terry et al. states that 30 to 50% of learning should be delivered online. However, with the pandemic putting a halt to regular classes, almost all learning moved online, which opened doors for students to pursue numerous interests and certificate courses by top-notch universities that were now being made available to all. While distance and a stringent admissions process may have initially been a hindrance to having access to high-quality education, due to the pandemic, colleges and universities began creating online content and making it accessible to people across the globe. 

Students signed themselves up to different learning sites in addition to regular classes. Educational technology company, BYJU saw a two hundred percent increase in the number of students using their products, with Coursera and Masterclasses showing a very high number of people signing up. Many enrolled themselves in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to receive verified certification in courses of their choice. As a result of the pandemic, the online learning platform Coursera saw 35 million new enrolments in six months. With a lot of people spending time at home, they thought of investing in various other sources of gaining knowledge and online classes was the best bet. 

Although a lot of these tools and learning platforms existed before the pandemic, it was an eye-opening break from regular classes for students to the many possibilities that lie in the world of online learning. If this trend is any indication, technology, and the internet are together playing a big role than ever in education, and given the many benefits, it is unlikely that educational institutions will want to go back to traditional classroom teaching methods anytime soon.

At present, the only drawback is that online learning continues to be a privilege that only some enjoy. Research shows that approximately 30% of the population lacks proper access to the internet in developing countries. Data by OECD indicates that 95% of students in countries like Switzerland and Australia can participate in digital learning without any hassle but in places like Indonesia, only 34% can do the same. 

The Path Ahead

Since the start of the COVID-19 situation, an increasing number of students are reaping the most out of e-learning. Students are more engaged with virtual learning, digital libraries, and a switch to improved learning management systems. They choose to sit in for a live lecture or revisit recorded lectures to understand various topics better. The ability to share documents and collaborate in real-time makes it possible for students from different locations to work together on online learning courses. 

Irrespective of how challenging or hasty the shift to online education was, institutions had to master this learning system. Governments are assisting in providing better connectivity to their citizens. Given that the world is going digital, education should not remain too far behind. Institutions will capitalize on e-learning solutions to improve student learning. Particularly at the tertiary level, the ability for students to attend certificate courses from Ivy League colleges in different countries will better their chances of improving their skills and provide an added advantage if they plan to pursue higher studies abroad. 

In conclusion, e-learning is lessening the geographical divide for students and is making educational opportunities far more accessible. For students who take advantage of this, getting scholarships to foreign universities will become easier. With a portfolio that boasts certificate courses from different recognized universities and an outstanding academic track record, an educational background check done by the respective scholarship committees will only showcase the diverse skills that the student has picked up along the way. 

Thus, while in-person teaching is important, going back to a classroom-only teaching method would be highly regressive. So it will come as no surprise for educational institutions to continue the blended learning model with e-learning playing a large role, unlike in the past. Not only will students receive greater flexibility but it also encourages them to grow at a convenient pace for

them and pursue courses fueling their interests. Furthermore, they would be able to do this even if these courses are not offered in their institution.

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