With online education firmly established as part of the norm going forward, higher ed institutions are still being challenged to prove the value of online learning.



A short while ago, an online degree would not have held the same weight in many circles as one acquired through learning in person. Online learning simply was not an attractive option for anyone except those under restrictive circumstances — busy professionals, busy parents, and students from underprivileged backgrounds.


Cue the coronavirus pandemic. Not long after people, including students, were confined to their homes for safety while the virus raged across the globe, online learning became the only viable option for students to get the education they need.


The coronavirus pandemic has made online learning part of mainstream education


To be fair, online learning was already gaining momentum and acceptance before the coronavirus pandemic, albeit moderately. As a market, global edtech was already $18.66 billion in size by 2019, and this included investments in language apps, video conferencing, virtual tutoring tools, and online learning software.


That said, edtech market growth really sped up once the coronavirus pandemic hit and online learning suddenly became a necessity. Use of online learning tools surged all over the world to support remote learning during the lockdown and beyond, while online learning platforms stretched their capabilities and reduced (or completely eliminated) their prices to encourage and accommodate more users.


Nobody could have envisioned the level of disruption to the education sector that the pandemic ushered in. Colleges and universities now find themselves in a situation where student expectations are different and the prospect of hybrid classes has become a necessity instead of nice-to-have.


According to a survey by Ipsos:


23% of adults believe higher education would be done mostly online in five years’ time
49% think college education will be split between online learning and in-person
29% think higher education will be delivered only or mostly in person
Only 48% of people in China and 47% in Japan think in-person teaching will still be in place in the next 5 years
Only a third of adults in India () and less than a fifth (18%) of adults in Brazil, with the second and third highest number of confirmed COVID cases in the world, respectively, believe higher education will still be held in person in five years

On their part, higher ed students have become accustomed to the flexibility afforded through a hybrid education model that allows them to attend classes in-person as well as access online learning in an asynchronous environment.


It is clear that the universities that are going to thrive in the new normal are those whose operations are fully digitized enough to deliver perfect digital experiences that can compete in an increasingly competitive global context. In other words, the future belongs to colleges and universities that can = showcase the value of online learning to students and parents who ask.


Universities need to prove the value of online learning to their anxious audience


Harvard University had to learn the hard way about the importance of showcasing the value of online learning when they faced severe backlash for charging full tuition for semesters that would only have instruction online.


The fact is, many people, students and parents included, find the present models of video lectures unsatisfying when compared to the in-person experience. You can guarantee that your offices will have to field questions that have to do with whether the online learning experience your institution provides is worth the full tuition price.


To address this situation, schools have to go beyond debating over which mode of delivery to use to truly figuring out how to deliver an online learning experience fit for the demands of the 21st century. Nothing short of this approach will suffice as a means of proving the value of online education to worried students and their sponsors.


Lead from the future instead of to the future


The best way to understand the power of leading from the future rather than leading to the future is to observe the fallacy that lies with thinking with a “present-future” mindset.


Schools that think with a present-future mindset will inevitably structure their online learning programs based on what they have either done in the past or watched others do in the past. They hope to keep up with the present online learning revolution by making incremental improvements as time goes on. The sad reality is that such thinking never leads to big breakthroughs.


The ideal online learning scenario that students crave and need to meet the challenges of the 21st century is not going to be served up by what worked in the past. To expect that would be the same as expecting to arrive at the light bulb through incremental improvements to the oil lamp.


By contrast, leading from the future requires schools to envision the future and then translate it into strategies, tactics, and tools that are capable of carrying the present into that future. It requires laying out a series of benchmarks and milestones to define the path and allow for measurement of progress and pivoting if necessary.


In this manner, schools that lead from the future can create a truly expansive and engaging online learning ecosystem that meets the criteria for an effective education fit for the 21st century and its unique challenges. Such thinking also lays down a framework for testing and improvement.


Given the frantic manner, precipitated by the urgency ushered in by the coronavirus pandemic, in which schools had to pivot to providing online learning, there has not been much time to adopt such a visionary, strategic approach to the process. However, now is the time, as the dust begins to settle, to start looking beyond the anxieties of the present into a future that truly answers the questions that students and parents have about online learning.


Build powerful online experiences for online learning


For over a decade, KWALL has helped more than 100 colleges and universities win online using powerful web experiences that allow them to effectively meet the needs of their students and the demands of higher education in the 21st century. Whether you are looking for better ways to recruit and engage with students post-COVID or seeking better ways to provide effective online learning to your students, KWALL has capabilities that can help. Contact KWALL today to learn more.



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