About 15 years ago, Sprott Shaw College – then Sprott-Shaw Community College – starting building an island in the online virtual world Second Life.
It had the usual classrooms, dormitories and libraries expected of any post-secondary campus. Students could order a pizza on the platform and have one show up in real life. One class taught on the island had students from Victoria, Calgary and Jerusalem.
Nearly a decade and a half later, colleges and universities around the world are rethinking how they deliver education in a world with physical distancing and travel restrictions.
“My belief is that the real benefit to online education is we have a transformative opportunity,” said Dean Duperron, the former CEO and owner of Sprott Shaw College.
Institutions’ adoption of Moodle, an open-source learning platform, along with Zoom, Udemy and other services has become the norm, he said, but it isn’t innovative. For example, a pre-pandemic survey of 1,400 educators by U.S. software company Kaltura found that 98% saw video playing a part in personalized learning experiences.
“I really think that a serious opportunity is being missed right now,” said Duperron.
School is out on what education looks like come 2022. The authors of “Learning Innovation and the Future of Higher Education” wrote in Inside Higher Ed that virtual learning, structured gap years and a hybrid flexible model of simultaneous in-class and online learning are some potential scenarios that emerge in the short-term.
Many experts expect schools at all levels to adopt some form of hybrid model that combines digital remote learning options with limited in-person experiences.
Duperron believes what is becoming standard now will define the norm of tomorrow, which will include the continued adoption and use of the services listed above.
Leeann Waddington, who is pursuing her doctor of education at Athabasca University, believes the pandemic has catapulted academic institutions to where they need to be.
“The tradition of the way education is delivered hasn’t changed in probably a couple hundred years,” she said. “Overall the structure is still relatively the same and yet the world isn’t the same.”
Waddington says the education sector has been presented with an opportunity to close the gap between the skills graduates need in the workforce, and the skills taught in schools.
Choice between learning online and in-class remains important, and she foresees a greater shift toward accessibility, and collaboration within institutions to deliver better learning experiences.
“I think it’s shifting us to narrowing that gap and really reconsidering what we teach, how we teach it, where we teach it.”
Shevy Levy, CEO of Vancouver-based learning platform Lambda Solutions Inc., said COVID-19 has accelerated the sector’s shift to adopting technology, online learning and remote learning.
“There’s no education anymore without technology,” she said. “The experience needs to be a mixed mode.”
She raised the question about the role of the teacher or trainer as learning experiences become more personalized and reliant on technology.
Jacqueline Evanecz is a former teacher and the CEO and co-founder of B.C.-based education tech startup Spinndle, which is testing an online project management platform for students in grades 4 through 12.
With new tools to help make schools more agile and help students engage more actively in learning, she sees an opportunity to rethink attendance in the years ahead.
“Showing up is not just about beating the bell and getting to school and sitting in a chair. It’s about exercising those higher level executive functioning skills,” she said.
“I hope to see more and more schools start to rethink the flow of work in the classroom and reimagining the definition of showing up or attendance and what that looks like in 2020, and 2021 and 2022.”