Preparing for the 2021 fall semester will still be a challenge with such high levels of uncertainty--digital learning will be critical

What happens when digital learning surpasses in-person learning?


Preparing for the 2021 fall semester will still be a challenge with such high levels of uncertainty--digital learning will be critical

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, universities everywhere shifted online almost overnight. What started as a gradual transition with the rise of MOOCs in 2012 was rapidly accelerated, as more than 90 percent of U.S. classes moved to digital learning in 2020.

At the same time, however, student satisfaction, belonging, connection, and opportunity to collaborate with peers dramatically decreased. In fact, undergraduate programs in the United States experienced significant declines in enrollment over the year. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, community colleges have shown the steepest decline at around 19 percent, which is almost 19 times the pre-pandemic loss rate.

But where there are challenges lie opportunities. Colleges and universities now have a once-in-a-generation shot at completely transforming the learning experience—including the digital learning experience–based on their 2020 insights and investments in technology.

Universities are adapting to an unknown future

As universities and colleges reflect on their learnings from the past year, they recognize that it will still be a challenge to prepare for the 2021 fall semester with such high levels of uncertainty.  Will students return to roam the campus lawns and lecture halls? Will every class become hybrid or flexible? How many classes should be delivered 100 percent online?

Ultimately, the answer is that the era of hybrid learning is here–and this has an impact on educators, learners, and institutions alike. This change demands flexibility and thoughtful design. Academic institutions need to be intentional about the technology they adopt, their choice of physical learning spaces, and their long-term strategy to support every student, even those who never set foot on campus.

eSchool Media Contributors