Every industry suffered the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: the healthcare industry was short-staffed, and the government shut school doors.
Yet, in all this, we began redefining how and where we learn. We used apps to communicate with students and teachers, edit PDF documents, and improve learning.
Tech tools helped us adapt, and post-pandemic, we will keep seeking alternate learning methods to uncover the future of education.
But before going further, let us look at a brief evolution of distance learning prior to the pandemic.
A brief history of distance education
Distance learning existed in the 17th century in the form of correspondence courses delivered through the postal service in Boston, USA.
Students back then received learning instructions through the mail and responded via the same medium — but it was slow.
Due to the snail-paced postal services, it took weeks for the instructors to receive the students’ assignments.
But soon, the postal services became more efficient as newer technologies like computers and electronic mail became available.
By 1992, Pennsylvania State University pioneered the use of radio technology in learning.
And eventually, the advent of personal computers and the internet propelled the popularity of distance education.
How COVID-19 transformed distance learning
Since the times of radios and TVs, distance education has taken on different forms.
The pandemic in 2020 only made this learning format ubiquitous. So, let’s look at ways the COVID-19 crisis transformed distance learning.
Technology took center stage
The pandemic forced schools to close down, cementing the fact that online learning is the future of education.
Eventually, governments had to approve these substitute learning methods, as they couldn’t leave students at home with no way to continue learning.
Subsequently, students started using software like Zoom, PDF editors, and collaboration tools to aid learning.
These apps leveraged Gen Z’s exposure to digital tools to provide instant communication between students, teachers, and parents.
And even after schools had reopened, tech has remained at the forefront of education. More schools rely on it than on conventional teaching methods.
Eventually, technology will replace manual interactions in schools without eliminating the human factor.
Education became a trillion-dollar industry
When schools shut down, people expected academia to struggle like other industries. But, due to the adoption of EdTech, learning processes continued like clockwork.
Tech companies prioritized e-learning platforms, which schools introduced into the curriculum eventually.
Today, the education industry is worth around 7 trillion USD.
So while the pandemic reshaped the future of online education, it also boosted the financial valuation of the industry — a two for the price of one kind of deal.
The digital divide widened
Unfortunately, the future of learning does not seem to accommodate students from disenfranchised communities.
Unlike their peers from privileged homes, disenfranchised students lack access to basic amenities like stable internet connectivity and digital tools.
To make matters worse, this digital divide harms the mental health of students. When kids know that they can’t afford the quality of education their peers do, they can develop anxiety and low self-esteem.
And judging from increasing dropout rates, the gap continues to widen even after the pandemic subsides.
Learning space became flipped
The ideal classroom of the future relies on the flipped learning format.
How does it work?
Traditional learning methods involved teachers passing knowledge to their students in the school and giving them homework.
But under the flipped learning format, teachers assign schoolwork for students to complete at home, which they discussed in the class eventually.
Not only that, the pandemic allowed the use of podcasts, videos, and other methods to deliver learning content to students at home.
As a result, learners can develop critical thinking skills and become independent problem solvers.
Economic success relied on students’ education
Education is a vital aspect of economic development; a balanced educational system promotes productivity and reduces the poverty level of every society.
Since the pandemic caused a global economic decline, the economy’s fate relied on the educated populace.
Healthcare professionals, economists, and scientists helped revive the economy from the worldwide turmoil.
This is not to disregard the efforts of other “non-professional” essential workers out there; they also contributed to bringing the global economy back to full speed.
Nevertheless, the entire ordeal reaffirmed our belief in the future of higher education as companies now offer higher wages to employees based on academic qualifications.
Collaboration became a core skill for employment
The pandemic came with a need to change how we handle everyday activities, including work and school.
Futuristic education had to find ways to replicate in-person social interactions digitally, which was a struggle during the pandemic.
To this end, collaboration software filled the app stores as developers saw the communication gap and sought to bridge it.
Also, since many schools couldn’t have teachers in their buildings, they encouraged teaching from home, which requires collaboration between parents, students, and teachers.
For students, the lack of constant social interaction forced them to adopt various platforms to keep in touch with their mates.
As a result, recruiters now prioritize job candidates who can use collaboration tools and work in diverse groups.
Distance education now focuses on navigating future global issues
Educators have seen that the future education system needs refinement, so they introduced AI and data analysis.
Today, the ideal learning space is a futuristic classroom that aids cognitive learning and collaboration.
Due to the success of distance learning in keeping students in school, institutions can no longer rely on traditional learning methods.
This future education will help us create a world where communication and collaboration are uninhibited, giving us the upper hand in global crises.
And most importantly, modern distance education provides equal learning opportunities to students worldwide regardless of distance.
Several opportunities appeared for significant advances in distance education
Tools like Zoom and Hangout introduced web conferencing for collaboration between students. Likewise, other opportunities like mobile learning and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) surfaced to supplement distance education.
From the success of these tools, distance education enthusiasts are proposing integrations with face-to-face learning in a hybrid approach. Others are looking into improving the interaction between pedagogy and tech.
Finally, these advancements point to a world where the future teacher must be familiar with AI to help students with their first future education.
Distance learning is the only way forward for the education industry after the earth-shattering global crisis of 2020. And since most institutions are adopting this learning format, there is no way back.
We’ve all witnessed what the world would look like during a pandemic. So, let’s anticipate future crises by adopting alternative learning formats.