Online Distance Learning: The New Normal in Schools

Latest statistics show that at least 1.2 Billion students around the world have been effectively shut out of their schools due to ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The high-end schools that are already technology-enabled have no major concerns in transitioning to a more e-learning focused delivery of services. The more traditional schools that still emphasize classroom activities supervised by a teacher live and on-site will be the ones that need to act fast.

It is, however, important to note that appreciation for technology-enabled education has risen significantly even before COVID-19 forced every school to take more notice. In 2019 alone, educational institutions around the globe have invested a total of $18.66 Billion. In previous years, majority of platforms went to self-paced programs that allowed students to dictate the speed and scope of learning over a defined period. Last year, more money went to procuring technologies for cognitive learning, artificial intelligence or AI platforms, mobile learning from smartphones and other handy gadgets, and even in the use of bots for interactive computer-based learning.

Schools Have Changed Their Business Models

Many schools across the United States have had to realign their budgets to fund professional website design services, an investment that will pay dividends in terms of increased marketing reach. Many institutions also needed to upgrade and enable their websites to process online enrollment and payment procedures. At the same time, significant investments had to be made to support technologies needed for online classroom instruction and activities for students.

For schools, it is not just a matter of adapting to new technology. The situation also called for a change in their business model. Since the quarantine took effect, naturally, fear and apprehension among parents and students have arisen. Of course, teachers and professors are also placed at high risk of contracting the disease if no change is done.

The decrease in enrollment levels has definitely affected the bottom line of many private schools including Ivy League universities that have a significant percentage of revenue from foreign students. Travel bans have consequently prevented old foreign students from returning for the next semester. New foreign students have no recourse other than to wait it out or ask for a refund and just study in their home country.

To keep the institution afloat, investments were made in digital marketing and online educational technologies so that the school can still engage their students in cyberspace. While the classrooms will have to remain closed indefinitely, going online has also broadened the scope of active and potential enrollees in schools that have learned to adapt to the situation.

Learning Management Systems

Learning management systems (LMS) are now the centerpiece of schools. These systems will allow them to deliver subject instruction, hold class discussions, present information and other learning references, conduct examinations, and other typical activities done in a live classroom. The latest LMS platforms have incorporated live video streaming, video conferencing, chat messaging, and other convenient means to communicate, teach, and learn. In earlier days, the LMS was just a one-way platform that showed lessons in text or in images until videos uploaded to the site were added. Present-day LMS use is so similar to actual classroom experience except that all participants are in remote locations.

Customer Relations Management (CRM) Systems

More and more schools are also adopting CRM that is more common in commercial enterprises and in the corporate world. Educational institutions now have more appreciation for a digital platform for organizing database about their customers parents or guardians of students as well as the student body itself. The school needs to master collation, analysis, and use of data and information in order to reach their stakeholders via text messaging, chat, social media, and other means of contact. The system enables schools to evaluate the needs and expectations of their stakeholders, using the results of their study to improve school policies, procedures, and methods.

Impact of Online Distance Learning

In terms of impact, online distance learning will help teachers save time and energy in moving from house to classroom on a daily basis. It made the teaching profession a work-from-home job. Among students, it is expected to increase their interest since it is technology-driven and the present generations probably the group of learners that is the most comfortable and knowledgeable in using the Internet, gadgets, and software for their studies. The use of computers and smartphones is almost instinctive to even the youngest members of this generation of students.

Another impact that needs attention and in-depth study is the long-term effect of social distance and isolation that comes with being an online student. While the students can still interact online with their teacher and among themselves, no one will argue that meeting and working with people is still preferred by most. In fact, the isolation is not felt by students alone but even by teachers and school administrators who are more accustomed to working in a populated school campus.

Perhaps this school year, another research will be conducted on the efficacy of online distance learning and its social and psychological impact on learners, teachers, and school staff. The financial aspect of running an online distance learning platform, in mainstream and wide-scale format, is something that needs to be analyzed by school owners and administrators. One thing is for sure: no matter the situation, learning must continue and schools will find a way to meet the needs of its array of stakeholders.

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