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Future of Higher Education

5 Pandemic Lessons on How to Reach More Students in More Places

Suddenly, around the world, we were all experiencing the same learning environment, and there was an obvious learning curve. The course: How to keep teaching and learning without face-to-face experiences. 


Jennifer Mathes

CEO, Online Learning Consortium

While some were well equipped, most were not. A recent Bay View Analytics survey of STEM educators found that 73 percent of respondents converted from face-to-face to remote learning, yet more than one-third had no prior online experience. This was true across many disciplines. 

Furthermore, a study by Microsoft in 2018 estimated that about half of Americans do not have high-speed internet at home.

Helping educators

For more than 20 years, the Online Learning Consortium has served as a collaborative community of higher education leaders and innovators dedicated to advancing quality digital teaching and learning experiences designed to reach and engage learners anywhere. As such, we received a flood of inquiries for help from educators around the world.

The ways in which we saw educators and students adapt, transform, and reimagine learning strengthens our resolve and gives us hope for the future. Despite all we have endured, most faculty now have either the same or a more positive opinion about online learning and digital materials. 

We know digital technology has the power to transform the learning experience, but it also leads to challenges and opportunities that we must consider within the broader context of our goal to improve access to quality online, blended, and digital learning

In collaboration with many higher education institutions and supporting organizations, we compiled five critical calls to action to ensure we continue to move forward, and look at new and innovative ways to better support the modern learner: 

1. Continue to lead and inspire educators to seek diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)

Forced remote learning made it painfully clear that students are facing new and enhanced challenges around physical and mental health, financial ability to attend, and equitable access to technology.

2. Intentionally design online and blended learning courses to incorporate proven best practices

The idea of online and blended learning being “substandard” often has to do with courses that are not designed to incorporate appropriate technology that support the needs of learners

To support higher education institutions who are seeking best practices for advancing quality, the OLC has a free Quality Scorecard Suite available on its website that provides the necessary criteria and benchmarking tools to ensure online learning excellence for the entire institution. 

3. Ensure teachers and faculty have received adequate and appropriate professional development to support learners in an online environment 

A continuing pervasive myth is that anyone can teach online if they just learn how to use the technology. In reality, there are best practices, identified through research, on how to effectively teach students in an online or blended environment. Professional development on teaching practices is a necessity to provide a positive learning experience regardless of the modality. 

4. Expand and build partnerships with businesses and organizations 

There is a diverse talent pool of students that requires support and mentorship. These students will go on to create more diverse labor pools, which in turn will benefit the companies for which they work. Over the past five years, the likelihood that diverse companies will out-earn their industry peers has only grown, according to McKinsey & Company.

5. Better understand each student’s unique challenges and needs 

Monitor and understand students’ ability to attend class in the shifting environment, provide support and flexibility, and consider new ways to serve students.

We are encouraged to see faculty and administrators turning challenges presented by the pandemic into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to look closely at the technology and approaches available to improve access and quality for learners everywhere.

We look forward to continuing these critical conversations, and hope you join us at our OLC Innovate Conference virtually from March 28-April 1, or in person April 11-14 in Dallas as we shape the future of online, blended, and digital learning.

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