Is Higher-Ed Poised For Disruption Post-Pandemic?

Coronavirus Higher Ed

Of the many industries still being affected by the Covid-19 crisis, higher education is perhaps high on the list of organizations that may see lasting effects of a lockdown lifestyle. Even with a tenuous and slow recovery underway, how people receive their university degrees may be changing forever.

As the world continues to come to terms with what life is going to look like for at least the near to medium term. Should predictions of the second peak of infections not come to fruition and a vaccine and cure be developed within 6-18 months, the world still faces two years of questions.

Some industries will rebound better than others. Once an all-clear is given, people will no doubt return to bars and restaurants, albeit cautiously. But higher education has reached an inflection point where circumstances may present great doom or a great opportunity. 

With the advent of remote learning, professors are no doubt finding that distance learning is not only possible but in some ways practical. There is no doubt the loss of the face-to-face component of traditional education in this model, but it is certainly a serviceable form of learning. Might we be seeing the future of distance learning before our eyes?

Hans Tiperia, associate professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, says as much recently writing in The New York Times. Tiperia posits that with so much unemployment, demand is going to plummet and prices with it. About pre-pandemic online education, he says it amounted to merely a “hobby” for most universities. 

The era of online education, Mr. Tiperia concludes, does not represent an existential threat to higher ed as much as a huge opportunity. If it is approached in the right wat, that is. If not addressed by major institutions, the university landscape could be disrupted by more upstart online universities offering open-source degrees, for example. 

Academia must grapple with these problems now and embrace the new tools that have been thrust upon them to reimagine online education and transform it into a much more mature education platform. It is clear classes can be held via Zoom or similar platform; It’s not ideal, but it’s better than not hearing a person’s voice and seeing their face, albeit digitally. 

Live video lectures need to become more of an option in online education and it can serve to not only increase the quality of the experience for all parties involved but constitute a shift in the thinking of online education. Professors have had to innovate and find new ways to engage their classes. 

There will always be a place for face-to-face classes and they will always be, for a good reason, considered the gold standard for learning. Humans are social creatures – even a pandemic can’t change that. Nothing beats a flesh and blood instructor in a classroom.

But you can come close, and administrators today must take heed of the lessons of the pandemic and prepare for a future where, at the very least, online education plays a much more outsized role in the business of higher ed.