The new norm in post-secondary education?

Here we are almost mid-way through 2020, and education is going through somewhat of a renaissance. Not one that was planned per se, because to be honest, nothing much is really planned in post-secondary education, more so reacted to. It is likely the same way at institutions across the globe. The age of remote learning is upon us, and it may change the way education is delivered. Institutions of learning have been doing things the same way for decades, ever since numbers of students going to university increased in the 1970s (the number of people who went on to university was around 5% in the 1960s, rising to 15% in the 1970s, and 40-odd percent today). Nothing much has changed, except there is likely more continuous assessment, and class sizes have ballooned.

Enter a pandemic, and a re-think of how courses are delivered, in a reactionary sort of way. All of a sudden people, some of whom mocked distance education, are forced to teach remotely, and think of new ways of engaging students. And it’s hard. Lecturing is much easier, walk into a classroom, spout a bunch of material, answer a few questions. Leave. Maybe the instructor posts their notes, maybe they don’t. With remote learning the instructor has to provide much more in the way of cohesive material, or even video material. Creating cohesive material takes time, and effort, and running an online course is much more than just lecturing to a class.

There are inherent downsides. Some students likely fall through the cracks, but anyone who thinks this doesn’t happen in a normal classroom is kidding themselves. Teaching a 20-student seminar is real teaching, teaching 300 students in an auditorium? Hardly. There are a percentage of students who equate online with easier, and wake up one morning to realize this is not always the case. Remote learning is just different.

Many I’m sure are hoping things will go back to the norm, and quickly. But likely they won’t. The right decision is to continue remote learning into the fall semester, or risk a second wave of discontinuous learning. There are opportunities here as well. An opportunity to create a learning environment that is much more than large auditoriums, perhaps an opportunity to create a learning community. Maybe we could even help nurture a learning environment for students, both domestically, and internationally for students who aren’t able to attend a residential university. The world has changed, and maybe, just maybe, institutions of higher learning should take this as sign that they too should change.

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