How is Virtual Learning affecting the Academic Ideals and Processes in the New Digital Learning Age?
Virtual learning is not a new concept. Since the 1800s, distance learning was used to provide quality education for those who wanted to expand their knowledge. Through radios, television, and mails, people worldwide found resources when their location or means prevented them from attending universities.
The University of Phoenix was the first college to serve online educational programs in 1989 using CompuServe. The last three decades saw the rise and popularity of online learning. By 2020, even the institutions hesitant to acknowledge the dynamic shift to virtual learning had been forced to do so.
As education-providers and students are evolving to embrace this “new normal,” let us take a look at how it would alter the future of education as we know it.
Education and Technology: An Evolving Relationship
Even before the pandemic hit, virtual learning was already on its way to being a multi-billion dollar industry. Students were already heavily reliant on the internet, from finding essay service for essay help to search engines that replace libraries.
On the other hand, schools and universities were installing smart classrooms like the Copyleaks plagiarism software to ensure authenticity. A 2019 Gallup survey noted that over 81% of teachers find it valuable to use digital learning tools in the classroom.
Within the last few years, Edtech ensures innovation in virtual learning. So what did we reap out of this trend?
The Case for Virtual Learning
The lifelike simulations can help students not only to learn in school but also to prepare for real-world scenarios. VR and AR technology can help young minds gain more confidence, and stimulate creativity.
They also help to retain information and boost their engagement during the lessons. More and more schools are taking measures to integrate VR into their curriculums.
The internet already showcases dozens of successful cases of students enjoying learning with VR. They can choose to walk on the moon or take a virtual field trip to any corner of the world.
57% of teachers believe virtual learning offers more personalized strategies for students. With the right Edtech tools, educators can find ways to cater to students at different development levels. Machine learning allows this software to continually adapt and offer smarter technology relevant to all students.
In the future, with every student having access to individualized learning, they can pick schools from any part of the world.
It goes without saying that the flexibility of time is one factor that drives online learning. It allows professionals a way to update their skills without having to quit their day-jobs.
Students can also pick an area where they need more help, such as academic writing or mathematics. Now, as they extend to schools and universities, virtual learning might soon make way for flexible school timings as well. They might get an option to attend school from their home or with other children.
New Academic Structure
With so many changes happening, it is only wise that universities invest their resources to find out how students and teachers are adapting. Southern New Hampshire University, a leading institution offering virtual learning, has a full wing dedicated to this.
The Sandbox ColLABorative is reserved for research and development. The branch explores how to implement innovative ideas to take education to the next level.
SNHU is not the only university making such efforts. Georgia Tech is also planning to launch an online module. Their program will offer diverse mentors and access to resources across the world.
This is the future where students will be subscribing rather than enrolling in schools. There is no need for campus closures or moving to dorm rooms. This will also significantly reduce financial costs.
Now, the critical question is, what about accessibility? While a virtual school might be a dream possible for many parts of the world, what about children with no devices?
That brings us to the next point.
The Case Against Virtual learning
When education suddenly lurched online, it also provided insight on what could go wrong. In the first few months of this year, educators found themselves lacking control over online learning scenarios. Over 90% of teachers from K-12 share that they were in no way prepared to teach online.
Things were not so great from the students’ perspective, either. Another Niche study pointed out that given the option to take online learning in the future, 77% would say no. Only 8% of the survey candidates were happy about the idea. So what stands against virtual learning when there are so many benefits?
The Learning Environment
The most common cause of this distaste towards online education is the lack of a college environment. When there is a group session, there is no specific eye contact between the teacher and the students. Moreover, there are too many distractions to address, on your laptop, as well as outside.
Lack of Social Interactions
Yes, some programs might encourage discussions among students. But it can in no way be matched with how one would interact in a land-based school.
Even when students are allocated projects, it might not always be possible for them to come together and work on them. Given that the virtual learning model allows for location flexibility, the students could be from any part of the world.
In essence, if completely transformed into e-Learning, the participants are likely to be more isolated. However, tools like the Canvas integration with Copyleaks plagiarism checker can help bring such student populations together and work collaboratively.
Not Enough Room for Participation
When there are over 10 or 30 students in a classroom, it will be significantly challenging for everyone to get the teacher’s attention.
Though the professor might not know your name even while in college, there would still be plenty of circumstances for you to interact with other students and participate in the events.
Reduced Return of Investment
Another major complaint from students is that online education is not what they paid for. International students comprise 5.5% of the student population in the US. They do not choose schools merely based on the quality of education and the quality of life and access to resources. Online education cannot always fulfill these requirements.
It is no surprise that students from the University of Chicago demanded a reduction in their tuition fees during the pandemic. In the future, when universities develop exclusive online-based education models, this might also lead to a significant decrease in their enrollment rates. Students might choose to prefer land-based schools rather than sit at home and get a degree.
On the other hand, the reduction in financial costs might also entice others to choose college previously out of their reach.
The Accessibility Issue
While many might argue that online education is more accessible, the shift during the pandemic might prove otherwise. According to a UNICEF report, a third of the world’s children are unable to access remote learning. Before you think of it, one in four students in the UK and many US communities also face the same issues.
The reasons are apparent. There is a wide absence of home-based technology and tools required for remote learning. The data from 100 countries include not only access to computers and broadband internet but also television and radio.
Responsibilities for Edtech Providers
It looks like edtech developers and policymakers will have to work hand-in-hand. They need to address the broad issues and disparities in virtual learning.
Schools and universities need more resources and support to understand whether e-learning is the right approach for them. On the other hand, edtech developers have to work at narrowing their attainment gap.
As we continue to take guesses on how the post-COVID-19 world will look like, technology is undoubtedly going to take the front seat. Online training and accessibility have played an unprecedented role in ensuring the safety of the world.
While some adapted comfortably to the changes, others did not. But it looks like the latter will have no other choice but to adjust. It is too late to pull back what technology has contributed to the education sector. It is empowering educators and students from the pre-K level through Ph.D.
Smarter technology will evolve that works for everyone. It should eradicate the notions of culture, gender, race, socio-economic disparities, and physical abilities. The new age of virtual learning has limitless possibilities.