I am a big advocate of online learning and I am excited about the hidden opportunity that has suddenly presented itself. According to UNESCO, more than 185 countries have shut down their schools and universities. Learning has been disrupted for hundreds of million children and youth. Education providers are trying to rise to the challenge to teach at a distance, parents are figuring out their role and teachers are ambivalently trying their best. Of course, I wish the circumstances were different, but the reality is that this is online learning’s moment of fame—for 15 minutes or maybe longer?
As we watch this unfold, a few questions come to my mind.
Does online learning have a fair chance at proving itself? Despite our attachment to learning in a classroom and the social life that comes with it, a growing body of evidence shows that high-quality online learning can improve the student experience and learning outcomes. However, the reality is that we are not in a normal situation today. Students are distracted, teachers are not sufficiently trained and our technology infrastructure is far from fully ready to cooperate. I am concerned that some governments and providers are under pressure to move too fast to ensure uninterrupted learning, with little medium-term planning or ramp-up time. A lot of work goes into designing quality online learning experiences, including incorporating new pedagogical practices. The only short-term option for some providers is to use video conferencing applications and virtual collaboration tools to try to replicate existing classroom situations online. Under such circumstances, and when life gets back to normal, will everyone say “this was great, I want more of it” or will the clunky experience leave a bitter taste?