From Board to Screen: An Exploration on What COVID-19 Will Mean for The Future of Education
Written by Ashley Pannell
From Board to Screen: An Exploration on What COVID-19 Will Mean for The Future of Education by Ashley Pannell
It was hard to miss the moment when the government announced the closing of schools to stop the spread of COVID-19. This led to the rapid rise of e-learning, a change the lockdown has brought that most believe will not be forgotten any time soon.
E-learning had already played a significant part in modern day teaching practices, with college and university seminars and lectures being posted online and schools uploading coursework to their intranet (a private computer network much like the internet but whose use is restricted to its organisation), so it’s hardly surprising that it was presented as the alternative method of education when the traditional form could not take place.
For years, digital learning has been considered the second-best-way of delivering education, to be used when the traditional face-to-face learning wasn’t an option, but studies are coming forth to suggest that this may no longer be the case. Darlene Damm, Vice Chair and Principal Faculty of Global Grand Challenges at Singularity University, explores the effectiveness of digital learning when looking at Project Echo. Started in 2003 by Doctor Sanjeev Arora (a professor of medicine at the University of New Mexico), its aim was to provide digital learning to rural health practices to help combat the high number of late-stage hepatitis C diagnoses. It would do this by connecting these practices to specialists in the field and allow them to share their experience and treatments with them online, so the local health workers would be able to recognise and treat the symptoms of hepatitis C when it was in its earlier stages. 
This had a notable positive impact for the people involved in the project, as Damm points out: “Since 2003, Project Echo has scaled to 800 locations in 39 countries and trained over 90,000 healthcare providers. Most notably, a study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the outcomes of hepatitis C treatment given by Project Echo trained healthcare workers in rural and underserved areas were similar to outcomes at university medical centers. That is, digital learning in this context was equivalent to high quality in-person learning.”  Online teaching is already playing a big part in day-to-day teaching, and Dawn Lerman and Falguni Sen believe that the pandemic will irrevocably increase the use of it in schools and other learning faculties: “Having taught a few online classes and discovered that they can make creative use of the technology, many faculties will be changed forever. We expect that even those who go back to teaching in a traditional classroom will incorporate some of the online tools that they are now learning to use.”  The use of digital learning is possible and has been used as a method for providing people with a means to access education during this pandemic. It seems unlikely it will be going away anytime soon, even when we eventually return to teaching in schools.
But is online learning as effective as face-to-face teaching? Farah Lalani and Cathy Li explored this on World Economic Forum, discovering that: “Some research shows that on average, students retain 25-60% more material when learning online compared to only 8-10% in a classroom. This is mostly due to the students being able to learn faster online; e-learning requires 40-60% less time to learn than in a traditional classroom setting because students can learn at their own pace, going back and re-reading, skipping, or accelerating through concepts as they choose.”  This would suggest that the shift from traditional teaching to digital learning would be beneficial to future generations. There are other benefits to online teaching, as well, such as limited cost, as the need to commute is taken away and most, if not all, the resources needed are available online, so that is money saved on transport and textbooks. There’s also a lot more flexibility, as students and pupils aren’t tied down by timetables, allowing people to manage their time on their own terms, which is invaluable when people have other commitments.
Stephanie Lukins also details how beneficial online learning can be: “Studying a degree online means you’ll have access to your very own dashboard where you can review course material and assignments, take part in forum discussions with your peers and professors, watch recorded lessons, and access podcasts, videos and quizzes on demand. Among all this, your time management, organizational and research skills will develop immensely as you learn to self-manage and work in a virtual setting while balancing commitments away from your studies.”  Online learning has been a godsend during the pandemic, allowing students to continue with their studies and it’s clear that there are many benefits to it.
However, as great as online learning can be, there are some definitive downsides to it that cannot be ignored. For one, it is only an option for those with access to it. Those who do not have a computer at home are put at distinctive disadvantage to their peers which isn’t present in face-to-face teaching. There’s also the technology itself to consider, because while it does give us access to a great deal of things, it isn’t always reliable. Things happen: connections are lost, screens break, computer errors occur. Technology isn’t infallible.
That being said, the part technology has played during the pandemic and in lockdown cannot be overlooked. As Lalani and Li go onto say in their article: “It is clear that this pandemic has utterly disrupted an education system that many assert was already losing its relevance. In his book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, scholar Yuval Noah Harari outlines how schools continue to focus on traditional academic skills and rote learning, rather than on skills such as critical thinking and adaptability, which will be more important for success in the future.”  It’s for this reason I have to believe that online learning will only become more ingrained in how education is delivered. This pandemic has made it clear to us how effective digital learning can be, and the ways it can sometimes be more effective than face-to-face teaching. However, though online learning is rapidly becoming more common, I do not think that it will get rid of the use of traditional teaching altogether, as I believe there will still be a place for this, even once the lockdown is permanently and completely lifted, as some children thrive in classroom conditions. The question is whether the ones who prefer online teaching should be allowed to embrace this fully or if a healthy balance of both methods can be found.
 Darlene Damm, Is Digital Learning Still Second Best?, Singularity Hub (20th March 2020), <https://singularityhub.com/2020/03/20/is-digital-learning-really-still-second-best/> [accessed 20th June 2020], para. 5 and 6 of 18.
 Ibid., para. 8 of 18.
 Dawn Lerman, Falguni Sen, Could the coronavirus force positive change in higher education?, The World University Rankings (9th April 2020), <https://www.timeshighereducation.com/opinion/could-coronavirus-force-positive-change-higher-education#survey-answer> [accessed 20th June 2020], para. 8 of 13.
 Farah Lalani, Cathy Li, The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. This is how, World Economic Forum (29th April 2020), <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-education-global-covid19-online-digital-learning> [accessed 21st June 2020], para. 17 of 21.
 Stephanie Lukins, Is Online Learning as Good as Face-to-Face Learning?, Top Universities (14th April 2020) < https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/distance-learning/online-learning-good-face-face-learning> [accessed 21st June 2020], para. 5 and 6 of 12.
 Lalani, Li, The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. This is how, para. 20 of 21.
- Damm, Dawn, Is Digital Learning Still Second Best?, Singularity Hub (20th March 2020), <https://singularityhub.com/2020/03/20/is-digital-learning-really-still-second-best/> [accessed 20th June 2020].
- Lalani, Farah, Li, Cathy,The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. This is how, World Economic Forum (29th April 2020), <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-education-global-covid19-online-digital-learning> [accessed 21st June 2020].
- Lerman, Dawn, Sen, Falguni, Could the coronavirus force positive change in higher education?, The World University Rankings (9th April 2020), <https://www.timeshighereducation.com/opinion/could-coronavirus-force-positive-change-higher-education#survey-answer> [accessed 20th June 2020].
- Lukins, Stephanie, Is Online Learning as Good as Face-to-Face Learning?, Top Universities (14th April 2020) < https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/distance-learning/online-learning-good-face-face-learning> [accessed 21st June 2020].