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April 2, 2020

MSU faculty member discusses the future of education amid COVID-19 crisis

Christine Greenhow is an associate professor of educational technology and educational psychology in the College of Education. Greenhow studies online learning environments and has been teaching students face-to-face and online since 2012. 

Content has been edited for clarity.

Because most schools have moved to virtual learning environments in response to COVID-19, what are the likely longterm outcomes of this?

School districts are racing to identify and close gaps in accessibility for students who lack devices and/or internet to participate in virtual learning at home. So, a paradigm shift is likely. Schools will seek to continue the expanded technology infrastructure and virtual learning benefits to improve education long-term. 

Will more schools embrace distance learning once we're beyond the pandemic? If so, what will that look like? Will some educational entities move beyond physical classrooms altogther?

We know from over a decade of research that online learning can provide as good or even better student learning outcomes compared to traditional classroom-based instruction. Now is the time for schools to tap into that knowledge base, and those that do will likely embrace virtual learning beyond the pandemic. 

What will that learning look like? Learning environments that blend asynchronous online elements, where students can go at their own pace, on their own time, have some choice over their learning and are set to engage deeply and critically with course content combined with synchronous elements, where students online are interacting with other students, their teacher and content at the same time. There is positive interdependence in cooperative learning and continuous formative feedback. It is suggested to be most successful for student learning.  

For some programs, such as those serving learners unable to attend school in physical classrooms for various reasons, the pandemic-initiated move to virtual learning could be a welcome and permanent improvement.

Could in-classroom learning go the way of the dinosaur or is that panic-striken hype? 

It is unlikely that in-classroom learning will be wiped out by the pandemic, but it may have to evolve with more variation in how, where, when and with whom students can learn with technology.

In essence, what is the future of classroom-based learning and the technology that plays a role in providing instruction?

We can see the future of education in what is already happening in places such as Michigan State University, where we have been combining classroom based learning with online learning for years to create a hybrid educational model that utilizes the best of the approaches. For instance, we use many technologies such as Zoom video-conferencing, social media and robot technologies so that our remote students can come to class virtually at the same time as on-campus classmates. We build in multiple opportunities for students to interact with each other, with their teacher and with the course content, no matter what their mode for attending class: virtually or in-person.  The future of learning is giving learners choices which today's technologies make possible. 

By: Kim Ward

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