There has been a great deal of chatter around whether universities should completely transform into online campuses, post Covid-19. The answer is an emphatic no. Students grow when surrounded by like-minded people, actively communicating in-person with their fellow students, for example once they have understood how to solve a subject matter challenge. The benefits of face-to-face interaction cannot be replaced with distance learning.
It is, however, vital for universities to understand that their educational structure must now include online learning, accessible both inside and outside of dedicated university learning areas. Such a transformation will not only include increasing the number of online modules, but also shifting from traditional classroom and lecture halls to subject-specific campus learning spaces. This may theoretically lead to improved resources and reduced workloads for all participants.
Students can arrive, choose the subject or challenge they want to work on, engage and learn — all at their own pace and in a collaborative environment. Professors and instructors will remain subject matter experts while becoming coaches to students, rather than facilitators. For many subjects we are likely to still see professors and assistants setting up engaging live learning sessions. We also foresee highly interactive virtual reality (VR) offerings being added to the mix.
A well-designed e-learning module would ideally be inclusive, taking into consideration possible accessibility needs such as vision and hearing impairment, dyslexia and color blindness. Once the user has entered the online session, they can, for example, set up background color, font style, size and color, to fulfil their individual learning needs.
Further, a high-quality module may be capable of catering to all students, no matter what their current level is. Modules can be designed using adaptive learning solutions. Depending on the student’s e-learning footprint, the module will change the learning path based on need. If the student shows less knowledge in a specific area, they will receive more support and less advanced knowledge checks than students that show advanced subject matter expertise. Hence, e-learning may finally solve the difficulty of catering to a heterogenic class. From the faculty’s perspective, e-learning tools may provide precise and clear feedback on how a student is engaging with certain learning materials.
In this blended learning approach professors and instructors experience a reduced workload, allowing them to use their skills to support students more than before. Less hours spent on administrative tasks and lesson design means more time spent engaging with each student at an individual level. It is this combination of customized online content and resource management that will allow staff to drive universities into the future.
This brings us back to the basic goal of education – to create the best learning environment for students. When institutions have established online learning platforms, it will be easier and more cost efficient to invite guest lecturers to conduct classes remotely, including live discussions. Universities may have the ability to invite prominent scholars from anywhere in the world.
Investing in such capabilities over the coming months seems to be a timely investment – for universities, staff and students. Over the summer months, staff could be trained for such an online format. In addition, universities could also explore and test new technologies to meet their needs, such as simulation software to mimic a lab experience or accessibility options to better serve students with disabilities, and make decisions as to which learning platforms they want to leverage in the future.