online learning

Is Online Learning the Future of Higher Education?

The pandemic has changed the way we do things — including how we learn.
January 21, 2021
5 mins read

In March 2020, higher education reacted to the COVID-19 virus by sending students home. Many campuses have sat empty and unused ever since. Administrators, lecturers and students have reportedly adapted well to remote working, with the infrastructure now up and running. So what will this mean for the future of higher education?

Whatever the answer, the pandemic has sent American colleges into financial turmoil, with The Wall Street Journal stating in one headline that “Coronavirus Pushes Colleges to the Breaking Point, Forcing Hard Choices.” As students demand tuition breaks due to their financial hardships, revenue drops and expenditure increases, e-learning has effectively become an international experiment in education.

Is Virtual Education as Good as Bricks & Mortar?

E-learning has been steadily growing since the inception of web 2.0, with websites such as Udemy and FutureLearn growing steadily year after year since 2015.

While virtual-learning or e-learning may be convenient for many, for others it can prove to be very challenging.

A current history student at Glyndwr University in Wrexham, UK, Josh Jones stated that: “Learning virtually would be great, but as a parent of two small children, it has some undeniable challenges.”

While some of the parenting issues may be alleviated when schools and nurseries are up and running again, there are many other problems with remote studying. Students living in more rural areas have reported class disruptions due to slow internet connection, while other universities do not yet have the internet-infrastructure to provide live classes to hundreds of students at once. The inability to stream to hundreds of people at once has meant that lectures are pre-recorded, which means that questions and answers can’t be real-time.

Author Bryan Alexander, a “higher education futurist,” stated in his latest book that a pandemic might entirely change the face of education. He recently said it’s impossible to envisage the outcome of higher education because so little is known about the virus. Nine months into the global pandemic, questions are still being asked about COVID-19 and its second strain, which is more contagious. Unfortunately, the longer the pandemic continues, the more likely educational institutions will go bankrupt and close.

Educational Elitism — Money Talks in Education

Education is dramatically changing. What is incredibly unfair, according to many, is that your financial situation and zip code will often determine whether or not you can have a higher education. Many are cynical about the higher education system, perhaps rightly, with some reporting that people they know only went to elite colleges because their parents donated a lot of money to the institution.

2019 saw federal prosecutions against 50 individuals in a situation described as “the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.” Are these 50 isolated cases, or are they the tip of a substantial iceberg that has yet to be uncovered?

Could e-learning provide a fair playing field and make education accessible to all — or at least substantially more people?

Since the late ‘90s, the value of a degree has arguably changed within many industries. Since the internet began and Silicon Valley landed on the world economic scene, many major employers no longer require degrees for highly skilled positions. Unlike traditional employers, companies like Google and Apple do not need a college degree. With most tech jobs and many business-related jobs these days, it is not necessary to have a degree. Web developers, for example, need a proven ability to be able to code and develop websites, not a degree. They don’t need a piece of paper to back their skills up.

Is your network (including family) always going to be correlated to your net worth?

The Bill Gates Foundation donates millions of dollars each year to education because it’s “the best lever” they’ve seen for making the most of their lives.

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A core aspect of their funding has, for the last five years, been online education, with Bill Gates describing it as a potential “global asset.”

Even then, there may be some elitism and discrimination. Access to the internet, for example, may differ by gender in some parts of the world, with the “Connected Women – The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020” stating that in some areas, women are 20% less likely to own a mobile phone. The gender gap is a critical issue to address, as rather than fight discrimination, e-learning could add to it in some countries.

Whatever happens, the technology and infrastructure for e-learning are only going to improve. This could be bad news for colleges that rely on the traditional learning format to justify their fees. With remote working proving a success for international companies such as Google and pioneering organizations such as Moneypenny and Zoom developing technology that may help industrial, business and educational sectors of all sizes transition to a remote model – the future still looks uncertain, but chances are, more of it will work remotely!

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