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Could COVID-19 reshape higher education?

  • 3 Min Read

The integration of technology into teaching and learning has been underway for some years but the unforeseen events of recent times have accelerated EdTech plans for many teaching institutions. Around the globe, teaching was taken online to ensure continuity of learning. As students and educators now look to the future, questions will be asked about the long-term continuation of such learning models.

Strength in online learning

After the viral risk has abated, the impact of these changing times may be seen in higher education in a number of ways. The wider economic consequences of the pandemic and the repercussions this will have on jobs may highlight what skills students will need for the future. Changes may well be seen in the types of courses that deliver learning to build these skills. What’s more, universities themselves may find the strength of their online learning capabilities become a factor in students’ choices and therefore an area in which universities may strive to compete.

A few months ago, medical students took their final exams online for the first time. Circumstances have evolved significantly since then but at that time, teaching establishments were in the early days of delivering course content digitally. Innovative ways of assessing student progress online and virtual alternatives to delivering seminars would follow.

As plans are made for the rest of this year and beyond, a blend of digital and in-person tutoring may well endure for many. Distance learning may possibly need to be reinstated at short notice in the future, should conditions demand it. The recent pivot to online learning may not have been seamless for all, but it will have helped institutions establish a foundation for technology-enabled learning that should hopefully stand them in good stead.

Meanwhile, overseas students may continue their remote studies for some time. As higher education institutions evolve blended learning offerings, which combine online with face-to-face learning, they can maximise their appeal to a wider student audience that requires flexible access to courses.

Learning and skills

As education leaders consider future student employment, and how this is likely to be affected in the coming years as a result of COVID-19, they will need to focus on upskilling and reskilling, to prepare learners of all types for their future.

As shown in Australia, there are now micro-courses for in-demand skills (such as nursing) as a result of COVID-19, that are easily integrated within university programmes with government funding. This example serves to illustrate how skills gaps can be plugged, according to the market’s needs, through alternative learning pathways. It is likely that more student interest will be seen in short courses and skills-based programmes that develop skills that increase employability.

Should these skills-focused short courses, and other forms of online learning, gain a footing, employers may consider alternative forms of qualifications. These could be based on competencies and skills-based micro-credentials, enabling graduates to be readily integrated within the workplace.

Enabling continuity of learning

In handling the challenging times of this year, institutions were resilient in their transitions online to enable continuity of learning. For fee-paying students embarking on a higher education experience, the quality of online learning may become an increasingly important factor in selection criteria. Where fully online courses render geographical distance obsolete, universities may find themselves competing internationally for prospective online students.

The unprecedented events of recent times necessitated a digital transformation of learning on a scale that would not otherwise have been seen in such a short space of time. As institutions look to the future, they will learn from this experience and this will stand them in good stead as everyone considers the potential long-term impacts of this crisis.

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