The world is a digital place, and higher education faces many challenges as it transitions toward online learning.
While there are many streams of higher education and courses, like the Master of Education, available online in Australia and worldwide, other tertiary education facilities have been slower to create the framework required for digital learning.
For universities and colleges around the world, COVID-19 was a massive catalyst for change. While online learning existed before the pandemic, thousands of colleges and universities were exposed as being fragmented on adopting high-quality education technology and digital skills.
Shutdowns of university campuses prompted a rush to remote learning, and it became apparent in many instances there was plenty of work to do to provide a capable online learning experience for students. But there is still plenty of work to be done to create a true online learning platform across all universities and colleges.
Students Voice Their Concerns Over Online Higher Education
Almost 14 per cent of all tertiary students in Australia were already studying online prior to COVID. Many more joined their ranks because of the pandemic, but their experiences were not favourable. Around 50 per cent of all students “do not wish to ever experience it again”, according to a report from Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA).
Among the reasons students cited for not engaging with online learning was being unable to spend as much time in class as they would have liked, being isolated from their peers, and experiencing IT issues. This made examinations and assessments potentially unfair and challenging.
While the initial experience might have been negative, the rush for many higher education facilities to move learning online is likely the catalyst for improvement and change, TEQSA Chief Commissioner Professor Nick Saunders said.
“Many providers have noted these impacts and are undertaking various responses to assure the quality of online learning for their students,” he said.
“This is another positive sign of the Australian higher education sector’s commitment to upholding the quality of education during the pandemic.
“TEQSA looks forward to continuing to work cooperatively with the sector to support the development of further online learning resources, as appropriate, to ensure the ongoing quality of the student experience.”
Online Higher Education Is About More Than Just The Learning Experience
Tertiary education facilities faced a crash course in what e-learning is all about during lockdowns caused by COVID in 2020. They rapidly scrambled to create online learning experiences in a matter of days for their students to continue their education.
But higher education is about more than just learning; several other services need to be migrated online as well. In 2020, academic institutions from all over the world adopted new software-as-a-service technology to enable staff to perform the university’s enrollment, finance, student care, and human resources operations remotely.
For universities to stay afloat during the lockdown, bespoke measures had to be developed. Academics have been quick to accept and share new learning. They range from the best ways to run online admissions and enrollment systems to getting students involved in virtual classrooms.
Access To Online Higher Learning Needs To Be Improved Across The Board
When students are studying in physical classrooms, there is more parity across the board regarding access to technology. When learning online, a digital divide is created where the wealthy can access better computers, laptops, tablets, communication equipment and other vital technologies.
One of the most evident signs of an inequitable digital divide is a Learning First report finding that Victorian schools serving disadvantaged communities are four times as likely to provide students with hard-copy materials as schools in more advantaged areas. As a result, these students are far less likely to have the tools to succeed in online higher learning than those from advantaged households.
While a Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) has been established to estimate the amount of public funding a school needs to meet its students’ educational needs, a digital resourcing standard may be required soon. This would provide high school students with the tools they need to excel and successfully transition to online higher education.