The Future of Education is Online

Man sitting at desk holding book looking at computer

Times of crisis are frightening, but they can also force society to examine its inadequacies and experiment with new ideas, such as online education.

During the Great Depression, public schools were hurt badly due to massive budget cuts and plummeting tax revenues. At the time, education was still a privilege enjoyed mostly by the elite. When Franklin D. Roosevelt put forth the New Deal, he and his advisors decided to take a radical approach to education funding: They refused direct funding to schools and universities and instead aided poor students through the creation of new government agencies.

As a result, the government discovered that illiteracy and undereducation were widespread in America. Many of the New Deal’s agencies, such as the National Youth Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps, began teaching literacy and other basic subjects alongside the technical training that was their mission. Although these programs were only temporary, they laid the foundation for the public education standards we’re familiar with today.1 

In 2020, we’re experiencing another period of upheaval due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In just two weeks, the coronavirus led to the closure of over 124,000 school buildings across the country, leaving over 55 million children out of the classroom.2 Millions of educators were forced to scramble and move their lessons online so their students wouldn’t experience gaps in their educations.

College campuses and other institutions of higher learning followed suit. Many college students are now learning from home rather than on-campus. And it’s safe to assume that many are anxiously waiting for a time when things will return to “normal.”

But the pandemic has also forced us to do a serious examination of how we educate ourselves. It’s become clear that many of the costs associated with education may not be necessary, and much of what we learn — especially as adults — may not require us to physically visit a classroom.

Here’s what you need to know about the future of online education, as well as how it will change the way people learn.

A Shift in Higher Education and Lifelong Learning

The reality is that there may never be a return to “normal,” at least not when it comes to adult education. Now that so many adult learners have switched to online learning, they’re beginning to question whether they need to be on campus and in-person to learn in the first place.

 Naturally, the cost is a key concern when it comes to adult education. The total student loan debt in 2020 stands at about $1.56 trillion, and it has practically defined the millennial generation.3 The Federal Reserve reported that as many as 400,000 young people could have owned a home by 2014 if it weren’t for their student loan debt.4 

The yearly tuition and fees associated with attending a public four-year college as an in-state student are $9,410 on average.5 With room and board, it can cost even more. Much of this cost is attributable to attending classes in-person, making use of school facilities, and taking advantage of school resources like health centers and writing centers.

Moving forward, many adult learners may prefer to skip “the college experience” altogether and instead focus on learning the skills they need to thrive professionally. Although they may access these courses through colleges, online skills training will become an essential tool for furthering their education as professionals.

Students and Educators Must Adjust to the Change

To adjust to online education, both students and instructors will need better access to high-speed internet and high-quality technology. Mobile networks, wireless internet, and cloud technology are already widely available throughout the country, but there are gaps in certain areas.

For example, rural areas don’t always have access to broadband internet. Some areas can only access the internet via satellite, which doesn’t always provide a reliable connection. Learning organizations and educational institutions, as well as public entities, will need to invest in IT infrastructure to facilitate accessible online learning from anywhere in the country.

Our educational infrastructure needs to change, as well. Although educators did an admirable job adjusting to online learning due to the pandemic, they weren’t given enough time to prepare or learn best practices. There needs to be a more standardized approach to delivering education online, and there’s no better way to set such standards than to look to online education platforms that have already been successful in the past.

We’ll also need to address the learning curve. Although young people tend to be tech-savvy, most people aren’t yet accustomed to learning online.

Instructors must be trained to deliver lectures and relay information online, rather than only in-person. New software that helps to mimic the traditional classroom experience could help both students and educators better acquaint themselves with online learning and could become standard itself.

Technologies like augmented reality and even virtual reality could transform the way lessons are delivered online by allowing for more hands-on experiences. For adult professional learners, these technologies will be essential for learning trades and technical skills online.

There are obvious concerns about moving education online. Some students may not learn as well online as they do in-person. During the pandemic, many college students have felt that their online education courses aren’t as valuable as in-person classes.6 

Educational technology must become more accessible if the future of online education is going to be advantageous for everyone.

What Lifelong Learners Should Look for in Their Online Education

When looking for online education opportunities, lifelong learners should search for courses they can study using the tools they already have access to, such as laptops, webcams, and high-speed internet. Currently, most online education courses are either synchronous, which involves learning at the same time as others, or asynchronous, which consists of learning at your own pace. Choose the option that best suits your lifestyle.

If you’re pursuing continuing education to improve your job prospects, focus on courses that can provide in-demand skills in your field.

For example, even if you have a background in computer science, taking courses in cybersecurity might be just what you need to move into a high demand profession. If you’re ready to learn something cutting edge, you could break into the world of blockchain by enrolling in online courses and completing them on your own time.

A New Horizon in Education

The pandemic has changed the way we learn, conduct business, and interact with each other. Although some aspects of our lives may eventually revert to the way they were, others will never be the same.

As experts in the field of online education, EmergingEd is well-placed to recognize emerging trends in technology and lifelong learning. If you’re looking to take the next step in your career, learn through a platform with decades of experience in online education.


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