Well before our world was turned upside down by the Coronavirus, e-Learning was on the rise.
Technology is helping to break the barriers of student-professor and peer to peer interaction. Thus, while online learning was once looked upon as but a potential alternative compared to its brick and mortar counterpart, MBAs and other degrees obtained online from accredited universities now hold just as much weight in the court of public opinion as degrees acquired in the traditional manner. In times of pandemic, the virtualization of education has become vital.
With school closures due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) having impacted 97% of America’s 56.6 million students and 94% of the 132,000 private and public schools in the U.S, institutions shuttered across the nation, educators, tutors, and nonprofits working in the sector needed to find alternatives to salvage the remainder of the academic year.
Yes, the pivot to virtual learning had to and indeed must remain to be expedited. Yet the infuriating truth is that the majority of schools and communities across the country lack the necessary assets, be it access to modern hardware and software or the connectivity to ensure everyone gets online. In my view, it’s commendable that organizations such as Study.com acted pragmatically in this environment, donating 100,000 licenses to their online education-driven programs to schools across the country right at the beginning of state shutdowns. Their extensive online curriculums are capable of many different sites and platforms and no doubt it was imperative that little time was wasted in getting these programs into the hands of those that need it most.
In addition to bringing online or e-Learning to prominence, the Coronavirus crisis will most likely alter the way students are taught in the future. Teachers may use digital resources to maximize the minimal amount of contact time they have with their students. Education can be personalized to befit the student, rather than a rather antiquated ‘one size fits all’ approach seen in years past. Perhaps lectures can be recorded and assigned for homework so that more class time can be dedicated to analysis or insightful discussion. A ‘hybrid’ style of teaching may emerge, in which digital learning is interwoven into the everyday fabric of formal education.
Ultimately, digital learning should be viewed as a tool that can democratize education in the US (rural, urban) and globally, perhaps quelling the brain drain drawing away emerging market nations’ brightest and best. e-Learning platforms can also fill the void often left by school systems that have had to abandon essential subject departments because they lack adequate funding.
Additionally, a strong e-Learning platform with quality teachers at the helm means that anyone with access can absorb high-caliber instruction, no matter the standard of teaching, curriculum, or the reputation of the school district. Indeed the same knowledge can be attained by students from low per capita areas as those attending the nation’s most prestigious (and most expensive) schools.
There are no doubt challenges associated with e-Learning. First and foremost, it’s about making sure that every student in need has a device from which they can gain entry to their lessons. Then it’s about connectivity, especially tough during a time when paying for the internet may understandably not be a high priority. Finally, what mechanisms do we put in place to make sure our kids ‘show up’ to their computers and hold themselves accountable?
Despite these challenges, there is a real opportunity for schools and families to take advantage of the many online learning tools today readily at their disposal.
This revolution was slowly happening; Covid-19 kicked it into warp speed. Those who adjust will see benefits lasting well into the future; those who don’t adapt will be left well behind.
Either way, the train has left the station and is picking up considerable speed. It’s time to log on.
Marc Serber is a former broadcaster and an alumnus from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Serber is currently a freelance writer on international policy.