What happens to online education when masks are no longer necessary?

COVID-19 and its lockdowns led to an education industry forced to modernise – go online or close your doors. But now that restrictions are lifting and mask mandates are disappearing, what happens to online education?




 

Given the recent increase in job advertisements for learning designers, online learning developers, eLearning and education technologists, it would seem that a significant number of organisations intend to continue online delivery. And not just continue but improve. There is a marked difference between a course that is available online, and a course designed to be delivered online.


One of the biggest reasons so many organisations are choosing to continue online delivery is access. UX designers have been talking about accessibility for years, but COVID-19 has forced us all to sit up and listen. Online delivery means that all learners have access to higher education, even if they:

  • can’t drive

  • have anxiety or ADHD

  • struggle to learn traditionally

  • have children or family members who require care

  • are too sick to come to campus

  • work full time, odd hours or are on-call

  • can’t afford to attend class in person

  • live remotely

  • are studying from another State, Territory or country.


Accredited courses, particularly in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, face the most challenges when converting to online delivery. Performance evidence and observation are required to assess a student as competent. Traditionally, this is done in person in a workplace by the trainer. Some solutions to this face-to-face component have been:

  • video submissions

  • observation through a video call

  • physical simulated worksites

  • 3D or virtual reality (VR) simulated worksites.

The industry-wide fascination with non-accredited online short courses and micro-credentials is a perfect case study for exploring online delivery as a viable future option. Short courses can be designed for learners to pick up anywhere, anytime. As they take less time to complete, they can also be easily consumed, like spending a whole night watching YouTube videos. This means that, by investing time and money into creating an engaging, authentic and accessible product, you get a greater return on investment. Learners seek short courses from trustworthy sources, so professional organisations and specialised institutions with in-built subject matter expertise have a unique opportunity to create industry-relevant learning.


For those of us familiar with the Australian Skills Quality Authority’s (ASQA’s) Standards for Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) 2015, they outline the standards of fairness, flexibility, validity, reliability, sufficiency, authenticity and currency. While these are meant to be principles of assessment and rules of evidence, they also provide a perfect benchmark of quality in education. By following these standards, even if your micro-credential is non-accredited, learners can still be assured that they will get value for money. Courses designed purely for commercial purposes or to fill an industry knowledge gap with no regard for the learner experience or outcomes, will result in low student retention and possibly even reputational damage.


Finally, on a personal note, I am from a generation who grew up online (some call us millennials). Studying online means we have the opportunity to support ourselves through work while also furthering our education and improving our career prospects. Online education gives us the freedom to be continuous learners and give back to the world around us.



 

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