January 3, 2022

Pivoting to Online Learning, Again?

It’s deja vu all over again. COVID-19 cases are spiking. Hospitals are overwhelmed. And new variants such as Omicron are wreaking havoc on our lives. 

And as we enter what will be another year with the global pandemic, once again, educational institutions are considering what these new developments mean for in-person education. Some institutions – like DePaul University in Chicago – already decided to begin their winter semester online. While other schools are keeping a close eye on the trends as we head into the new year.

After over two years of uncertainty, it’s understandable that yet another return to online learning may be frustrating for students, parents, and educators. But what if this time it’s different?  What if, instead of considering a return to online learning as negative, we see the silver lining. We look at how far we’ve come. And we take our 2+ years worth of learnings and apply them to make next semester even better than the last. 

Hear us out. 

Because we know. Pandemic fatigue is real. And so is Zoom fatigue. But research shows that students actually want to keep some of their courses online or hybrid, even when the pandemic ends. So really, would a pivot back to online education be a bad thing? Or could it be a welcome return to what some are hoping is actually the new normal?

While it looks like online, hybrid, and HyFlex learning are here to stay, many institutions are considering how they support students and instructors alike in this new, blended world. And having the right technology is an important part of the solution.

In their recently-released Top 10 IT Issues, 2022: The Higher Education We Deserve, EDUCAUSE highlights “Learning from COVID-19 to Build a Better Future” as number four on its top trends list. They state “Technologies like Zoom gave faculty a platform for digital instruction, but faculty need more help truly integrating technology into distance, hybrid, and classroom education.” 

We couldn’t agree more. That’s why as we enter 2022, institutions need to consider technologies that support educators and students in online and hybrid learning environments and help their online classrooms feel more like traditional ones. Because it’s these new technologies – including ones that integrate with their learning management systems to provide a seamless experience – that will help make transitions like the ones many institutions are considering feel less daunting. 

Take, for example, video technology. Providing educators with video technology that integrates to their LMS and allows them to mimic the in-person classroom experience is just one way to smooth the transition for instructors and students alike if classes go online. Students can easily join breakout room discussions, and instructors can float freely from one group to the next without disruption of “entering” and “leaving” the room. Students and instructors can even have private conversations without disrupting the rest of the class! 

Clearly, we’re not out of the woods yet. As new COVID-19 variants emerge, institutions will once again question which modality is right for their students, instructors, and staff. If there is a pivot back to online or hybrid learning after a semester where many attended class in-person, hopefully the transition will be smoother – and the disruption significantly less severe. 

And instead of dreading a pivot back to online, perhaps now students and instructors alike will embrace it more than they did the first time around. They’ll apply everything they’ve learned over the past two plus years and use technology to support them as they navigate the ever-changing classroom experience. And one day, they’ll look back and realize just how far they’ve come.