Could This Be Online Learning’s Finest Hour?
Even before the pandemic, a significant number of students looked to online education as a solution to otherwise insurmountable challenges to on-campus learning.
There’s been growing interest in the possibility and merits of online education, with many institutions asking questions about how to bridge the gap between the in-person learning experience and the online experience. But online experience is nothing new. Over the last two decades, online learning has provided recourse and options to millions of individuals — both professionals looking to add to their knowledge and skills and for students for whom the on-campus experience presents a challenge.
But for all its merits, and there are many, online education has never enjoyed the same esteem as the on-campus experience. But after a year of mostly online activity due to the Coronavirus pandemic, opinions about online learning may finally be changing.
Online learning: The less glamorous twin of on-campus higher education
While distance learning is hundreds of years old, and the online variety was established about twenty-five years ago, online learning is just starting to enjoy recognition equal to its on-campus counterpart.
Many reasons exist for this bias:
- Many people don’t see online degrees as “real degrees,” making them somewhat different or, more accurately, inferior to degrees obtained by attending physical classes.
Historically, schools offering online education have played an unfortunate part in propagating this stigma. Until recently, it was common to see an “i” or an “e” appended to online degrees from universities trying to protect their brands. Graduates of online courses had iMBAs or eMasters to show for their efforts. This is no longer the case for many schools, but the negative perception persists in the minds of many, including family and employers.
Weekend and night classes suffered the same fate decades ago when schools began offering them to accommodate the lives of busy adults who couldn’t attend school during regular hours. Thankfully, that perception about night classes is all but gone today.
- Employers often doubt the technical expertise of graduates of online programs because of the lack of physical encounters with teachers and other students. This makes it more likely for students of online programs to undergo more stringent technical tests as opposed to their counterparts who studied in physical classes.
- Another reason for the bias against online education has to do with the lack of what could be considered hallmarks of the on-campus experience: Working on projects in teams, problem-solving while interacting with others, presentations in front of relatively large crowds, hands-on experience in complex experiments, and knocking on a professor’s door for a face-to-face chat about ways in which you can improve.
Although universities are making strides in bridging the experience gap through interactive technology and active follow-up to increase engagement, many people still have reservations about online learning based on their preconceived notions about the experience.
- When compared to traditional higher education methods, online learning is relatively new and without much record of graduate accomplishment after they step out into the real world. Thus, some people are still skeptical about whether or not online degrees are worth the time and effort required to get them.
The good news is these biases are in steady decline. More and more people are choosing to go for a hybrid education that sees them taking one or more of their courses online in conjunction with the classes they take in person. This trend has only been accentuated by the coronavirus pandemic that made it almost impossible for students to sit in classes, necessitating a serious look into online learning as an alternative.
How COVID-19 made higher ed institutions and society more accepting of online education
The coronavirus pandemic made online learning a necessity and ultimately changed our perception of what could be possible for schools and students once the right technology is in place.
According to the Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE) report for 2021, colleges and universities are changing their priorities with respect to online education over the next 3 to 5 years. Higher ed institutions now have a more positive view of the whole exercise and are excited about what could be accomplished with added training and investment.
Due to the positive experience with online learning during the pandemic:
- All sectors of higher education invested in education technology in 2020 and 2021. This marks the highest jump in investment ever. The majority of those investments came from schools that had little to no experience outside of in-person learning and little investment towards that end.
- According to the CHLOE report, two-thirds of higher ed institutions relied on their chief online officer to coordinate the institution’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The chief online officer was charged with faculty training, course conversion, student preparedness, technology capability, and quality assurance.
- 77% of Chief Online Officers at higher ed institutions expect the rapid acceleration of online undergraduate enrollment ushered in by the pandemic to continue in the years ahead. The remaining expect moderate growth of the trend, while nobody expects a reversal or slow down compared to what was happening before the pandemic hit.
How education technology can help your university meet the growing need for online learning
One of the main things changing opinions about online learning is ed tech. Strides made in technology have led to higher ed websites that truly offer an interactive experience to students all over the world who are unable to come to the campus for whatever reason. Students are now able to engage with one another, their instructors, and collaborate on projects in ways that were previously not possible online.
Greater internet penetration and efforts to bridge the digital divide have been useful in closing the chasm that exists between in-person learning and the online learning experience.
All these positive developments feed into the increasingly positive perception about online learning, further accelerating demand for what was once the less glamorous form of higher education.
Destigmatize online learning at your higher ed institution
KWALL helps universities and colleges create powerful web experiences for their institutions and the benefit of their student body. Student engagement remains one of the major challenges for higher education in this time of social distancing, and KWALL has been helping by providing the world-class services needed to create truly interactive digital experiences. Contact KWALL to learn more today.