Hundreds of millions of educators and learners around the world have had to make a sudden shift to remote learning in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. The education community as a whole has worked tirelessly to make this transition possible within a severely compressed time frame. But the question now is, how will this emergency immersion into online teaching and learning affect the outlook for education once the pandemic subsides?
Working off the trends we have seen emerging in the last month, I believe the next wave of online courses will be a lot more dynamic than we have ever seen before. Now that the initial, hurried scramble to take classes online is complete, educators are investing significantly in discovering new, innovative ways to engage their learners. We have noted a 1000% year-on-year increase in the readership of content focusing on ‘motivating online learners’ and we have clocked 50,000 hours of digital teaching professional development. Additionally, we have seen a 600% year-over-year increase in the installation of lab simulation tools and a total of 366,646 files have been improved for accessibility.
Here, in the Middle East, the data tells a similar story — educators are looking to build the next generation of online courses. For instance, higher education institutions in the region are investing heavily in scaling up accessibility, there has been a marked increase in online communication and feedback channels, and new tools are constantly being implemented and leveraged to improve the overall quality of teaching and learning.
Here are some of the ways I predict the COVID-19 pandemic will change the future of education in the Middle East and beyond.
1. Blended learning will increase dramatically
Many institutions were already experimenting with varying degrees of digital teaching and learning before the pandemic. Still, institutions will return from COVID-19 with a widely shared understanding that digital tools can be highly complementary to face-to-face learning, and that teaching and learning with asynchronous and synchronous platforms can yield significant benefits when layered in with face-to-face instruction.
This hybrid model of in-person lessons and distance learning, known as blended learning, will become one of the key models for post-pandemic pedagogy. It facilitates flexibility, increases accessibility, allows faculty to track and improve student engagement, boosts student retention, enhances communication as well as peer support, enables personalisation and competency-based learning, and can be cost effective while scaling up efficiency.
2. Faculty development will focus on technical fluency
There are two complimentary approaches to online teaching and learning: one is to build a robust infrastructure of relevant platforms and technologies, and the other is to invest in faculty development and support. One of the greatest challenges in the abrupt transition to fully remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic was the lack of fluency in the tools of teaching online.
When they come back after COVID-19, many institutions will likely take stock of the faculty developments processes they have in place. The role of faculty is to engage students with the course and to guide their learning regardless of the teaching modality. Investing in technology in and of itself is never enough — it has to accomplish certain pedagogical objectives and for this educators need access to continuous professional development opportunities. So after the pandemic, institutions will need to invest in teacher training and might also invest in creating centralised units to support faculty development efforts.
3. Courses will be designed for online teaching
In the rush to take them online, many courses were quickly ‘built’ to mimic or retrofit them to face-to-face sessions. This approach does not necessarily maximise the many possibilities presented by digital teaching and learning. A much more productive approach is to start with the question, ‘What do my students need to learn?’ and tailor course delivery activities, and assessment methods to this line of thinking accordingly
After the pandemic, courses will likely be designed and even remediated to better suit digital learning. In general, courses need regular revamping to stay abreast of the latest academic research and to properly leverage the latest innovations in education technology. Evaluation and assessment methods will also need to be revised to become untethered from the physical location of students. Programmatic assessment, for example, takes into account multiple pieces of work and feedback and uses these as a measure of student success rather than their scores from a single exam.
4. Data-driven insights will be used to boost student engagement
Online teaching and learning tools have dramatically aided student engagement in the time of COVID-19, and these will continue to be leveraged to drive learner interest and active participation well beyond the pandemic. In addition to significantly boosting interactivity and collaboration between students, these tools can also provide learner analytics.
Data-driven insights enable new ways to engage students, increase enrolment and improve retention and completion rates. It can identify at-risk students, optimise assessments, promote reflection and self-regulated learning, establish feedback loops and even boost faculty development. Upon return, educational institutions will increasingly use data and learner analytics as a base for making strategic decisions and to boost overall student enrolment, engagement and retention.
While day-to-day life will perhaps return to ‘normal’ at some point, for education, there will have to be a new ‘normal.’ Learners will now expect to be able to seamlessly switch between in-person and virtual formats, particularly in times of crisis. And they will continue to expect the quality education they have paid for — one that will best prepare them for the next stage of their lives.
Educational institutions, too, now recognize online education as pivotal to institutional resilience and academic continuity. Digital teaching and learning have become a strategic priority at almost every school and university.
This shift in strategic thinking is gaining ground in the Middle East. Efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 have increased the reach and acceptance of online education in the region, and institutions are now making plans to incorporate digital tools into their courses permanently. The region’s ministries of education, meanwhile, are encouraging schools and universities to embrace hybrid models, particularly as they consider the possibility of extending distance learning into the next academic year.
How do you think COVID-19 will change the future of education? Share your thoughts on Twitter and tag @BlackboardMEA.