Embraced by some, considered by others only a back-up solution during these exceptional times brought by the global pandemic — that forced many universities across the globe to carry on their activities remotely — online learning has, in fact, its pedagogical consistency and social relevance.
Now more than ever we should all discover its merits and use all its potential to reach more learners and give them access to educational programs that are vital for their development.
A little bit of history...
As it happens with many things, online education is nothing new under the sun. The current technology only offers a new (and significantly improved) support for a type of education that has been around for more than 150 years.
In 1858, the University of London created the External Program, the first distance degree in history. Since the internet had not been invented yet in the 19th century, the university used correspondence courses. They adopted a sort of an asynchronous teaching method.
In the US and Australia, distance learning was also used at a large scale at the beginning of the 20th century when the degree of urbanization was far lower than it is now. The Open Universities were already a reality in the 20th century, and with the extensive use of the internet, the MOOC phenomenon has grown exponentially over the last decade.
Nowadays, taking a Harvard class on edX (with or without certification) is a possibility for all people with an internet connection.
How to overcome the resistance to online education in Higher Ed
So why the reluctance in some contexts to adopt online education?
The main reason is still resistance to change and, in some cases, the fear that online learning will create a truly international market for higher education degrees and universities will lose their students.
However, integrating online teaching in the curriculum should not be considered only an ad-hoc solution to the current crisis, but a long-term strategy for sustainable results.
And since the most difficult thing is to change people’s behavior, these three strategies described by Jonah Berger in the Harvard Business Review might help universities persuade their faculty that online teaching is a good idea.
Highlight a gap
Let’s take online classes. If teachers have never done it, they might feel intimidated by technology and the new way of interaction with their students. Some might think it’s not effective, that it’s not the same thing as face to face classes.
Obviously, it’s not the same thing, it’s different. But different doesn’t necessarily mean worse.
Let’s imagine what not teaching at all really means. First of all, a gap year for the students — but not the gap year you might expect, the type where they can travel the work, but a gap year on the couch, doing nothing and postponing personal plans. Would you like that for them? Probably not.
... Instead of imposing measures.
Granted, the remote education solutions some universities have implemented during the last two months have been decided by managers. Some teachers had already been used some form of online learning, especially those who are familiar with a learning management system; for others, this is something completely new, hence the reluctance of moving online.
But instead of imposing something: “As of next week, our university will switch to online teaching and learning”, maybe asking questions instead of making statements will convince people to change their perspective:
- “Do you thing continuing face to face classes is a good idea?”
- “Do you think suspending this academic year is a good idea?”
Ask for less
Reduce the size of the task. It might help teachers change their mind and (hopefully) embrace online education.
At first, asynchronous methods could be used, and once people feel comfortable with this approach, synchronous strategies should be suggested.
Management should keep in mind that there is a learning curve for online education as well and that some people will need more time to adapt to this new way of teaching.
They say that nothing lasts forever. It’s true for this pandemic as well. But what we learn during this crisis might be helpful for us in the future as well. It might help us innovate and be closer to our students (even from afar).