What the Future of Learning Will Look Like

Five Ways Covid-19 has Changed UK Universities
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The Covid-19 pandemic has caused major changes to the education industry worldwide. With most countries closing its borders and the necessity of social distancing now, it’s quite a stark change from our world just a few months ago when students were still looking forward to the summer break before returning for another year of university in the UK.

As UK universities scramble to keep up with these changes and their competition, we’re starting to see great innovation and a change in priorities in the industry during these disruptive times. Where the focus has been solely on rankings and research before, universities now have to take into account a new factor: online learning.

Let’s look at what these changes could mean for the future of UK universities:

1. Distance learning is finally a mainstream option

In the past, the only option for studying abroad is to fly across the world and be physically on campus to attend classes as online-only undergraduate degrees were scarce and had a niche market. Although we think studying abroad has many advantages, we also understand why some might want the prestige of a UK education from the comfort of their home at this time.

UK universities are now being pushed to offer online options for students. Many universities such as Edinburgh, UCL and Essex have started to offer fully online degrees, some of which indistinguishable from on-campus degrees. This means that students who might want to pursue online degrees now have good options that are on par with on-campus programmes.

2. Online degrees are more accessible to students

While many students around the world are seeking top-quality education, the high costs of living in the UK is often a deterrent – online degrees are poised to change that by alleviating accommodation costs. Plus, the tuition fees for online programmes are often more affordable than traditional programmes, ranging from £2,500 to £15,000 per annum as compared to £10,000 up to £38,000 a year for on-campus programmes.

Not only does this benefit students, but it also opens up UK education to the global market which previously has not been fully explored. In a recent debate between three former UK higher education ministers, Jo Johnson commented that the transformation in UK education towards online teaching could allow for more recruitment from Asian and African countries.

3. Online learning makes full-time education more flexible

There are times in university when something would crop up, such as a personal emergency or a medical appointment, and students would have to miss a lecture or two. The great thing about online learning is that it makes UK education more flexible and accessible. It’s possible to make up for missed classes from pre-recorded lectures online.

Something else we hardly ever hear people discuss is student burnout – perhaps for some students, being able to take their time to study can help them feel less overwhelmed and stressed about university. On that note, students in the past would only have the option to take a whole semester or year off their studies if they were unable to attend classes or needed a break. Hopefully, distance learning options will give these students the option to continue with their studies remotely should they choose to do so.

4. Universities are now focused on innovation and quality for online courses

Pre-recorded lectures free up time for lecturers to focus on student engagement. The challenges and limitations of distance learning have required lecturers to innovate to find new ways of running seminars and activities effectively. Where there were roundtable discussions in classrooms before, there might be text-based chats in its stead now.

Besides that, universities are also investing money and efforts in developing online learning. Recently, £3.7m has been awarded to a consortium of universities led by Coventry to aid in the development of blended, partially online courses in artificial intelligence.

The continued innovations and investments in teaching could only mean that the quality of online learning will soon be on par with traditional classroom-based learning.

5. We’re forced to rethink tertiary education

It’s important to understand the impact of online education from the point of view of all stakeholders. Aside from the students who are most directly affected by this transformation in the industry, we also have to consider how universities and employers might regard online degrees. Would this affect graduate employability, research, or university rankings?

At this time, nobody has an answer to these questions yet but what we do know is that tertiary education is no longer limited to just on-campus teaching and learning. While we think that the traditional classroom-based model of teaching will be here to stay, we do wonder if online courses will be the norm in the near future.

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