How has COVID-19 changed the education system?

Conventional, brick-and-mortar educational institutions and online learning institutes catered to very different niches. Overnight, educational institutions around the world found themselves in a state of disarray, Many were forced to make a quick transition to remote learning thereby sowing the seeds of broader change.  

Initially,the focus was on accessibility, engagement and completing the academic year. The magnitude of the covid-19 pandemic did not leave much time to delve deeper into the transition of the education system. Today, many conventional educational institutions, which focussed on in-classroom learning, have transitioned to 100 percent remote instruction. With persistent uncertainty and restrictions on opening classrooms being extended, educational institutions have been compelled to scale-up their online education efforts. Many are leveraging  best practices in a bid to stand out in the crowded online education marketplace.

In a way, this crisis is also an opportunity for the education sector to transform with attitudes and perceptions towards online education changing drastically. Based on insights from McKinsey, we’ll highlight the key trends in online higher education and the major takeaways from some of the top educational institutions.  

Making the transition

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education via online learning was growing at a steady pace. Presently, the situation is very different as the demand for distance learning has increased exponentially.  As enrollment in traditional brick-and-mortal institutions has seen a decline, the idea of learning from anywhere, at the click of a button, has found immediate appeal.

The new normal has led to educators expediting new and innovative models of learning.  As institutions are forced to take up remote-learning approaches, the competition too has increased by leaps and bounds. This competition is from traditional education institutions and others that have already existed in the online learning space. As lockdowns have forced students to learn from home, they have access to a plethora of online learning tools and platforms. For instance, Google Classroom doubled its number of users in a month’s time and Khan Academy witnessed a 20 percent increase in parent registrations.

In many ways, the pandemic has put into the spotlight the many deficiencies of the school system and exacerbated its impact manifold. This has been driven by factors like internet access, device penetration, and the overall quality of education.

Value-driven approach

The top online universities surveyed highlighted the steps required to plan and implement quality online programs in the higher education space. The success factors are as follows:

Focus on a student-oriented approach: Paul LeBlanc, president of  the Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) highlights that it is their student-advising operation that has helped them succeed.  They have built online strategies that focus on enabling students to complete their programs successfully. To achieve this, three student support mechanisms were implemented:

  • Personalized guidance and counseling 
  • Engagement with in-person and online communities
  • 24/7 IT support to enhance learning experience

Invest heavily in marketing: The biggest players in the online education space have large marketing spends, quite similar to digital-retail companies. It was discovered that institutions who had the highest market spends also had the highest market-share.  So, marketing is a critical factor in increasing enrollment. Leading institutions tend to realize that students for online education programs make decisions quicker than in-person applicants. Which is why, marketing efforts are tied in with enrollment departments in the online education space. 

Involving faculty helps with successful programs: The University of Central Florida offers its faculty stipends and time to pursue the training  required to create and launch online courses that meet a certain pedigree. In a similar vein, the Pennsylvania State University gives it faculty the credit for teaching and building online courses. The last endeavour aims to address the perception that online courses are inferior to their in-person counterparts. Certain universities also provide instructional design and course-production support to meet their students’ needs. 

The roadmap for education

Making a transition to online education is no easy task. Educational institutes have to scale the measure and scope of their online education offerings, keeping in mind the needs of students learning remotely. Perceptions towards online education have changed and educational institutes find themselves in a highly competitive market.

Conventional approaches will no longer work and faculty has to adapt to the needs of the online education medium. This has led to more innovative and value driven approaches, which is win for students in the online learning space. Intense market competition has put an emphasis on ensuring a higher degree of quality for education programs. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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