How will the COVID-19 pandemic change the future of teaching and learning? To answer this question, we must first recognize some difficult truths.
At this point, we do not know to what extent COVID-19 will cause a certain proportion of colleges and universities to close or merge. The most vulnerable institutions dependent on tuition fees, especially those already facing declining demand due to demographics, will be hardest hit by the pandemic.
For the vast majority of colleges and universities that survive COVID-19, most are likely to see declining revenues and rising costs. We hope schools will prioritize their staff as budgets are reduced. We learned from the 2008 recession that relying on layoffs to balance university budgets is the fastest way to kill innovation, risk-taking, and morale.
The future of higher education that COVID-19 will give us is not entirely bleak, however. If we look far enough and carefully enough into our post-pandemic post-secondary landscape, we can glimpse some reason for optimism. Nowhere is the future of higher education post-COVID-19 more positive or exciting than in the area of teaching and learning.
I will share three predictions for how our post-pandemic pedagogy will be altered in the higher education ecosystem.
Prediction #1: Blended learning will dramatically increase
The distance teaching and learning efforts that all of our faculty and students are now engaged in are unlike what we think of as traditional online education. Quality e-learning programs are high-input operations, requiring both time to develop and significant investments to operate. Many of us fear that the rapid shift to remote learning will tarnish the reputation of online education.
This does not mean, however, that the shift to universal distance education necessitated by COVID-19 will be entirely bad for student learning. The greatest future benefits of virtual teaching will come after our faculty and students return to their physical classrooms.
The need to teach and learn with asynchronous (Canvas, Blackboard, D2L) and synchronous (Zoom) platforms will bring significant benefits when these methods are layered over face-to-face teaching. We will come back from COVID-19 with a much more widely shared understanding that digital tools are complements, not substitutes, for the intimacy and immediacy of face-to-face learning. Residential courses will be better for the practice that professors have received by moving content online, as valuable classroom time will be used more productively for discussion, debate, and guided practice.
Prediction #2: Online education will be a strategic priority at every institution
Very few colleges and universities were doing absolutely nothing with online education before COVID-19. There was, however, wide variation in the extent to which online education was central to an institution’s strategic planning.
This will all change after COVID-19. Going forward, every president, provost, dean, and trustee will understand that online education is not just a potential source of new revenue. Instead, online education will be recognized as central to each school’s plan for institutional resilience and academic continuity.
This post-pandemic understanding will change how schools plan, manage and fund online education. The days when individual schools within a university can go their own way with online education will be over.
The previously decentralized and distributed online course development and student support functions will be centralized, subject to institutional planning and cross-campus governance. Online learning management will be integrated into existing university governance structures and processes.
Prediction #3: Existing and potential OPM partnerships will be redesigned
If there’s one important thing COVID-19 has taught us, it’s that it’s a mistake to outsource basic educational capabilities. Teaching and learning are core capabilities of every higher education institution.
Schools that have invested in their learning design resources, both by hiring instructional designers and by reorganizing campus learning organizations into integrated units, have been able to manage the transition to teaching relatively effectively and distance learning required by COVID-19. We suspect schools that rely on online program management providers to run programs online have had a harder time making this transition. (Although in all fairness, the research to support or contradict this hypothesis has yet to be done.)
This is not to say that in the future schools will or should stop partnering with OPMs. As the OPM model continues to decouple, the scale and intensity of university/corporate partnerships will likely increase. OPMs have expertise in market research and digital marketing for online programs that few schools can, or even should, attempt to replicate.
What will increasingly happen is that the instructional design capabilities of the campus will be centralized and augmented. Schools will move away from all-inclusive revenue sharing models to partner with OPMs in the development and delivery of online programs.
How do you think COVID-19 will change the future of teaching and learning?