Rovy Branon believes in the power of education to promote positive change, advance social equity and improve lives. “At times like these, with a global pandemic, social unrest and political discord, education can help bring together people of diverse backgrounds and opinions in a supportive, collaborative community to equip and enable them to solve the problems we face,” said Branon, vice provost of Continuum College, the University of Washington’s continuing education and professional development unit.
Prior to COVID-19, online learning appealed primarily to older students. Typically, these learners wanted to continue learning but had other commitments – jobs and families – that made classroom learning more challenging. With the coronavirus now redefining education, every student has became an online learner, and universities that already have robust online curriculums benefit most.
Online Learning to Retool Your Career
Longevity’s impacts on higher education are already being felt as the student population skews older and new forms of higher learning gain traction. “Education doesn’t stop when you get a diploma,” said Branon. “Modern life requires that you continue to educate yourself as technology changes, as society changes and as the way we work changes.”
There has been no time in recent history that the workplace has undergone such massive change. Professional jobs that can be done remotely have moved into the home. Everyone has been required to up their ability to navigate online forums, whether Zoom meetings or Slack for increased team communication.
For the most part, all the hard skills one needs to survive in a post-COVID-19 workplace environment can be found online. If anything, the pandemic has opened people’s eyes to remote learning possibilities as a tool for delivering content and upskilling.
“Scaling up classes during the pandemic shows us that we can accommodate more people, almost all people,” according to Branon. “We don’t have to limit the number of people in a class due to the size of a classroom, which can expand to meet the actual demand.”
Since most jobs require some sense of change in this new working and living norm, online learning is a great way to stay competitive. Education and training continue throughout one’s working life. The time people invest in some form of formalized training helps them land and grow a career.
Continuing education doesn’t necessarily mean a degree, but a program could provide an excellent pathway for a career shift. “In its most basic form, education is following a curiosity. It’s schooling oneself on how best to navigate a situation or contribute to an issue that needs resolution.”
Tech bootcamps are a great example of using online technology to successfully retool and shift careers – even across industries.
“Some jobs might not come back,” said Branon. “We were already seeing reports of overbuild in some service industries before COVID-19. Once we get through the initial recovery to save as many businesses as possible, the focus is on what’s next. Learning online provides the same skill set you will need for successful remote work.”
Traditional University Courses Will Look Different
While some universities, including Harvard, have already decided that all coursework will be taught virtually, other schools hope to bring students safely back to campus.
In Lubbock, Texas Tech University (TTU) will resume in-person teaching and learning for the fall 2020 semester utilizing a blend of face-to-face, hybrid, and online modalities. On their website, the university states that more than two-thirds of the courses will be taught using some degree of face-to-face instruction. While students will be required to wear a mask or face covering when attending an in-person class or inside any campus building, instructors will not be required to wear a mask to meet the needs of students with hearing impairments.
A College Pulse and Charles Koch Foundation survey of 5,000 college students last month reported that almost seven out of ten students thought their school did an excellent (23%) or a good (46%) job when asked how well their college responded to the coronavirus outbreak. Around half of students (46%) said most of their professors were able to transition from in-person classes to online instruction effectively.
What students don’t like is the idea of paying the same tuition for online learning. In the survey, “there is near-universal agreement among students that they should not have to pay full tuition if schools are only offering online classes and distance learning options. More than nine in ten students say students should pay much less (63%) or a little less (30%) intuition if only online learning options are available.”
At TTU, those students opting for virtual learning are asking about a tuition reduction. “Contrary to what many people believe, online classes actually cost the university more to deliver,” the university writes in the FAQs. “At TTU, online classes include an online and distance learning fee to help offset increased technology costs for delivering online classes.”
Leverage This Time to Recreate Your Future
There are low-cost options to explore when considering a change. MOOCs (massive open online courses) are seeing huge growth in enrollment now. UC Irvine saw a 300% increase in MOOCs usage in March. Take the free course and see if it’s a topic you’re interested in and want to pursue as you evolve your professional life.
Branon’s message is to leverage this time to reimagine and recreate your future. “Many of us have spent a lot more recreation time in front of a screen lately. Netflix had its best quarter ever. You need that time with kids and for yourself to enjoy some recreation time, but one night a week, begin career exploration. Re-create your future.”
He recommends beginning with a bit of scenario planning. “Come up with two, three, four scenarios just like you do with work, do that for yourself, look at three months, six months and plan your options. It’s a significant step not to be moored in the problems of today. You can chart a course, even if it’s not ultimately the course you take, but start to chart.”
Branon knows that remote learning is not perfect. “Some of our rapid decisions are likely creating unintended inequities and those will need to be addressed. We should not, however, miss that this shift may also ameliorate other inequities for students who do not have the privilege of attending our most elite universities in person.” On the bright side, even the most prestigious universities can make high-quality educational experiences available, regardless of where a learner is physically located in the world.
“Our current era of remote learning is far from perfect,” he concludes, “but the promise of what is now possible will not be forgotten.”