The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic can be considered the greatest challenge that education has faced in modern times, significantly disrupting institutions worldwide and billions of learners of all ages. In response, academic institutions conducted courses online and faculty and staff worked remotely due to safety and travel restrictions. Virtual setups have since become the new norm, from teaching and learning to graduation ceremonies. The dire circumstances have effectively removed face-to-face group learning in all educational levels and changed the online learning landscape.

What lessons have we learned?

The adoption of online teaching and learning resulted in favorable and unfavorable experiences. Most teachers and students were unprepared as many schools lacked structured online programs, sufficient technology and infrastructure, and proper course development processes and support systems.

Families also faced difficulties in understanding the impact of various flexible learning models on their children's education and overall family dynamics, Furthermore, low-income families were impacted disproportionately due to lack of access to high-speed internet and gadgets, highlighting the issue of widening digital inequity.

Despite the vast challenges, educators were quick to learn new technology skills. Surprisingly, they were able to develop digital resources for a complete academic year as web-conferencing platforms gradually became their new classrooms. Educational institutions were also quick to deploy online learning courses combined with eclectic methods to meet educational goals in emergent situations. Indeed, these are extraordinary times that require a range of responses and a lot of creativity and innovation.

These experiences demonstrated resilience and revealed a potential for excellence in online teaching and learning. But building on these will require time, effort, and resources to make them sustainable. More importantly, educators must be provided with technological tools, the freedom to adopt innovative approaches, and capacity to share learnings to a broader community for wider applications. Online education leadership also plays a key role in adopting strategies to improve the quality of online programs and establish processes to manage innovations in teaching for greater efficiency.

Where do we go from here?

What is next is to harness lessons from experiences during the pandemic and use these to improve institutional practices.

As the government continues to step up its vaccination program, we tend to contemplate on going back to long-held patterns of education. While we wait for physical classes to resume, educational institutions need to start reassessing emergency remote courses to figure out how these will retrofit as essential course elements in line with pedagogically-sound online teaching and learning standards.

While online learning will not fully replace the physical classroom, there is no doubt that a well-designed online course is equally effective as traditional classroom instructions. A creative way of upgrading emergency remote courses into quality online courses is to rethink how to plan and best deliver online instruction.

Virtual education leadership must champion technological innovation. Academic institutions must respond to technical constraints, renew their commitment to online learning, redesign online courses to improve quality, identify and document innovative processes, and create policies and procedures designed for online learning. They must also decide if the best approach is to partner with external online learning providers or engage ed-tech consultants.

In terms of infrastructure, online leadership should identify educational technologies that will best fit the institution's strategies and plans for online content development and delivery. Institutions should invest in essentials such as learning management systems, learning analytics, assistive technologies for learners with disabilities, and emerging technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence.

Embedding online learning beyond Covid-19

It is high time for educational institutions to build their online learning capacity and capability to support teachers and learners. This should be particularly implemented by institutions that fell behind in their online learning endeavors at the start of the pandemic.

Educational institutions should develop their online learning plans to ensure that teachers and students are ready for synchronous and asynchronous online learning, whether in normal times or in emergency situations.

For learners who lack access to stable internet connections and gadgets, institutions must consider using alternative delivery models such as the use of printed modules in combination with TV, radio broadcast, and other media.

As we approach the new academic year, teachers and students may need structured orientation on online learning to provide them with an array of skills necessary to navigate the virtual learning environment. The online learning experience does not depend solely on the quality of instruction. Educational institutions must also build capacity and infrastructure to provide non-academic support services to teachers and students alike.

With all the focus on the role of educational technology, let us not forget the critical role of teachers in the delivery of online education. It is a big mistake to assume that all teachers can develop all the essential skills for online teaching overnight. They will need additional training and continuing professional development to effectively engage in online teaching.

The devastating impact of the pandemic on education should serve as a wake-up call for all academic institutions and education leaders on how technology can, could, and should be used together with the traditional teacher-led classroom to attain better learning outcomes. If these institutions successfully embed existing and emerging technologies with proven teaching practices, we will be able to get something positive from the pandemic and enter a new era in education.


As published in The Manila Times, dated 28 July 2021