More than a year ago, the world first heard about the coronavirus. It affected all spheres of our life and education is no exception. Online classes became the main challenge, and closed borders changed the plans of those eager to study abroad.
According to forecasts, students will return to schools in the fall, provided that at that time everyone will be vaccinated. How is the educational sphere transforming these days? In this article, we explore the key trends in university education in 2021 as well as the pros and cons.
In fact, many professors dreamed of returning to traditional education in the fall of 2020, but the new wave of the pandemic did not allow this to happen. Therefore, colleges had to focus on improving the effectiveness of e-learning, as well as addressing the new students’ demands.
The main questions were:
1. How to engage learners to cooperate?
2. How to improve interaction with the teacher and fellow students?
It also became clear that online education cannot fully replace traditional classes. After all, college life is not only about studying. It is about new acquaintances, events, socialization and entertainment.
As for the students, the productivity of many has decreased for several reasons.
These are lack of personal interactions with teachers, difficulty in self-organization and low motivation due to instability. Learners who find themselves thinking: «To write my papers is an impossible task», decide to get professional help with college assignments. This way, they improve their final grades and worry less about the deadlines.
How Should Colleges Adapt?
Some applicants decide to postpone their college entry because of the economic crisis. They also want to start college life when full-time studies are available (i.e. living on campus and attending all educational and extracurricular activities in-person). And this is another challenge that universities have to overcome – falling revenues and shrinking budgets.
The decline in student flow forces colleges to look for ways to save money. Thus, they plan to introduce new technological solutions that will partially replace human labor. One of such ways is to implement chatbots and automation systems for student assessment.
Moreover, schools need to meet the requirements of the modern labor market. According to a recent report by the World Economic Forum in Davos, many jobs and professions will disappear by 2025. Authors claim that working hours will be divided equally between robots and humans. Therefore, new jobs will appear.
To master a new profession, people will turn to short retraining programs and colleges must be ready to develop them. Even now such large companies as Google state that they can hire candidates without higher education, as 6-month intensive courses in the company itself are enough.
How Has the Admission Process Changed?
For many applicants, the admission process has become less tough due to two reasons. First, there is a decrease in the total number of applicants (thus, competition becomes less intense). Second, many universities have postponed admission deadlines. And this is truly helpful for applicants who did not have time to prepare the required package of documents.
In addition, the process of applying has changed. Now letters of recommendation and transcripts of assessments can be unprinted, in contrast to how it was before.
Due to the pandemic, the rules for entering Canada, Australia and the United States have been tightened. As a result, most English-speaking applicants chose the UK as an alternative, which continued to issue visas and did not close borders. A record number of foreigners enrolled in undergraduate programs at British universities in 2020 – their number increased by 9%.
So, the main trends in admission are:
1) Low competition and more chances to enroll in top programs;
2) Reduced tuition fees and more opportunities to get a scholarship – there is an opportunity to save a lot.
Cons of Online Learning
According to many professors, the goal of education is to teach students to think critically, debate and question opinions. However, online learning is not a suitable tool to achieve this goal. The problem is that within online classes students simply memorize information to use it on tests, without deep analysis.
Lecturers also complain that it is difficult to arouse students’ interest in the subject when classes are held virtually. In most cases, professors see black screens only instead of students’ eyes.
As for the lessons, many students don’t participate in discussions, especially those who are not confident in their knowledge. Of course, one can ask questions via chat, but messages may be distracting if teachers try to focus on what they are saying.
Because of network load, sometimes it’s necessary to turn off the video to continue the class. But then the professors do not know if the students are listening or doing their own business.
Perhaps the main difference between online and offline learning is that in a non-virtual real classroom, students want to communicate and make friends. They encourage each other to speak up. But such an environment can hardly be created via the Internet.
Learners often say that college helps them develop soft skills. They become more independent, learn to work in a team and manage their time. However, it is hard to do this in times of e-learning.
Lessons for the Future
Some quarantine innovations can stay with us for a longer time, as such an experience will certainly come in handy.
First, some admit that being able to listen to a recorded lecture online is helpful in preparing for exams. After all, such a class can be paused in order to take notes without haste. This way, students can work at their own comfortable pace.
Second, e-learning helps learners with disabilities. And the more programs become available virtually, the more opportunities they have.
Third, many successful professionals (politicians, researchers, etc.) receive invitations to give lectures, but refuse because of the busy schedule. With online learning, they are more willing to agree to speak to students, as they do not even need to leave the house.
To Sum Up
The years 2020-2021 became a crisis for higher education around the world. The closure of universities forced them to look for ways to continue the educational process. However, colleges have managed to establish online learning using the tools and platforms available despite time limitations and tight budgets.
On the one hand, in many countries, the measures taken have affected the quality of teaching and the postponed schedule of admission. On the other hand, the pandemic turned out to be a serious reason for revising the approach towards college culture and values in general.