As Utah and other states begin to re-open and recover from the COVID-19 crisis, we have an opportunity to reflect on some of the potentially positive outcomes borne out of the major disruptions of the past couple months. Innovation is often triggered from unlikely sources and circumstances.
Education is one area that has certainly experienced massive disruption. This is a field that has historically been slow to adapt to innovative improvements. But COVID-19 has forced massive temporary change, and many have begun to rethink what education will look like once the crisis resolves.
Physical schools across America were forced to shut down and attempt to carry on their work remotely. While it has been difficult for many to adapt, and though this crisis has demonstrated that many schools are ill prepared to conduct remote learning effectively, it does provide a glimpse of what could be in the not-so-distant future.
Staggered schedules could mean smaller class sizes, while still serving the same amount of students. This type of change would make digital and remote learning not just an “option” or “alternative,” but a necessity. Once students are allowed to return to school, blended learning models that mix traditional instruction with these resources could become more of the norm.
This learning model lends itself well to the adoption of personalized learning, where “just-in-time” replaces “just-in-case.” Rather than studying and memorizing facts and figures about certain topics and subjects “just in case” a student might need them in the future, information and training is made available to the learner as it is needed or desired. Self-directed learning would engage students in a much more meaningful way as they become free to pursue the topics they are most passionate about.
Competency-based achievement, rather than required seat time and assignments, would allow these types of students to move forward at their own pace—be it faster or slower—rather than batch processing students on to the next unit or grade level.
But all this would mean that the role of the educator must change. Rather than being focused on being the deliverer of core instruction—teaching the curriculum to all students at the same time, all the time—a teacher could become a facilitator in each child’s journey of learning.
And what of homeschooling and fully virtual options? Recent polling has shown that 40% of parents are more likely to look into homeschool, neighborhood homeschool co-ops, or virtual schools as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
These types of options could become more mainstream in the near future as parents are exposed to them. For some families, remote learning options from traditional public schools will be inadequate, leading them to seek out alternatives.
Speaking of alternatives, higher education may end up being the most impacted by this crisis. How society “certifies” the workforce and prepares people for a wide variety of occupations will change significantly—and for the better. Archaic institutions that have played the traditional role of gatekeeper will experience tremendous disruption in the next few years, and rightfully so. A physical 4-year university will always have some role to play, but affordable alternatives will begin to gain more momentum.
Innovation in this space could lead to tremendous savings for students. Affordable options made widely available could help solve the student debt crisis, while making the workforce much more competitive and agile. Higher paying employment will become more accessible to segments of our population that did not have the opportunity before.
COVID-19 has introduced a lot of uncertainty into our society, but we can be certain that change is coming. The question will be if we can embrace the change to build a better future with more opportunity for all.