Part 2: Is the Future of Education Online?

Part of our ‘Thinking About Tomorrow Today’ series

“Thinking about Tomorrow Today” – One of the greatest impacts of the COVID-19 crisis has been on our children and the closure of schools.  This affects students of all ages from elementary to college, with campuses at all levels shuttered.

All of us hope that our education infrastructure re-opens in the near, safe future.  And like in other areas of life, we all hope that life will return to “normal” as quickly as possible.

But it is pretty remarkable to see how innovative and forward-thinking the education establishment is during this time.

Over the last two decades, higher education has been augmented with some on-line, remote learning.  Many long-standing institutions have made small to significant shifts to on-line education.

Brandman University is the most prominent Orange County example.  Some years ago, Chapman launched Brandman, a non-profit, largely online college for adult learners.  Today, this Irvine-based university serves 24,000 students annually, with graduation rates that are more than twice that of four-year public universities. Before the pandemic and now, online higher education options greatly benefit students who have full-time, part-time jobs or who are family caregivers by giving them flexibility.

But as private universities have seen this remote learning option as a great benefit to our communities, public universities have limited this effort and have continued to be reliant on traditional, on-campus education.

Higher education institutions are struggling to offer a fully online framework, as campuses were dramatically shut down. High schools and elementary schools have scrambled to distribute Chromebooks to students who don’t have the technology at home to adapt to an internet-based, remote learning model to ensure that school children receive education through the 2019-20 school year.

So could this crisis encourage a new model for how education is delivered?

Might more colleges and universities, both public and private, offer a dual-education platform, both on campus and online?  Local public universities like UCLA with 44,537 enrolled students and  California State University Fullerton with 40,280 (according to the National Center for Education Statistics) are bursting at the seams on  their physical campuses; could remote, online be expanded to further increase the capacity of the public higher education systems without the need for new bonds and capital campaigns, particularly as birth rates decline?

And might we consider how to expand learning opportunities at all levels of education – elementary through high school. Younger students, most of whom who have been exposed to iPads or iPhones as early as age 3, are more adept at embracing new technologies than any other previous generation. If public and private schools could add these online opportunities within weeks, shouldn’t all schools provide greater learning opportunities?

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