Letizia Affinito, Author


The COVID-19 situation has forced worldwide education organizations to move programs online quickly. Everybody has made his/her best according to technology and teaching skills at hand. Most of the organizations shifted to remote teaching or distance learning in the simplest and quickest way possible — via basic tech tools on learning-management systems, web conferencing platforms, email, and phone. They basically have moved traditional teaching models online.

Most of the faculty members found this abrupt transition disruptive, unsettling, and dissatisfying. A recent poll at more than 600 institutions, by Bay View Analytics, reported: “At almost all (97 percent) of the institutions surveyed, faculty with no previous online teaching experience was called upon to move classes online. A majority of faculty respondents (56 percent) reported using teaching methods they had never used before. Roughly one-half of faculty respondents (48 percent) reduced the amount of work they expected students to complete, while about one-third (32 percent) lowered their expectations for the quality of student work.”
Good teaching is good teaching, whether it happens in a physical or a virtual classroom. It is simply guided by learning outcomes whose bar should not be lowered.

While this abrupt transition has been ok to adapt to a crisis situation quickly, it is now critical to consider that online education is about how we use digital technologies to transform and improve the learning experience and outcomes.

The easy way is not always the right way

It usually takes at least six months and sometimes a year to design, develop, and build an online course. In that process, faculty members work with instructional designers, technologists, and others on content delivery, assignment design, and assessment. It is about quality, not speed. Even the syllabus and teaching plan are different. The entire learning journey unfolds over several days, during which several interactive tools are put in place to engage the audience and deliver the planned learning outcomes. In online education, even the Zoom meeting requires dedicated planning.

Online education can help to address some enormous needs and opportunities of society. These needs are being further evidenced and accelerated by the current crisis:

Massive need for reskilling: organizations will need to provide better support to employees whose jobs are being disrupted by new technologies.
Financial/time constraints: a considerable number of high school students all over the world go directly to work without a residential college either because they cannot afford it or because they need money to pay their living.
Competency-based education: As the concept of the knowledge economy increasingly motivates, employers are forced to innovate and offer learning opportunities to their employees to continually upskill while automation eliminates routine jobs.

Covid-19 just gave it a push

We must acknowledge that the change toward more remote teaching was already happening, Covid-19 just gave it a push! Higher education will change anyway, and online teaching will play a critical role in education leaders’ success in the medium-long term. We need to prepare and future proof ourselves. The future is not about what we do in the future. It’s about what we do now.

Covid-19 presents enormous strategic possibilities and seizing the moment is now, especially if we think that two forces are coming together right now:

• Digital technologies have matured, they can be deployed at scale, and they will only continue to improve.
• Most of the faculty, usually very resistant to change, is now ready or, at least, prepared for change.

Covid-19 experiment is a good start

What we have done during the Covid-19 crisis is a good start for a future point of view. This Covid-19 experiment has offered tremendous data on what courses can be substituted and which ones can be augmented or complemented by technology. Education leaders could potentially focus on three main models to leverage online, which would work globally:

Augmented residential model: the potential gold standard for a four-year college.
Hybrid model: courses requiring some face-to-face interaction.
Fully online model: courses with pure knowledge transfer.

One-size-fits-all does not work in higher education

In making choices and detailing models within the three above clusters, we should focus on value creation. For example, we should address simple questions like: What is the value of a four-year college degree? What is the value of a four-week executive program? What is the price point based on the value offered – that will allow us to enroll a mass of learners?
We will need to come up with models capable of providing education, which is for everybody affordable, customized, relevant. We should not just muddle through our current predicaments, but use this opportunity to create a new and much better future for education.