24 Jan 2023
Technology has a large role to play in this endeavour. Digital transformations occurring in the educational sphere for more than 10 years have enabled the delivery of education to unprecedented locations and learners’ groups. Dressed up in names such online education, digital, distance or remote learning, academic institutions embrace what the technology has to offer in order to devise academic models that would help them pace up with the demands of the digital economy for continuous upskilling and re-skilling, digital nativeness of modern learners and finally tap into blue ocean learners i.e. learners demanding strong differentiation and lower cost of education.
Today, it’s a certainty that any learner in the world will have at least some kind of online experience at some point in his/her academic life. Although many have coined online education with the emergency remote teaching imposed by the pandemic, the truth is that the demand for online education has started surging long before Covid-19 outbreak. For some the pandemic earmarks the “time before” and the “time after” in terms of online education (Gallagher and Palmer, 2020). In the “time before”, the education industry strived to meet the demand of learners who were discovering new possibilities in education. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offered through learning platforms like Coursera, edX, Udacity, and others paved the way in filling the learning appetite of learners around the world. Universities have been certainly moving at a slower pace in developing and offering online programs but the growing enrolments in these programs couldn’t leave academic administrations oblivious to the revenue and profit prospects of online education.
Having mastered most of the initial concerns and pathogenies in terms of quality and learning experience, online education has grown in the aftermath of Covid-19 as a domain of new core capabilities for higher education institutions. Becoming the fulcrum of competition among academic institutions, online education is now underpinned by a new strategic mandate. McKinsey has recently encapsulated the current trends in 5 strategic moves:
In the near future, we expect to see radical developments in how universities, but also other academic providers will materialise the above moves. Technology will continue to enable and inspire new academic models. The use of AI has already made its appearance in efforts to increase enrolments, lower the cost by replacing human labour for the academic delivery but also students’ administration, and enhance learning experience by enabling smart models of lifelong learning. The new facet of online education seems to suggest a rethinking of all academic and operational aspects of learning. Are universities ready for this? Learners will enjoy the abundance of educational opportunities and possibilities but what can ensure the effectiveness and pay off of their choice as well as the satisfaction of their learning journey? While learning platforms become more and more aggressive in trying to commercialise students relationships, universities have a fundamental priority to reinstate their purpose by redefining the campus experience and their staff competences through their digital transformation (Dellarocas and HagiuHow, 2022).
Online education is not expected to replace the need of physical presence and interaction during learning as experienced inside university classrooms. Besides there will always be subjects which will not be able to be taught online. Online learning models will continue to be inspired by face2face experience rendering the humanisation of online education even more imperative in the future. Retaining confidence in online education should become a concern of academic providers, being public or private. Targeting quality, affordability, inclusivity and adaptability can potentially promise the success in online education. Through these lens, the meaning of the International Day of Education for the future of education can be flipped “to invest in education, prioritize people”.
- Gallagher, S. and Palmer, J. (2020) The Pandemic Pushed Universities Online. The Change Was Long Overdue. Harvard Business Review, September 29. Available here
- Dellarocas, C. and Hagiu, A. (2022) How Higher Ed Can Contend with Learning Platforms. Harvard Business Review, December 21. Available here