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Online learning shift will bring positives, but adapted not replicated content is key

In a major effort to keep students on track with their studies, last month NYU Shanghai launched a digital teaching and learning program to deliver 293 courses using state-of-the-art digital tools to engage students and encourage live feedback and interaction.

Gayle Allard, professor of Economics at IE University, giving a masterclass on the macroeconomic impact of coronavirus. Photo: IE

"The quality of global education will have taken a significant step forward"

“It typically takes months to launch really high quality online learning programs”

According to NYU Shanghai, more than 1,000 students and faculty successfully participated in the first week of the program, from as far away as Brazil, India, the US, and as close by as the university’s residence halls.

In order to make it work, “an extraordinarily high level of collaboration and coordination” had to take place internally, explained NYU Shanghai provost, Joanna Waley-Cohen.

As more institutions embrace digital technology as a means of mitigating some of the impact of coronavirus-related school closures, questions are arising as to how seamless the switch from offline to online delivery can be, and how both modes of delivery compare in terms of learning impact.

According to Keith Ross, dean of Engineering and Computer Science at NYU Shanghai, one clear benefit of using “asynchronous interactions” over real-time delivery is that it has encouraged shy students, who normally do not ask questions in the classroom, to participate in discussions.

And at Spain’s IE University – where all classroom-based courses at the Segovia campus are being moved online because of recently diagnosed cases of COVID-19 among its student population – feedback about the shift is reported to be positive.

“We bolstered the content on our online training platform for all our students who cannot attend classes on campus, and the feedback we have received is very positive,” said Gonzalo Garland, vice president of External Relations at IE.

However he added, “Twenty years ago, we were pioneers in Europe with the launch of our online training programs.” All 7,000 IE students have had access to online platforms to continue their studies.

Bur while much has been made of efforts, like China’s, to switch to online learning, other education administrators are likely to run into technical and infrastructural issues.

“It typically takes months to launch really high quality online learning programs that reflect the quality of top education brands,” related Luyen Chou, chief learning officer at 2U, which works with institutions around the world to develop their online learning platforms.

And at Canada’s Humber College, director of the English Language Centre, Stephen Allen, who studies online learning ecosystems, explained that a problem can occur when simply transferring lessons that are designed for the classroom to an online environment.

“This increases the potential for materials to be at best, dull, but at worse, not supporting student learning,” he told The PIE.

“I’m worried that it can set a benchmark of low to reasonable online education”

“There’s a myth that creating online learning experiences is as easy as uploading all the resources you use in class and recording a few lectures,” agreed Lisa McIntyre-Hite, senior advisor at consultancy firm Entangled Solutions. “In reality, bringing an on-ground course online requires institutions to think of so much more than just course content,” she said.

“Segueing from offline delivery to online is no easy task and will require both students and teachers to adjust how they learn and teach to an online context,” confirmed Robert Hsiung, China CEO of online educational company, Emeritus.

He told The PIE that over the past number of years, online education has evolved to adapt to the online learning environment.

“Most schools have directly replaced offline class time with online class time. In China, students must log in every day to online platforms to listen to teachers, however, teachers are finding that students are having difficulty staying attentive in this online format.

“The problem they are facing is very similar to the issue that MOOCs face,” he added, referring to the low completion rates for pre-recorded online video courses.

The small private online courses (SPOCS) that EMERITUS offers has, by comparison, over a 90% completion rate.

But, Hsiung continued, the benefit of this shift to online is that it will force educators to change the way they approach teaching and learning, from a learn-by-lecturing/listening to learning-by-doing, interactive format.

“When the coronavirus fears subside and students return to school, there will be a higher acceptance of online learning creating opportunities for online education platforms like Emeritus, but more importantly, the quality of global education will have taken a significant step forward.”

In an episode of The Edtech Podcast, Digital Learning designer at Cardiff University, Neil Mosley, said he felt that there are both pros and cons to the digital uptake.

“There are many people who are reluctant or cynical about online learning so this forces them to engage with that, and in my experience that is always a positive thing,” he said.

“I also worry about the unintended consequences of quickly scaling online provisions – I’m worried that it can set a benchmark of low to reasonable online education, and I think we need to raise the quality of online education.”

“Countries like China and India with booming youth populations really have no choice”

Chou at 2U is hopeful that the move online could be a critical solution to higher education’s capacity problem.

“My hope is that this period will prove to be a useful testing ground that pushes schools to think more holistically about their long-term online learning strategies,” he said.

“Universities in countries like China and India with booming youth populations really have no choice but to look online in order to support the educational needs in their markets.”

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2 Responses to Online learning shift will bring positives, but adapted not replicated content is key

  1. The pandemic has forced universities globally to bring their courses online – a novel approach

    Desired competencies analysis, job market concerns, and employability for MBAs, MS (in Finance, Marketing, Accounting Commerce, etc) graduating next year due to the covid19 pandemic.
    The current worry is how will the job markets behave due to the current Covid19 pandemic, in this period of ongoing Industry 4.0 affecting the market and the economy next year and beyond. Recently the IMF projected a 3% drop in the global economy this year and its repercussions going forward. Since the last 4 months, the higher education system in both the developed and developing economies globally has undertaken some hectic short term change management resulting in a major paradigm shift in higher education via shifting to online classes. The impact has been simply dramatic all across the globe and for all levels of education notwithstanding the various challenges being faced including infrastructure, connectivity, communication, navigating new online learning platforms, student engagement, and financing. It is generally understood that Universities across the globe with mature college students hopefully can undertake the rigors of online education and students are savvy enough to engage themselves to learn. What roles are Universities playing in providing timely, cost-effective learning technology on such a large scale so that the student not only learns but can enter the dynamic job market confidently and contribute to the economy is the moot point? This is certainly not easy to assess in the current covid19 driven VUCA world where video-conferencing apps as Zoom and Webex and Coursera are assisting Universities with a doable stop-gap option to imparting education.
    The question however is are lecturers able to maintain the same depth of engagement with students as in a classroom setting. There are no right answers today. Just as an example, the global higher education market would be worth at least a couple of $ trillions. Is online education going to be the mantra for the foreseeable future and can universities do it in isolation or would they need the active support of technology companies, online education organizations, assessment monitoring organizations? All these new changes have happened due to closures of campuses across the globe. This has also brought into focus the various shortcomings and challenges to all the stakeholders in different countries at different levels. This has perhaps, therefore, exhibited the importance of digital literacy and communication which may become standard requirements going forward. Looks like it may herald a new type of education delivery system where both University and technology company will jointly provide the required and relevant education and with changing times adding new curriculum becoming a norm on regular basis. In one shot, online education has completely changed in terms of “location” of the University. Just as today’s banking is on the mobile – cell phone and branch banking have become almost redundant, Universities seem to be gearing up to go in similar directions.
    Since on the subject of University, technology, and digital education, this will also lead to a variety of automation services that one must adapt themselves to. It is an economic imperative that reskilling and upskilling will be the name of the game not only for University students but for all levels of the population at large. Thanks to the various app hitting the market daily, the mobile user is becoming technically savvy at a great speed.
    Even the delivery of products and services is undergoing a huge expansion due to the distancing issue that has come up, due to the covid19 pandemic which has changed the entire education ecosystem in a short period.
    Automation and technology supported education is the name of the game. There is a strong reason to study the implication of covid19 on the higher education sector very closely in light of the global progress underway in the current era of Industry 4.0. Today the advances made by such technologies as blockchain, Artificial intelligence (AI) promises great potential to business process improvements and streamlining as well as improving quality of lives. It is therefore mandatory that Universities, faculty, students, support staff, technology companies join in collaboratively to explore how machine learning will impact the future. For Business students, AI could include the development of a new curriculum covering the implications and adaptation of AI technology, competitive strategy, new virtual marketing avenues, and its impact on society which is to be run collaboratively worldwide through enhanced education and communication. The covid19 pandemic is fast-tracking digital transformations in various organizations as they are becoming more resilient to future disruptions. The name of the game for developing countries is to be self-reliant on advanced manufacturing techniques. Dependency on exports of goods and services and human capital needs to be managed. Technologies as artificial intelligence, robotics, IoT, big data, virtual and augmented reality, and robotics will make businesses more resilient to future pandemics. Suggesting some of the new courses that could be developed at the university level in such areas as:
    1. Strategic Management including Predictive Models and health issue affecting productivity.,
    2. How to digitize small businesses, tools, and services aspects.
    3. Supply chain management for home delivery of products,
    4. Role of Courier companies, new logistics, communication, tracking mechanism.
    5. A course on data analytics including basic coding experience like Hadoop.
    6. A course on Meta5 trading platforms, bitcoins, and its implications,
    7. BlockChain technology deep dive in Business process and Finance.
    8. Knowledge Management

    Today, forward looking organization, large manufacturing companies, multinationals both in the developed and developing countries has its top priority to make knowledge one of their most important assets. Emphasis is being given to form a strategy for not only how the company will generate, use, share and reuse knowledge, but also how to encourage employees to do the same. Artificial Intelligence implementation into knowledge management systems is still at nascent stage and thus importance is being given to the evolution of Knowledge, Gamification of Knowledge Management and Storytelling. Business graduates who can pro actively explore and contribute to the new world by learning and exploiting these technologies will be sought after. What is needed is business creativity and innovation during these times. Businesses that have planned and ready to be able to come up with new ways to deliver services virtually or shift to new product development will be able to weather the storm and empower forward-looking graduates.
    Ramesh Kumar Nanjundaiya,
    Sunnyvale, CA

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