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A Digital Transformation in Education: COVID-19 Accelerating Progress

When the tide completely turns, however, educational institutions can make rapid adaptations. COVID-19, the pandemic that sent everyone home to quarantine, created a monumental shift in the educational landscape. Digital products that had been around for years awaiting the academic community to catch-up, were ready to fill a void. From pre-K through higher education there is a digital transformation taking place. [This article was featured in EnterpriseTechSuccess magazine]



Sponsor: Prof360

A Digital Transformation in Education: COVID-19 Accelerating Progress

by Lesa Hammond (CEO), Jonathan Jiang (CTO)

The world of education tends to be slow to adopt in most realms, but especially in technology. When the tide completely turns, however, even educational institutions can make rapid adaptations. COVID-19, the pandemic that sent everyone home to quarantine, created a monumental shift in the educational landscape. Digital products that had been around for years awaiting the academic community to catch-up, were ready to fill a void. From pre-K through higher education there is a digital transformation taking place.

Compared to other industries over the past 30 years, there has been a slow movement to adopt digital platforms in the classroom. An early indicator that the world was changing may have been when encyclopedias were replaced in the classroom by a computer or two situated in the back. Today, in many K-12 classrooms, computers or tablets have become required school supplies. It would be impossible for a college student to succeed without a computer. A switch to ebooks has allowed companies like Amazon Textbooks and Chegg to provide academic books in a more affordable format.

Over the past 20 years, online university degrees have gained in reputation and popularity. What was considered fringe, less valued, education over the past ten years has been embraced by many, if not most, prestigious universities. University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, USC, Notre Dame, Pepperdine, Duke, and Carnegie Mellon are just a small fraction of the growing list of top universities offering online degree programs. This fundamental change in education delivery has expanded the accessibility of degrees from elite universities. Still, the complicated nature of some of the learning management platforms, plus desired direct interaction with students, made online teaching less popular with tenured faculty at the university level. 

Aside from home schooling and accommodations for rare circumstances such as illness or child actors, education outside of the traditional classroom was virtually unheard of in K-12. The digital aspects of K-12 education were focused on homework and giving parents a platform to stay updated regarding their children's progress. 

One tool that had been adopted by businesses, which was not designed specifically for the classroom, may have created the most significant recent digital transformation in education. Prior to COVID, synchronous online learning was rare. Video platforms like Zoom, GotoMeeting, and Google Hangouts were the realm of business. They were used by educators to meet with each other, particularly with schools that had remote campuses or online programs. They were also used by students to meet when collaborating on assignments. But seldom were they used to conduct classes. Most courses were taught online using Learning Management Systems (LMS) to provide asynchronous delivery. The convenience of being able to take a class whenever students wanted was a primary appeal.

As a result of the rapid closure of schools, however, a new model of education had to be quickly adopted. Video platforms allowed classes to continue with synchronous remote learning. Video conferencing tools allowed traditional university faculty to have the face-to-face real-time experience that was missing in the asynchronous model. The longer students and educators are required to work remotely, the more this shift will become a permanent alternative for students, teachers, and parents.

The question this begs is, what new technologies will be required to manage this drastic shift in delivery? Before we discuss the future, let’s take a quick look at the timeline of technology in the classroom.

Decade

Technology

1920s

• Radio

1930s

• Overhead Projector

1940s

• Film

1950s

• Videotape (VHS, V8) 
• Photocopier

1970s

• Scantrons 
• Handheld calculators

1980s

• Personal Portable Computer introduced 
• Apple offered to some classrooms

1990s

• World Wide Web

• First learning management system (EKKO) to market
• Personal Digital Assistant (PDAs)

• Jones International University - offers the first accredited fully online degree programs.

2000s

• Moodle (Introduction of open source learning management system adopted widely by higher education schools going online)

2010s

• Tablets introduced in the classroom for ebooks and research. 
• K-12 technologies give parents up-to-date information on students’ progress.
• Massive open online courses (MOOCs) were available as a part of online education.
• 98% of public colleges and universities offer at least some courses fully online. 

• The number of adjunct faculty reaches 50%. 

• University of Pennsylvania is the first Ivy League university to offer a fully online bachelor's degree program.

2020

Covid-19 moves many courses and entire K-12 and universities online with synchronous technology.

The Future

As a result of COVID, K-12 and higher education have moved out of the classroom en masse. 

K-12 will likely return to the classroom as soon as possible. Primary and secondary schools provide an educational foundation and socialization for children, as well as childcare for working parents. 

Colleges and universities are likely to make permanent and significant shifts. We can expect there to be an increase in online synchronous courses with full degree programs offered in this modality. 

The 21st Century is the digital revolution age. This could be a time for true transformation in the way we all learn. Even before COVID, there had been an ongoing effort to reduce the cost of education and student debt. There are requirements for people to gain new skills to remain relevant in the job market. COVID-19 forced a rapid revision to education delivery. It is highly unlikely things will return to exactly the way they were before. 

In their blog Dawn of the Age of Digital Learning, Michael Moe and Vignesh Rajendran hypothesize that lower level university courses will almost all be taught online and “universities will incorporate high production quality, highly engaging content to deliver a compelling and scalable online experience.”

Schools are taking advantage of the currently available video conferencing platforms, but we can expect to see more options becoming available. Increasing engagement for remote learners with virtual reality is likely to become available in the next few years. With this shift to online education, non-degree certificates and nano-degrees may begin to replace the traditional four-year and graduate degrees. This is likely, not only as a means of getting skills to workers faster, but also to reduce escalating cost of education and student debt.

As these shake-ups in education delivery take place, there will be an opportunity to shift from antiquated, complicated, and expensive software solutions such as course scheduling, tenure tracking, evaluation and promotion software, giving way to modern, cloud-based, user friendly solutions, such as Prof360, which were designed for non-degree educational programs, adjunct/remote faculty, and online education. 

Education modalities and resulting technologies will continue to evolve, but right now is a time of true transformation in the way we educate our students and ourselves. Evolution was taking place before the COVID-19, however the pandemic acted as a catalyst for immediate and permanent changes that will continue to evolve over the next several years.

References:

https://prof360.link/Virtual-Reality-Systems-in-Classroom-Teaching 

https://www.chronicle.com/article/ed-tech-mania-is-back 

http://pbsshantayt.blogspot.com/2013/06/my-timeline-for-technology-in-education.html

https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2016/02/brief-history-evolution-classroom-technology-infographic

http://pbscaitline.blogspot.com/2013/06/technology-education-timeline-by-caitlin.html

https://elearninginfographics.com/timeline-of-educational-technology-in-schools-infographic/

https://thebestschools.org/magazine/online-education-history/

https://thedailychronicle.in/news/24370/covid-19-impact-on-global-learning-management-systems-lms-market-size-status-and-forecast-2020-2026/

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