How Virtual Learning Can Help Bridge the Skills Gap | National News

Although online learning predates COVID-19, the pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital learning development in higher education. In the last two years alone, online courses and the expansion of online degree programs have exploded.

Going forward, higher education institutions must innovate to improve access, engagement and the overall experience for students of all types while embracing the idea of ​​”lifelong learning,” said Judy Olian, President of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, during a recent US News webinar on “How virtual learning enables lifelong competence building.” Olian and three other panellists discussed where online education fits in the future of higher education and how institutions need to adapt going forward.

As the pandemic enters its next phase and education providers struggle to balance both fully virtual and fully in-person programs, “many institutions are also thinking of the overall student experience as one that can be hybrid to provide access and the Maximizing flexibility and serving students how they need to be served,” said Jared Stein, vice president of higher education strategy at Canvas by Instructure, an education technology company.

What might such learning experiences look like? There are many such opportunities, panellists noted, and developing learning models that work for both students and faculty is among the greatest challenges for institutions.

Another important consideration: ensuring equity in the digital world, said Marina Aminy, executive director of California Virtual Campus, which is part of California Community Colleges, a system that includes 116 schools. Aminy noted that efforts to waive certain costs, for example, or implement programs that loan or give away laptops to those who need those devices, for example, could help because they might otherwise rely on their cellphones to take online classes.

In addition to ensuring diversity and equal access, university leaders work to ensure that overall Online Student Experience is robust and meaningful.

“We are on the cusp of the great modernization of higher education,” which will require everything from redesigning the student office and faculty support to rethinking the dorm learning experience, said Evangeline Tsibris Cummings, deputy chancellor and director of UF Online at the University of Florida.

However, she stressed that responsibility for this shift should not be placed squarely on the backs of faculty. Counselors and administrators must take an active role in supporting both residential and non-traditional students, Cummings added. To that end, the University of Florida has established a personalized advisory system for students in fully online programs while maintaining a “very low academic advisor-to-student ratio.”

“That has helped us because not only does the student feel connected, the advisor gathers invaluable, invaluable information about the student’s experiences, how to navigate the curriculum and the like,” Cummings said.

Even with programs delivered entirely online, students still have the opportunity to connect with employers in the campus community and beyond with experiential learning opportunities.

Quinnipiac for example partner with Hartford HealthCare, a nearby hospital and health care system, among others, while the University of Florida recently announced a program with Amazon to upskill some of the company’s employees. Higher education institutions “need to get into the practice of looking outside of academia to determine what the learning needs are,” Olian said.

Such business partnerships could also benefit employers by allowing them to train or retrain workers in hopes of upgrading their skills and enhancing their employability.

In fact, a possible solution to the so-called Great resignation is “talking to the companies that need the workforce, finding out what those skills are, (and) providing the training to get people into those jobs,” Aminy said. Flexibility will be “our key to closing these gaps going forward.”

Besides, Olian noticed that about 36 million people in the United States have credit for uncompleted bachelor’s degrees, which underscores the importance of supporting not only enrollment but also graduation, as many students struggle to pick up where they left off and are penalized could become because they lack credentials for certain jobs, she said.

In doing so, the panellists argued for an easier path forward, regardless of where each student’s credits were earned. In California, that cross-institutional ethos has long existed with the California Virtual Campus, Aminy noted, where the community college system’s more than 1.8 million students can enroll in courses at different schools with considerable flexibility.

Regardless of the format, a one-size-fits-all approach to education will be a thing of the past, the panelists predicted. Instead, it’s reasonable to expect “a much more student-centric personalization process,” Cummings said, which could allow students more flexibility in their educational journey. “Right now our systems are very structured and we don’t necessarily let that happen as much as I hope we will in 10 years.”

Leave a Comment