Could Schools Go Virtual Forever After COVID-19?

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still quite clearly remember what I thought in late January of 2019 when I scrolled through an article on COVID-19:

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“Hmmm…A virus”

I then moved on with my day as usual.

Looking back, it’s honestly pretty shocking to see how that virus didn’t only spread amongst people, but has basically spread into every aspect of society as we knew it. That includes many people’s least favourite aspect — school.

If you think of change, the school system is probably the last thing on your mind, but could COVID-19 have changed how we see the education process forever? It’s an interesting thought, but is there logic to back what’s being said here? Here’s my take on it ( along with some more reputable sources):

Virtual What?

I’m a student.

School can be hard enough without Zoom, Hangouts, Classroom, or any other video-conferencing app. Add another layer of complexity that is the internet, and you can be sure that my initial reaction was far from positive.

At the time though, it was better than nothing (and it’s not like we had a choice to refuse anyway), so I decided to go with it.

Over a month later, I’ve come to the revelation that online school (and school in general) wasn’t nearly as horrible as I first thought — honestly, it’s been quite enjoyable. Judging from the few obvious cons, I would say that the pros far outweigh them:

Why e-Learning Is Great (In My Opinion):

  1. In my board, e-Learning starts at 10:00AM, meaning comatose teenagers get to wake up consistently at around 9:56AM. No complaints there.
  2. It’s a great break from the quarantine boredom to get to chat with
    your friends, even if it’s just online.
  3. Of course, virtual calls are a blast (I’ve tried around 18 backgrounds and filters by now). Also, nobody can see what you look like.
  4. Somehow, the amount of homework I’ve gotten also managed to plummet faster than the stock market.
  5. To bring that all together, school-time now hovers at around 10 mins a day —a much more sustainable number (we’re busy, after all)

When I say this, I can confidently say I’m speaking for the situations of a lot more people than just myself. Of course, what I’ve mentioned so far account for my experiences alone, but what evidence do we have to back that up in
the big picture of education? Is there data that suggests that governments should be looking further into transitioning to at least partial online
learning after the pandemic?

Online Learning — Is It Really The Next Big Thing?

As I mentioned earlier, the school system was probably the last
thing we expected to change.
Ever. It’s essentially been the same overarching concept of incentivizing short-term knowledge gained, rather than practical application over the long-term. You know, through books, books, and more books.

In a nutshell, school hasn’t changed in ages. The way things are looking,
we’ll end up having more and more room for technological and societal growth, with less and less people properly educated to work in it:

In fact, this disparity has gotten so enormous, that these were the results from a recent survey conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Over 50% of employers said that they had trouble finding graduated applicants who were qualified enough to join their company’s team. That’s orders of magnitude higher than the results from similar surveys conducted decades earlier.

Not only is our education system bad, it’s actually getting worse.

Here’s the point — if we don’t voluntary choose to develop an education of the future, we’ll be forced to do it soon enough. Until then, that disparity is only growing, and is on its path to come back and haunt us:

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It’s scary how countries such as Canada and the US spend so much on education, but get so little value

But as we zoom out on the map, nations such as Finland, Denmark, and Japan are seemingly light years ahead of the “learning curve.” As you probably noticed, the US fell behind a long time ago. Clearly, the secret to unlocking a great education system isn’t as simple the region’s wealth or power.

While COVID-19’s got the whole world in shambles, it might just be a blessing in disguise for a system that’s shied away from change for millennia. Whether we like it or not, we have to step into the future, and even with it’s inherent flaws, there might just be a chance that it could be virtual learning.

But, why?

Don’t get me wrong though, I had my initial doubts about it, too:

Take me, for example: even though I was doing well in class, I (just like everyone else) also needed clarification on certain concepts taught from time to time. Now, that would’ve been challenging even with the added benefit of face-to-face interaction, let alone through a three word pseudo-message on whatever online learning platform we would be using.

All that forethought was basically swept away when I got a full taste of the online learning experience. I felt like I was several levels above where I ever was with traditional schooling, and as it turns out, research seems to agree. A growing body of comparative studies show major advantages to an e- Learning approach as opposed to a traditional one.

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The benefits to online learning are so vast, but that isn’t to say it comes with it’s challenges as well

Take a study conducted on two groups of microeconomics students — one going through a blended learning program (a mix of online lectures as well
as in-person lectures) and a fully virtualized one:

Conclusions showed that students part of the online learning program performed, on average, 7% better (68.1% vs. 61.6%) on a final exam as opposed to those who went through the blended one.

Similar high-quality studies support that opinion — reporting increased attention spans, retention rates, and more importantly, a significant increase in students’ interest to learn outside of school, and that’s largely attributed to our familiarity with the internet, and our natural inclination to look things up whenever you want, without having to deal with a frustrated teacher with a limited patience to answer questions.

Regardless of whether it’s because of the existing online presence of students, or just because online learning encourages learners to expand their knowledge with resources on the internet, e-Learning beats its in-school counterpart in almost every major aspect that can be analyzed.

But is It Really The Future? Really?

Right off the bat, e-Learning has insane positive implications for the government and people, and implementing it is already allowing us to take a step forward into the future. But, that isn’t to say that we should.

Yet.

Think about cheating.

Even the best studies can’t properly quantify it — it’s literally supposed to be done in secret. If you’re successful, nobody should know that you did.

Unfortunately, we know cheating is already a big issue for traditional schools, and that the potential to do the same in an online environment is huge. Inspecting elements, sharing answers, or even just looking them up. Not only could e-Learning make cheating more prevalent, it could potentially make it easier than ever to do:

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The good news, is that computers don’t err. While we have unlimited potential for cheating in an online environment now, it’s only a matter of time before we leverage technology to essentially eradicate it in the near future.

Then comes Zoom, Hangouts, and Google Classroom (not to mention the hundreds of companies trying to capitalize on the social distancing opportunity). I can tell you that I was first worried too, what if using them was so complex that I wouldn’t have the time to focus on the task at hand?

Well, it was just like learning to navigate any other software — it took two days to get the hang of, and basically every student you ask can agree:

At the end of the day though , I seriously hope we don’t let technical difficulties get in the way of fixing a system that’s been broken for thousands of years.

Even more importantly, we would have to redesign our tests. Alright, so no matter how robust we make our online cheating-defense systems, it still isn’t going to change the fact that someone will eventually find a way to crack the code, or even simpler, get the answer right 25% of the time on a multiple choice test. If we’re going to implement an education of the future, we
might as well consider adopting a futuristic way to test our students.

If you’re having trouble understanding what I’m getting at, the process of creating a “paradigm shift” in standardized testing (especially online) simply involves removing the multiple-choice question and replacing it with more open-ended problems, giving students the added benefits of improved critical thinking and communication skills, while giving us (society) a cheat-proof education system that we can count on.

By redefining the standardized test, along with who knows what we’ll end up encountering, we’ll essentially be breaking the last barrier standing in the way to make way for a new revolution of learning.

Sure, when we’re all done, school will look a bit different than it always has — less teachers, more websites, and lots of virtual backgrounds, but if we do end up leveraging the internet, then it could change everything. Hopefully we’ll see that day.

Thank you for reading.

Hey! Aaryan here! Hopefully you found this article on virtual learning after COVID-19 interesting -I know I had a great time writing it. If you did too, then make sure to show it some love if you can. Thanks again for reading👏.

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