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Online Learning

How COVID-19 Created Opportunities for Teachers and Students

There's no doubt that the pandemic caused incredible upheaval in higher education — but the positive impacts of that disruption are significant. Here's how the shift to online learning will benefit both faculty and students moving forward.

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While the global COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally impacted industries around the world – especially in the ways they reacted to the unprecedented upheaval caused by these catastrophic conditions. Yet a number of opportunities in the education sector have been revealed amidst the hardships of what was for many a quick and chaotic transition to a destination well outside their comfort zone.

Educators and learning institutions that have embraced this change as an opportunity for growth and exploration are those who have been able to position themselves to best meet the current and future needs of students. While technological progression in education was always going to happen, the pandemic truly sped up the inevitable – demanding both an acceptance of this requirement and adaptation to digital barriers on a timeline much more expedited that it ever would have normally been.

Online learning has required teachers to embrace technology in ways that they may have never experienced before, just as it has demanded a new degree of focus and effort from students forced to continue their studies in a remote environment. The opportunities presented in the wake of COVID-19 have led to the establishment of this mode of educational instruction as a viable option for far more students than before, and the acceleration of remote learning will have tremendous benefits for both teachers and students in the years to come.

Shifting Faculty Roles

Faculty teaching on platforms such as Zoom are now in direct competition with the internet, instant messaging and social media as students look at them through computer screens. As a result, teachers now have to find ways to maintain students' attention with unlimited potential distractions on their students' laptops, tablets or phones. They have had to adapt their teaching strategies and practices to draw students in, keep them interested and maintain interaction through diverse activities in the online instruction of classes. Challenging the established cookie-cutter approach to curriculum, this requires a broader range of skills and the capacity for adaptation and experimentation while learning is taking place.

Changes in the established methods of interaction between teachers and students require new approaches as classes cannot be facilitated in a videoconference or digital setting in the same way that they have been in a physical, in-person format. Successful faculty in this "new normal" are more than likely those who have adopted technology as a support mechanism for student engagement. By and large, teachers have answered this call, showing interest in learning and trying out new tech tools that have a lasting impact. Utilizing online activities, collaborative discussions, interactive polling and screencasts to connect with students has been essential for sustained engagement throughout this uncertain time.

A wise man once said that in the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity, and the disruption brought on by the pandemic has led to opportunities for teachers to rethink how they perform their roles and to try new approaches to what they may have been doing the same way for years. When forced to do their job differently, faculty in many cases have reinvigorated their passion for the job. This drive toward creativity has sparked a significant shift within the world of education from a pre- and post-pandemic viewpoint, and educators should be prepared for a student body that is now more comfortable with remote learning. The demand for the flexibility that accompanies remote learning is likely to rise, and teachers will need to hone their skills as remote educators to allow their institutions to maintain a competitive advantage in the market.

Opportunities for Student Growth

For many students, the unique benefits and challenges of learning online have become quite evident since the Spring of 2020. Focus during online learning requires discipline, and susceptibility to distraction and procrastination can lead to severe consequences as one pursues academic goals. While the physical act of getting to class may be far easier in an environment where students must simply log on to their computer rather than commute, the constant connection to technology, the isolation of no longer attending classes with peers or friends, and the struggle of living, working and learning in the same home environment undeniably pose new difficulties for learners. Throughout the pandemic, students have had to mentally prepare themselves to be present and active participants or risk falling behind and putting their academic careers at risk.

Prioritizing education over the obstacles of fear, loss, confusion and anguish brought on by the past year is an accomplishment for any student. For many, this success has required taking greater initiative to speak up, reach out and ask for help. The new modality of online learning may have made pathways to support more difficult to find, and those who have persevered have enhanced their own resilience, which will continue to be an asset to them throughout their lives.

Remote participation in anything is a skillset in and of itself, and students who may have previously operated under the mindset that "I can't do online" have now had to "do online" out of necessity. In doing so, they have embraced the growth mindset that showcases a willingness to adjust while still succeeding. In effect, students are building skills that more closely reflect the needs of a 21st century job market, and the mastery of these skills makes them more marketable for future employers. Determination, adaptability and resourcefulness are desirable attributes in every conceivable profession. 

A Sustained Change in Perception

The collective response of the education sector to the conditions created by COVID-19 has been one of overcoming adversity. Newfound levels of respect for the versatility of educators has rightfully developed amongst the public, and the value of remote learning has grown substantially in the eyes of many who had previously dismissed it as a lesser-than learning experience. Both of these changes are likely to contribute to a paradigm shift regarding how education can be effectively delivered, and both teachers and institutions bear the responsibility of capitalizing on these changing mindsets to better meet the needs of tomorrow's students at every level.

As the forced exposure to online learning has likely convinced many of the viability of this instructional option, the prevalence of this learning modality is almost certainly going to increase in a post-pandemic world. Though in-person classes will inevitably return sometime in the near future, the confidence and comfort of educators and students in online learning has risen, and the industry must now adapt. In all likelihood, remote learning was always the future. For those in the know, the developing trends highlighting that the convenience it offers would eventually win out over the potential obstacles was writing on the wall. As digital natives advance in age and technology continues to see greater integration into the development of young children, remote learning could be the preferred choice of students within a generation, and the pandemic has only served to more rapidly advance that evolution. Now, more than ever before, there is a willingness for universities to invest more in technology because it is a staple of this future model.

COVID-19 has proven to be a direct catalyst for what was almost certainly an inevitable shift toward the increased attractiveness of remote learning. As educators adjust their approaches and students hone valuable skills, the sector is preparing for a new normal and benefiting from the innovation that it has inspired. As a number of challenges remain on the horizon (such as tackling issues of accessibility and equity in a technology-dependent future), professionals at every level can address these challenges with clearer vision, greater confidence and increased support from both within and outside of the industry.

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