The global pandemic posed the education system with a very obvious problem, how could it continue to function with the closure of all educational institutions?
The answer: Learning Management Systems (LMS).
Founded on the basis of e-learning, these systems enable educators to manage the learning of their pupils. The real beauty of these systems lies in their ability to be used remotely, making them a ‘perfect’ match for the problems posed by the pandemic.
As a university student, I am well accustomed to using Moodle (https://moodle.org). Its an online LMS that allowed my university to create a customised virtual learning environment for my peers and I.
Even prior to the pandemic, my lecturers heavily relied upon Moodle’s system to supplement in-person teaching; lecturers communicated, handed out learning & examination materials, and monitored pupil engagement with materials using the platform.
As the pandemic placed an abrupt stop to all in-person teaching, Moodle quickly became my primary and only source of learning.
During the pre-pandemic era, lecturers would frequently lament students for not attending lectures, explicitly and repeatedly stating that we would not be able to successfully graduate with just the use of online learning platforms. Now that in-person teaching was no longer possible, how could the university U-turn away from its fundamental teaching principles and assure us a high-standard of education?
Rather quickly, I realised how.
My highly tech-reliant life was actually very well-equipped to handle the transition of learning from the classroom to online. My lecturers pre-recorded lectures before uploading them to Moodle for me to watch on-demand. This was actually something that I massively preferred to in-person teaching. I was able to work through lectures at my own pace, and on my own timetable. I corresponded with lecturers through Moodle and via email, whilst webcam platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams were used for more in depth queries/discussions with my lecturers and peers. Examinations were also placed on Moodle, allowing me to flex my brain power away from the daunting bright lights of the bleak exam hall.
For me, online learning was wonderful. I was gaining an education from the comfort of my own bedroom.
I quickly realised that the incredibly well-established education system had been completely revolutionised by LMS’ and the internet in only a matter of weeks. It was not just my university that had been revolutionised, it had happened all over the world. Universities had begun to provide a high-quality education that could be completed from anywhere around the world, irrespective of time zone, providing that you had a laptop and internet connection.
It dawned on me that this revolution may permanently change the fundamental principle of teaching in-person.
Online LMS’ had proved that International students, situated thousands of miles away from their universities, were now able to attain a prestigious degree, whilst saving thousands of dollars on living and transport costs by completing it from home. It had also rendered million-dollar investments in educational buildings entirely useless, as universities were able to facilitate effective learning using just a computer, webcam and internet connection.
And if you don’t believe me, you’ll believe this.
Experts within the online learning sector claim that the online learning market has grown from just under $8 billion in 2015 to over $22 billion in 2020.
Nearly a 3x increase!
They credit this huge increase to the pandemic and expect the market to grow to over $80 billion by 2027 (figures courtesy of https://www.globenewswire.com).
So, Viva la online revolution of the education system!
But, *there’s always a but*
Before we all grab our virtual pitchforks and head for our local university campus’, I must confess that from the experiences of my peers, online learning is not always entirely perfect.
For friends of mine who study highly practical degrees, like engineering, that require access to laboratories or specialised spaces, online LMS’ are a bit imperfect. For degrees such as this, in person practical teaching is largely irreplaceable.
Additionally, lecturers have complained, and rather understandingly so, at the lack of social interaction that pre-recorded lectures provided. Teachers are provided no immediate feedback from students, as they’re unable to pick out confused faces or nodding heads to determine whether or not what they are teaching is being understood. How boring must it be to talk at a computer screen for 1-2 hours?
The solution? Live lectures. Platforms such as Zoom & Microsoft Teams were used by many universities to livestream lectures, which allowed for active engagement between pupils and teachers.
But (again), live-streaming lectures unfortunately only partially gloss over the problem.
No in-person teaching deprives you of the small talk that you have between your peers before/after lectures. No small talk means no meeting new friends and no new university friends means no one to go have a beer with on the weekend.
(No beers on the weekend make for a pretty rubbish university experience).
The concept of online learning and LMS’ also relies upon people having access to technology such as a laptop or desktop computer. This access, or lack of access, opens up a plethora of socio-economic issues that could arise should university education revolutionise entirely.
So all things considered, the exclusive use of online learning is not perfect. But neither was the pre-pandemic education system.
That being said, I think you would be very hard pressed to deny that online learning, forced upon us by the pandemic, has significantly shifted the methods and attitudes of those involved within the education system. International students can now complete a large chunk of their degree thousands of miles away from their campus grounds; lecturers are able to lecture from the comfort of their living room; students can enter virtual exam halls from the ease of their own homes.
I think that the versatility and ease of online learning has firmly cemented it into the foundations of education and I don’t expect it to disappear anytime soon.