Institutes of higher education have been integrating online learning into their curriculum for decades now. The University of Phoenix opened in 1989 as the first institution to offer online bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Shortly after, in 1996, Jones International University launched as the first accredited web-based university.
Some institutions have recently begun to offer online offerings of popular courses, while others are turning to online apps like Canvas or Blackboard to facilitate classroom activities like posting assignment details and past lectures, hosting discussion boards, and distributing quizzes.
The word “paradigm” frequently appears in this discussion. Think of the word as representing a set of habits and routines that characterize the beliefs and actions of large human communities. When a paradigm changes, a whole set of routines and assumptions change as well. Shifting paradigms may seem difficult, but often carry great benefits to the communities involved.
The pandemic represents a force that brought about significant changes in education paradigms for teachers, students, and institutions. Following that shift, knowledgeable community members will continue finding ways of using technologies to improve education and educational outcomes.
Despite the technological advancements we’ve seen over the last few decades, higher ed is slow to adopt technology solutions. The classic college model involves a teacher, a classroom of students who write down spoken words of the teacher, supplement those words with assigned reading, and demonstrate their mastery of the material in some kind of examination.
The teacher remains central to the model, although the teacher’s effectiveness requires collaborative responsibility of those students. Consequently, good students learn from bad teachers, and bad students fail to learn from even the best teachers. To be sure, good teachers have long been exploring means of increasing student learning by using appropriate technology, but employing technology has moved slowly. The onset of the 2019 COVID pandemic gave rise to rapid technological adoptions to support remote classroom learning options. Even so, changes appear to have been more centered around teachers, institutions, and course delivery, neglecting skills and tools students need to learn.
A 2017 study found that higher ed institutions only allocated around five percent of their budgets to technological resources. In 2019, only one-third of enrolled college students had access to some form of online learning options. The remaining two-thirds were constrained to learning in traditional in-person classes, denying most of any classes at all.
2019 was also a year of record growth for the global education technology (EdTech) market, which received over $18 billion worth of investments. This staggering number suggests that, in some ways, the world of higher ed was positioned for a digital transformation when the global pandemic came about in 2020. Within a relatively short period, many institutes of learning migrated online. However, many educators and students fell behind. Teachers, students, ed-tech providers, and parents labored to cope with sudden changes due to no training, little preparation, and insufficient bandwidth. Some households struggled to secure reliable internet while others had no computer.
Now that many have overcome obstacles to technology-assisted learning, incorporating digital technology into higher ed will extend beyond the pandemic period. Educators must embrace and prepare for this reality and deliver meaningful instruction to future students.
The pre-pandemic default for attending college was living on campus at an institution that only held in-person classes. Completing a degree online was seen as an alternative form of education, as was getting educated through free, non-credit MOOCs (massive open online courses).
After nearly two years of forced online learning for many, higher ed institutions worldwide are starting to accept digital education as normal, not exceptional. The post-pandemic online education paradigm has shifted how, when, and where students take courses.
The methods of digital learning can be beneficial for many students, such as those who would otherwise struggle to afford traditional universities or have work schedules that make it difficult to attend classes at specific times every day. And technology often serves student learning in conventional classroom environments.
Educators trained to teach in a classroom setting also face challenges. The new paradigm shift challenges many lecturers and professors to become “virtual teachers” – a change that affects how teachers and students connect and collaborate. These educators must find ways to adapt to the new norms as higher education continues to propel forward.
Here are a few things to expect from the new paradigm of online higher education in the post-pandemic world.
Reinventing the traditional learning experience Traditional institutions of higher learning will persist in the post-pandemic world. However, since hybrid models prove to be an effective and efficient way to teach some content, we expect to see universities accelerate towards an increasingly flexible teaching model that enables students to take some courses online and others in person. This shift will mirror the evolving workforce experiences students can expect when they graduate and begin careers.
A need for collaboration tools When students attend classes on campus, they can collaborate in the classroom, the library, or a lab. In contrast, meeting in person may be difficult or impossible for students enrolled in remote learning programs. Educators need to provide students with collaborative online learning tools. Digital messaging platforms are needed to enable students to hold meetings, organize projects, and complete assignments. Reference management tools such as Petal that enable teams to communicate and share research in a secure space will become standard classroom tools. Petal can also be used as a central cloud repository for collective lab resources, even when researchers are located in different countries.
More options will lead to higher graduation rates. Allowing more students to flexibly choose how to engage with educational content can result in higher graduation rates. Students will have more options for completing their degree programs instead of dropping out when their circumstances change.
Thus, universities will need to look at factors outside of the number of students on campus when determining the success of their programs. Hybrid and remote learning options can mean more students attending classes overall, even if many rarely step foot on campus. This will also impact university designs and architecture. For example, a hybrid or remote model may require less student housing.
Petal.org is designed with remote collaboration in mind. Academic teams use it worldwide to share research, store references, hold discussions, and more. Academics and students alike can benefit from the easy-to-use interface and design that makes it easy to share ideas without wasting time on administrative tasks.
In addition to being useful for remote teams, Petal can help independent researchers manage their citations and eliminate redundant data entry. Best of all, it’s free to get started! If you’re an educator, you can sign up today to see how Petal can benefit your students and your research.