Back to Basics: Quality in Digital Learning

Posted by Hechinger Report on July 27, 2021

Report gives colleges a roadmap for high-quality online education after the pandemic. The abrupt switch to online learning wasn’t ideal, but has offered some valuable lessons.

The March 2020 shift from face-to-face classes to what many call “Zoom University” was triage for faculty and administrators accustomed to being in the same room as their students. The cobbled-together approach could be compared to building an airplane while it’s flying.

The pivot to emergency remote learning differed greatly from what is considered high-quality online education, said Deb Adair, executive director of Quality Matters, a nonprofit that seeks to measure and guarantee quality in online courses. Top-notch online education requires planning the entire course before it runs; laying out materials and defining learning objectives; and ensuring accessibility for all students, she said.

“That is a lot of work that’s done before the class even starts; there was no way that institutions could get that done in the week or two weeks that they had before they had to move everything online,” Adair said.

Though the pandemic forced colleges to make adaptations on the fly, those moves almost certainly provided a “sneak preview of higher education’s future,” according to a new report from the progressive think tank New America.

The report, “Back to Basics: Quality in Digital Learning,” highlights successes and failures of the past 17 months and makes policy recommendations for how to make high-quality online education more accessible in the future, even as many students return to physical classrooms.

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