Virtual Learning Environments During COVID-19
Responses from Anant Agarwal, CEO and founder of edX.
Following the shift to virtual learning environments during COVID-19, what does the future hold for classroom-based learning and the technology that plays a role in providing instruction?
During this pandemic, much of the world has transitioned to remote learning, demonstrating the rapid evolution of the education landscape. While a new concept to some, here at edX, a nonprofit online learning platform, we’ve seen a shift towards education technology platforms even before the pandemic started, and we predict virtual learning will continue to gain momentum, as learners and educators everywhere realize its wide array of benefits, whether in unusual circumstances like these, or in normal times.
With the aid of technology and the creation of these learning platforms, we aim to shift the mindset to a lifelong, modular approach rather than the typical, stove piped two- six-year trajectory for a degree. When we founded edX, we did so with the mission to make high-quality education more accessible to more people by eliminating barriers like cost, location, and time.
An invaluable benefit of this platform has been to facilitate engagement with our learners on their own time – providing real-time interactions, lessons, and collaboration between these students and their instructors and peers.
Online learning platforms like edX enable quality learning through video distribution, assessments with instant feedback, and social networks that promote stimulating discussions – all occurring at scale and easily accessible by the masses who choose to use them. If there’s one major benefit, simply put, it’s the efficiency that virtual learning platforms have created.
Will more schools embrace distance learning once we’re beyond the pandemic, and if so, what will that look like?
We think that the adoption of distance or online learning will happen faster as a result of the pandemic, as both learners and educators begin to see the many benefits associated with this method. While a few universities will still go back to purely traditional approaches, we predict many will start to adopt and deploy the use of omnichannel learning or blended learning, where campus students will routinely use both online and in-person learning.
Universities will also begin to adopt stackable, modular credentials as building blocks to a full degree. These credentials will allow learners to quickly build transferrable, in-demand skills needed to keep up with the digital transformation that has caused a major skills gap in today’s workforce.
Universities will also begin to leverage one of the most important contributions of technology for education – the network effect. Universities will begin to share modular content with each other and build upon each other’s work. edX’s recently launched, edX Online Campus, which will help universities in this endeavor.
Will some educational entities move beyond physical classrooms all together?
I am currently a professor at MIT and was once a college student in a traditional setting, so I think it is important to recognize the value of a physical classroom setting. However, I think that education institutions are realizing that they need to offer a mixture of in-person, blended, and fully online learning experiences so that they can appeal to every type of potential student. Much like retail shopping, education will also go omnichannel. The current situation will only accelerate this trend both for retail as well as education. While in-person learning has been the norm for centuries, we can no longer take a one-size fits all approach, and instead we need to offer more flexible learning options to students to ensure everyone has the same ability to receive a quality education.