When most people think of education, they think about teachers at the front of classrooms full of students. However, when the Coronavirus pandemic radically changed the way we do most things (including learning), the future of education started to look different.
In the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of public schools and 13 percent of private schools offered at least one course online.1 In the Fall of 2020, 75 percent of the nation's largest 50 school districts decided to start the school year completely online, while thousands more districts are using a hybrid model of some online and some in-person learning.2 For teachers and students alike, online learning is a challenge, but one that is likely to stick around. Here are ten reasons teachers should be preparing for this new reality.
1. It offers a more customizable education experience.
Education that takes a one-size-fits-all approach is bound to leave some students behind. Students who have the flexibility to create their own online learning environments have more flexibility to choose courses that match their own learning styles. This helps students and teachers excel by offering innovative new ways to connect and learn, and it opens new opportunities for students to create better learning experiences.
2. It’s a cost-effective solution.
There are many costs involved in educating students in school buildings, from maintenance and upkeep to transportation and utilities. These costs can be a burden for local districts that continually see budget cuts. Online learning can give schools an opportunity to reduce the physical footprint of their buildings, offer flexible spaces for students to learn in hybrid models, and reduce overhead for already overburdened school budgets.3
3. It increases enrollment slots.
Traditional school environments include several limits:
- Availability of qualified teachers and administrators in the area
- Physical classroom space and available seats
- Distance that each student has to travel
With online learning, schools can open up class space to more students from more places, including those who don’t live in the area or who could not otherwise make it to a school in person. This provides more choice and opportunity for parents, especially those in areas with limited school resources.4
4. Students and teachers are increasingly comfortable with technology.
Technology, screens, devices and the internet have become almost ubiquitous in our lives, and that is as true for kindergarteners as it is for adults. Students feel comfortable interacting online with others and often see it as a similar experience to being in-person interaction. While it is impossible to recreate the entire in-person learning experience online, advances in technology and the comfort level of students and teachers in using these technologies make it more likely that online learning will continue.
5. Broadband and digital device access is expanding.
The dramatic shift to online learning that occurred in 2020 exposed a significant gap. Students from middle and upper-income households could easily get online with desktops, laptops, or tablets and speedy broadband access. Meanwhile, students from lower-income families struggled with online learning.
A Pew Research Center poll in April 2020 revealed that 21 percent of parents with school-age children thought their children would not be able to complete schoolwork because they did not have access to a computer at home.5 In August, a photo went viral, showing two school-age girls sitting behind a Taco Bell to complete their homework on the restaurant’s Wi-Fi network because they didn’t have access to the internet at home.6
As this divide came to light, state, local, and federal governments started raising the prospect of making high-speed broadband more available to every family and every student. Broadband companies, non-profit organizations, local governments, and school districts have come together to try to solve the problem. This focus on the digital divide is likely to increase resources available for students and school districts, to create a better and more equitable online learning environment.
6. More tools are available to facilitate online learning.
Companies that offer software and platforms for the online learning space are innovating faster than ever. New programs provide better ways for teachers to provide education and for students to interact and learn, including innovations by students interested in providing a stronger connection online when they can’t be together in person.7 Large-scale studies are also examining best practices for online teaching, increasing educators’ ability to learn from one another as they adjust to a new paradigm for teaching and learning.
7. It offers more opportunities for equity in education.
If you’ve read the recent stories about the growing tech equity gap in the U.S., between students who have broadband access and can easily learn online and those who do not and cannot, you might be skeptical that online learning can provide more equity.8 But as broadband access grows, online learning offers the unique ability for students who previously had limited or no access to quality education to have more options to explore. Students in school districts without arts or music programs, for example, can find online courses to explore their artistic abilities.
8. Students can gain access to high-quality tutors to supplement lectures.
One of the benefits of online learning is the flexibility to find new resources that go beyond traditional classroom lectures. Students and teachers are finding innovative ways to supplement lectures and online classes with tutors and similar learning resources. However, this is another area where there is a significant economic divide, as families with higher incomes are more readily able to pay for tutors.9 At the same time, students from families with less financial freedom have little or no access to this private, often costly, resource. As distance learning expands, it will be important to find ways to offer these services to every student, regardless of income level.
9. The pandemic may dramatically reshape the workforce and education.
The rapid switch from traditional offices to work-from-home arrangements has shown employers that their employees can be at least as productive without going to the office every day. As a result, millions of workers may be allowed to continue working from home.10 As more parents gain the freedom to choose how and where they work, they will have more flexibility to keep kids at home if it suits their learning styles.
10. Schools are increasingly seeking teachers with online skills.
Recognizing the shift toward online education, administrators in some of the country’s largest school districts have indicated that they are specifically seeking teachers who have the skills to teach students online.11 For teachers, learning how to teach online can increase your ability to find highly desirable jobs in school districts throughout the U.S., leading a diverse array of students at all educational levels.
Prepare for your career in education.
Whether you’re planning a career as a policymaker or an educator, prepare for the future of education with your master’s degree or graduate certificate from the University of Kansas. With online programs in curriculum and teaching, educational leadership and policy studies, and special and inclusive education, we’re preparing the next generation of teachers for success. Learn more about our programs and get started today.
1. Retrieved October 19, 2020 from nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=79
2. Retrieved October 19, 2020 from mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/back-to-school-a-framework-for-remote-and-hybrid-learning-amid-covid-19
3. Retrieved on October 19, 2020 from washingtonpost.com/local/education/public-school-budget-cuts-coronavirus/2020/05/27/ff0f07da-9d62-11ea-ad09-8da7ec214672_story.html
4. Retrieved on October 19, 2020 from hechingerreport.org/the-gap-between-rich-and-poor-schools-grew-44-percent-over-a-decade/
5. Retrieved on October 19, 2020 from crpe.org/thelens/digital-divide-among-students-during-covid-19-who-has-access-who-doesnt
6. Retrieved on October 19, 2020 from parents.com/news/photo-of-kids-using-taco-bell-wifi-is-a-startling-reminder-of-the-digital-divide/
7. Retrieved on October 19, 2020 from springwise.com/innovation-snapshot/education-schools-coronavirus
8. Retrieved on October 19, 2020 from washingtonpost.com/education/2020/04/29/coronavirus-pandemic-shines-light-deep-digital-divide-us-amid-efforts-narrow-it/
9. Retrieved on October 19, 2020 from theguardian.com/education/2020/jul/23/schooling-children-coronavirus-tutors-zoom
10. Retrieved on October 19, 2020 from shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/despite-reopenings-many-employees-will-keep-working-remotely.aspx
11. Retrieved on October 19, 2020 from edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/04/20/virtual-teaching-skill-of-the-future-or.html