Over the past few weeks, schools and universities across the nation have shut their doors and have transitioned to online/virtual classrooms. Students and educators – many with no prior online learning experience – are suddenly forced to implement and adapt technology into their regular teaching and learning routines. Experts are questioning if the end to the COVID-19 pandemic will also signal a return to the traditional classroom, or has the meaning of “classroom” been permanently altered? The traditional definition of “classroom” – a room where learning takes place – is no longer simply associated with desks, chairs, a white board, a teacher, and pupils. Technology platforms such as Zoom have allowed a bedroom, a couch, a backyard, or a dining room table to become students’ new place of learning. Although teachers and students should certainly be applauded for the rapid transition to remote learning, the crucial question is whether the online learning model is a sustainable and viable replacement for the traditional schooling system?
In a recent study, conducted by Eduventures in December 2019, 61% of college-bound high school students with online learning experience said they prefer to take all college courses on campus. While 22% of surveyors with online learning experience said they prefer to take some online college classes, less than 1% of surveyors said they prefer a fully online experience. (1) The data seems to point to the fact that although remote learning is deemed as an invaluable system to mitigate the global pandemic’s disruption on academic progress, it does not seem to be a feasible replacement of traditional education, which also tends to foster personal development and interpersonal skills. However, as students and teachers become more comfortable with the digital format, it is likely to become an important supplement to traditional learning across all educational institutions, allowing for greater flexibility in addressing students’ academic, financial, health, and personal needs. For example, middle schools and high schools could start offering more online courses to augment learning for advanced students as well as provide more tools and tutorials for assisting struggling students. Colleges can use online classes to expand enrollments for essential prerequisite classes, thereby increasing the percentage of students that graduate on time while alleviating some of the financial burden of students.
Further, the inequalities in America’s education system have been reemphasized by the COVID-19 pandemic as schools and universities scramble to provide internet access and computer devices for all of its students. The pandemic will help accelerate the implementation of infrastructure for distance learning across the industry. It will provide a strong foundation for education technology companies to build on and will allow them to integrate remote learning as a supplemental tool to traditional classroom schooling.