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Have the Barriers to Disruptive Change to Our Traditional Educational Systems Been Breached?

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The impact of technology on our lives needs little mention. The effects are immediate and undeniable throughout the workings of society. Everything from basic communications with family, friends and associates to the marketing of every need, want and desire is omnipresent every day. It is difficult to imagine any process of daily living not impacted by the myriad of digital wonders lying in wait just beyond our day’s beginning. The overt acceptance of high-tech, however, has not been universal from some very important functions in our society.

Online education has certainly arrived amid traditional efforts to educate and train. EdTech is growing rapidly from a $107 billion market in 2015 to a projected $350 billion industry by 2025. Experiments in K-12 online education platforms as well as advanced education degrees have existed for more than a decade, competing with well-established public and private educational systems that are deeply founded in face-to-face, one on many environments typically located in stately structured houses. Students’ experience with the tech-revolution in these public institutions has been mostly limited to the availability of personal computers and modified lesson plans utilizing new media platforms. One analogy to how many educational traditionalists approach EdTech is akin to replacing the #2 yellow pencil with a few dazzling techy devices. Fundamental changes in how society approaches education has not been in the cards, but the ongoing pandemic and its disruptive effects on all educational systems just may be producing the long-awaited tipping point.

The coronavirus pandemic has initiated the world’s largest-ever remote learning experiment upon educational systems around the globe. Most have proven to be ill-prepared for the disruption of educational venues. At its peak in mid-April of this year, the virus caused school closures in 190 countries, impacting 90% of total enrolled learners, or almost 1.6 billion people globally. With learning processes firmly locked-up inside those stately houses, educators normally adept at utilizing traditional resources struggled to take their efforts, via virtual avenues, to the students as they remained firmly locked-up inside homes.

Teachers and school district administrators across the country are struggling to prepare for the upcoming return to school this Fall. Professionally wounded and embarrassed by an underwhelming foray into virtual classrooms, many are uncertain as to their new role as educators. Likewise, many administrators lack a clear vision as to how virtual tech will mold the future of learning. Recent authoritative studies reveal that “students tend to learn less efficiently than usual in online courses, as a rule, and depending on the course. But if they have a facilitator or mentor on hand to help with the technology and perform “blended learning” students perform about as well in many virtual classes, and sometimes better.”  Physical classrooms matter, as does extracurricular arts and sports programs which accompany traditional programs of reading, writing and arithmetic. However, the monolithic model of education is on the precipice of fundamental change.

Udemy president Darren Shimkus says, “The biggest challenge is for learners is to figure out what skills are emerging, what they can do to compete best in the global market. We’re in a world that’s changing so quickly that skills that were valued just three or four years ago are no longer relevant. People are confused and don’t know what they should be learning.” Many colleges and universities throughout the country are welcoming students back to campus this coming Fall to new hybrid models that have students performing some class work remotely and others in front of a professor. Harvard will go entirely virtual through the 2020-21 educational season. Had anyone been so brave and brazen to predict such a move just six months ago they would have suffered unparalleled insults of lunacy.

With the benefits of cost reductions, improved availability and continuity of quality the demand for more online and virtual instruction is on the rise. It is not hard to imagine that online or virtual learning is the wave of the future and will arguably, but dramatically, alter or replace land-based learning. The barriers to disruptive change to our traditional educational systems may have been breached forever.