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Online Learning: Temporary Fix or Permanent Shift? (Part 2)

In the first part of this blog published last week, we highlighted some survey results about attitudes to online learning, and in particular the willingness of students to study online in the short term.

Part II of this post reflects on the longer-term impacts of coronavirus on the way we learn.


An Enduring Impact

You might be forgiven for thinking that online learning is a temporary fix, a short-term solution until things return to ‘normal’. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think the pandemic will have an enduring impact on the business of education that goes well beyond the current crisis.


Why?

Firstly, the coronavirus has greatly accelerated awareness of the online mode of delivery among students (and parents). Those among us who have had the pleasure of home-schooling in recent months are now much more aware of the strengths and weaknesses of various online platforms. If you’re like me, you’d curse each morning as you try to find the right place to upload your child’s homework, remember passwords, or switch between various platforms.


Secondly, the coronavirus has forced institutions to act – rapidly – to dust off their digital offerings. Early adopters, who have already invested in dedicated platforms and who have mainstreamed digital engagement into their strategic future are looking pretty good right now. Many others have been scrambling, doing their best to cope with this black swan event. How many institutions will now be completely rethinking their digital capabilities in the coming years? This will become a competitive advantage in future, and open up new possibilities for Transnational Education (TNE) delivery.


Thirdly, the coronavirus will accelerate investment and development of the next generation of edtech solutions to support online learning, and to vastly improve the learning experience. Think far more interactive learning platforms, and personalised learning, including through AI. Cast your mind back to the first online newspapers in the late 1990s – no interactivity, basically just a softcopy of your favourite broadsheet. Compare that to online news sites today. I think we’re going to see the same massive improvements with online education.


The coronavirus is accelerating a trend towards online learning that was already happening. And while 100% online learning may not be preferred by many as a standard mode of delivery for some time to come, I believe that blended learning will become more much popular in the short-medium term.


What’s in a definition?


Until now, I have used the term online learning as a catch all, covering all forms of e-learning, included blended learning. This is somewhat lazy, as I see the two as different. Blended has both an offline and online component, whereas online may be delivered without any offline engagement. Even within 100% online there are plenty of variations: live versus pre-recorded, live tutorials and group chats versus self-study.


The Future is Blended


So here’s my prediction: blended learning will become the preferred mode of learning around the world in future, including in Vietnam. As technology improves, and as we become familiar with the advantages that online learning offers, we will embrace it.

In future , we will find it quaint that 1000 students once came to a large lecture theatre at a set time each week to listen (not interact) to a lecturer deliver the same lecture she had delivered dozens of times previously. Much in the way we now view landlines in the age of smart phones.


As we have seen in the survey responses in Part I of this blog, offline learning (particularly the social and applied learning aspects) will continue to be an essential part of the education offering for many students and institutions. But we will take the best that technology has to offer and combine it with the offline bits that we still value.


It will take time, but the coronavirus crisis is rapidly accelerating the (long overdue?) integration of technology into education.

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