There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has had devastating effects across the globe, but there is a small silver lining in the realm of online education.
Just a decade ago, online learning was still a rather foreign concept to most people. If someone wanted to get an online degree or learn a new skill in their spare time, they would have to wade through a sea of unaccredited schools and sham universities just to find the real deal. Though online scammers aren’t going anywhere, the quality of online education has drastically improved over the last year. And, as strange as it may seem, it’s largely thanks to COVID-19.
As COVID-19 rapidly spread across the globe, it forced many countries, states, and municipalities to close down schools. Not only did this temporarily prevent students from accessing their traditional learning resources, but it put many parents in a tough position. Without school, many younger students were sent home unattended, with millions of parents scrambling to find a solution.
However, as schools adjusted to the “new normal” and developed a workable plan for online classes, learning was able to resume for millions of students — albeit in a very different form. Now, many traditional classrooms have been replaced with virtual classrooms, where students can still see their teachers face to face and learn on a daily basis. However, this isn’t to say that things started off well. In fact, online learning had to improve drastically in a very short amount of time.
Technology Had to Catch Up
Zoom, Google Meet, and Skype all existed long before the novel Coronavirus upended daily life. Moreover, modern computers, smartphones, and tablets — combined with high-speed internet and cellular service — have been capable of making and sustaining video calls for years. While these covered the basic requirements of online learning, all of these separate advancements still left schools and teachers with a mountain of work to do.
What happens when a student’s device is not compatible with the software required to submit assignments or attend virtual classes? What should a teacher do when younger students don’t understand how to use their microphones properly? Is it the job of educators to teach their respective subjects, as well as computer literacy? On that note, what happens if some educators are not computer literate themselves?
Many of these hurdles cannot be overcome by technological improvements alone. School districts, individual schools, and their staff have had to quickly develop plans that accounted for all of the difficulties outlined above. That said, software and tech companies have also had to step up and provide the tools and resources to get everyone through these difficult times.
Companies like Otter.ai and Krisp.ai are actively working to make classrooms a more inclusive and productive environment for both students and teachers. Otter.ai offers live transcriptions so that students don’t have to spend the entire class period taking notes and can instead engage in discussions. It also makes it easier for students who cannot attend a class to catch up on what they missed. Alternatively, Krisp.ai is designed to remove background noise from virtual meetings and classrooms so that only human voices can be heard. This is especially useful with larger virtual classrooms in which some students may not be able to attend from a quiet home environment.
Lesson Plans Now Cater to Greater Diversity
Though schools around the United States have adjusted curriculums to account for students with different learning styles or disabilities, it’s been a slow process. Oddly enough, COVID-19 pushed schools to quickly improve curriculums and lesson plans for a wider range of students. There’s still more ground to cover, but the education system has made leaps and bounds from where it was just a few years ago.
In a traditional classroom, students with different learning styles often have to do their best and hope that teachers can accommodate special learning requirements as often as possible. However, with education shifting to the virtual sphere, students now have more freedom to control the way in which they learn. Nonetheless, the impetus to teach and provide useful learning resources still falls on the teacher. In a virtual classroom, teachers must find new ways to plan and execute their curriculum, encouraging new and innovative ways of interacting with students.
Additionally, in a new learning environment, students with hearing or vision problems are more likely to be assisted by their teachers. Virtual lesson plans can easily include both audio and visual learning tools to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Thus, “no child left behind” has taken on a whole new meaning.
Top-Tier Schools Are Becoming Available Online
In the past, accredited online degrees sounded too good to be true. Moreover, the general public was skeptical of online degrees, making it harder to justify picking an online degree over a traditional university diploma. Fortunately, many of the top schools in the country (and around the world) are now offering classes and degrees online.
Harvard and Yale, two of the most revered universities in the country, offer both free and paid courses. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of top public and private universities have made courses, certifications, and even full degrees available online. In short, COVID-19 helped make high-quality education more accessible than ever.
Students and Teachers Are in This Together
Finally, it’s important to note the emotional toll of COVID-19 on both students and teachers. It has not been an easy time for anyone. Students struggle to adjust to a home-based learning environment, while teachers have to work twice as hard to provide quality education to their students. Despite the ongoing hardship, COVID-19 has brought many students, teachers, and even families closer together.
Teachers now need to keep in regular contact with parents to ensure that students have the right tools and resources to learn online. Moreover, teachers have to communicate with students outside the classroom, giving all parties a new perspective on the challenges of teaching and learning. While this means that students and teachers have to work harder than before, it also means that they must work together to learn and adapt to a completely different global landscape.
The Bottom Line
For the most part, online learning has been a temporary solution to help stem the spread of COVID-19. With vaccines rolling out to a large percentage of the population, students have already begun to return to traditional classrooms — with safety measures in place. However, in many schools and states, online learning will remain in place for the foreseeable future. Hopefully, the technology, teaching strategies, and accessibility of online education will only continue to improve, even once COVID-19 is in the rear-view mirror.
Originally published on Medium.