Academia Series: Moving Learning Online

Quality Online Content

This is the first of a series on academia we will be writing over the following weeks addressing the significant challenges—and opportunities —facing post-secondary institutions amid COVID-19.

Around the globe, post-secondary institutions have been scrambling to provide as much quality content as possible online after COVID-19 forced campuses to shut down.

But moving entire curricula online is no small feat—let alone at breakneck speed. As some universities and college treat online learning as a stop-gap measure, many more are predicting eLearning will be a mainstay, even post-pandemic.

This is particularly true when it comes to serving international students, whose ability to attend school in person have been restricted amid travel bans. Whatever the future holds, one thing is certain: this mass experiment in online education is a paradigm shift that will have a lasting impact on how and where post-secondary students learn.

Flexibility for Learners

According to the Thought Leadership report by RBC, over the span of a few weeks in March, Canada’s post-secondary institutions moved more than two million students online. The swift transition provided some early lessons: most students can learn from anywhere and educational institutions have the ability to transform quickly.

“As the urgency of managing the crisis shifts to securing Canada’s economic recovery, students looking to gain the skills to compete in the post-COVID world will demand more from digital education. Institutions should seize on this moment to give students and life-long learners greater flexibility in where, when and how they learn.”

Rapid courseware development, which allows the digital knowledge experience to be built in a rapid authoring tool, has been the saving grace of many academic institutions. But the mammoth task of moving content online is only part of what the shift to virtual learning could mean for academia.

Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education, says the coronavirus could prove to be a “black swan” moment in which an unforeseen event changes everything, and that is “more of a catalyst for online education and other ed-tech tools than decades of punditry and self-serving corporate exhortations.”

Blumenstyk continues that it’s important to acknowledge the “rush to remote education on the fly isn’t the same as providing students with a thoughtfully designed online course.”

Indeed, effective interactive courseware should include more than simply uploaded text—it has to be engaging, meaningful content that is attractive, functional and interactive for self-paced, asynchronous and blended learning.

Whatever the future of post-secondary eLearning looks like, experts agree that it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, even after campuses reopen for in-person learning. In a Harvard Business Review article titled “What the Shift to Virtual Learning Could Mean for the Future of Higher Ed,” the authors ask: “After the crisis subsides, is it best for all students to return to the classroom, and continue the status quo? Or will we have found a better alternative?”

Only time will tell.

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