Colleges Shifting to Online Courses Amid a Health Crisis: Is it mainstream adoption or a crisis tool?

Kiosk does a lot of work with universities and colleges with their distance and online learning offerings. Now that hundreds of thousands of professors and students have been thrown into the academic cyberspace for the first time, we are witnessing a change in online learning that will forever alter our educational landscape. We will gain a significant amount of feedback and data from the market to measure the progress. Will it have a positive impact? We looked at a few different perspectives in the early stages of adoption.

Goldie Blumenstyk from The Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that the coronavirus could be a “black swan” moment — “more of a catalyst for online education and other ed-tech tools than decades of punditry and self-serving corporate exhortations.” She continued, “It seems safe to say that this will be not only enormously disruptive but also paradigm-changing. The ‘black swan,’ that unforeseen event that changes everything, is upon us.”

Kevin Carey from The New York Times shares in a recent article that not all universities and colleges are ready for the paradigm shift. One of the most evident challenges is that access (to the digital infrastructure required to take a course online) isn’t evenly distributed to all students. According to the article, roughly 20 percent of students have trouble with basic technology needs. “Their data plans are capped, their computers break, or their connections fail. Those with technology challenges are disproportionately low-income and students of color, who are also more vulnerable to dropping out.”

According to Elliot Levine from EdTech, “For the past several years, many of these [higher education] institutions have somewhat begrudgingly embraced the idea of rolling out online education programs, mainly because they must in order to survive and meet the expectations of students today.” Now that reality is at the forefront of discussion amongst every education institution in America today.

As with any type of major shift or change, there will be “fixed mindset” resistors who point to the failures from hastily propped courses that were poorly implemented as “proof” that online education doesn’t work. On the other side, there will be far more people who have a “growth mindset” that look at the incredible amount of new data available about online curriculum development, student interactions, projects, and participation and see positives within the widespread experimentation. One thing for certain, we will have learnings from the failures and successes that can be applied to building a brighter future for online learning. 

With so much uncertainty and an evolving situation, a national health crisis could be the tipping point to further push online learning into the mainstream. Through the massive adoption of students and professors around the world, universities and colleges may also find that moving online quickly when needed is a great response in a world where global emergencies look increasingly like the norm. Either way, it’s a learning experience that needs to take its course.

At Kiosk, we are actively analyzing the economic and social impact of this moment to provide universities and colleges insight into what’s working and better ways to connect with prospective students in this new environment.   

What is your prediction for the future of online and distance learning post-pandemic?