As the COVID crisis rages on, schools, colleges, universities, and other organizations in and around the education industry have been forced to pivot away from classroom-based learning and into online, digital formats. And though they’ve been billed as temporary responses to external circumstances, we can’t help but postulate what happens after the pandemic ends. Because all signs point to a permanent shift towards digital learning.
The Shift to Digital Learning
Millions of students have been forced to transition to online learning and virtual classrooms over the past few months. This has been a massive experiment that has, for the most part, gone well. If you look past the friction and logistical issues that exist with parents, work schedules, and the challenge of embracing “home” schooling, the actual technology side of things appears to be working well.
The online learning movement has gained steam for years now, but the COVID-fueled pivot has created a tectonic shift. It’s supercharged the transition from physical classrooms to virtual classrooms and has created an environment where – even after external circumstances normalize – millions of educators and students will consider continuing with virtual or hybrid learning experiences.
And it’s not just childhood education or higher learning that’s being impacted. We’re also seeing significant changes in post-secondary, professional development, and continuing education. For example, online real estate schools have seen a rise in the number of students taking real estate license courses to pursue careers in the industry. (Something that many would have been reluctant to try in recent years.)
All across the board, it seems like people are shifting to digital learning – some by necessity and others out of preference. And that might not be such a bad thing.
Why Online Learning is So Attractive
Though it can take some getting used to, online learning is advantageous on multiple fronts. Here are a few of the top reasons why it’s likely here to stay:
The beauty of online learning lies in its flexibility. While there are certain “live” teaching portions in many curriculums, most of the content is on-demand. This allows the student to fit the learning into their schedule. (Something that’s invaluable for those taking continuing education credits and/or studying for professional exams.)
In order to attend, it used to be that you had to live within a certain radius of a school or learning institution. Today, you can live halfway around the world and still enroll in classes. This creates an entirely new level of accessibility for students – particularly those in underprivileged communities or challenging economic backgrounds.
Opponents of online learning have always argued that students perform worse when they learn in a digital classroom versus face-to-face in a physical classroom. But as the data rolls in, it’s becoming apparent that this is not true. In fact, online learning may be more effective.
According to one set of data, students retain 25 to 60 percent more material when learning online versus in the classroom. This is likely due to the fact that e-learning requires approximately 40 to 60 percent less time. This allows students to focus and/or move at a pace that’s more comfortable for their learning style.
Despite the friction that we’ve seen this year, online education has the potential to be more convenient for both teachers and students. Once people become more comfortable with the idea and a stronger infrastructure is put in place, we’ll experience the full benefits of being able to work and learn from anywhere.
Online education tends to be much more cost-effective than traditional classroom-based learning. This is due to a number of factors, including reduction in fees, textbooks, equipment, and transportation. In some cases, online learning costs less than half of classroom based learning (particularly for colleges and universities). Now, whether these institutions continue to pass the savings along to the students will remain to be seen.
From an institutional perspective, online learning is way more scalable than classroom-based learning. Whereas a physical classroom might only hold 40 students, a virtual environment can theoretically accommodate an unlimited number. And when you consider on-demand instruction, it’s possible to take past instruction to the masses without much added cost or time commitment.
Finding a Happy Medium
The key is to find a happy medium as we move forward (and eventually into a post-COVID world). When asked what option they would choose if COVID were not a threat, 58 percent of men and 59 percent of women said they would choose either an online or hybrid option for learning. Just 42 percent of men and 41 percent of women said they would choose an exclusively in-person learning option.
In other words, attitudes are shifting. What was once seen as a niche of the learning industry has now become the standard. And even after this virus is neutralized, it’ll be a viable option for those who want a flexible, convenient, and cost-effective learning environment.