COVID-19 Reveals the Need for Education Innovation

COVID-19 Reveals the Need for Education Innovation
(Credit: Maricopa County Community College District)

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many politicians and education officials questioned the value and quality of online learning and criticized many of the schools offering online classes. 

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Vice Presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris has a long history of suing schools offering online classes while serving as Attorney General of California. She once claimed that students attending virtual classes were, "...far behind their peers in math and reading.”

Public Education officials openly lament how online education erodes their student numbers and their power to control education curricula. The President of the Idaho Education Association argued that expanding online education is, “...about getting a piece of the money that goes to public schools." 

Six months later, much has changed. K-12 school systems and colleges and universities that did not invest in online education are desperately rushing to do so now. Schools not offering a quality online learning experience are losing students to the schools that do.

Many traditional schools are struggling with a transition to online learning. Michigan State had a difficult reopening this fall, while dozens of private, career-focused colleges and universities were better prepared. It has become clear that the COVID pandemic has permanently altered the way students learn in America. Once scorned by some as second-tier education, virtual classes are now a valued part of many students’ regular education experience.

Teri Givens, CEO of the Center for Higher Education Leadership, says, "If there is any leader in the country who thinks it is going to go back to where it was a year ago, they are lying to themselves. But what this will look like is going to be hugely dependent on resources."  

Keiser University saw the value of online learning many years ago, well before the COVID pandemic, and as a result, our robust online infrastructure allowed us to adjust to the COVID outbreak quickly. Keiser's online learning platform and virtual classes have produced thousands of qualified nurses, EMT's, and graduates in law enforcement, many of whom are now working on the front lines to help fight COVID-19. 

Keiser University provides effective online/distance learning through a sophisticated platform called "Keiser Live" which combines training, interactive software, analytics, accountability, and robust safeguards against plagiarism. KU is meeting the demands of its students across its 21 campuses in Florida, two international campuses, as well as serving as a resource for nearly 50 other colleges that found themselves unable to teach students online properly.

Class size is important, especially online. When it comes to offering a quality online learning experience for students, hosting Zoom meetings, Teams, or Webex classes with dozens to hundreds of students, doesn't cut it. KU limits its online classes to an average of 18 students per instructor because the critical component of online education is interaction. 

The platform also allows for students to move into smaller learning groups for increased interaction. The instructor can also move through these smaller online groups to provide more focused teaching. The KU program also allows advanced monitoring of student outcomes, critical thinking skills, class interaction, etc. This platform enables instructors and students to see - in real-time - specific areas for improvement.

"Shadow Help" is a highly advanced platform offered in KU's top-rated nursing school, providing real-world experiences in a distance learning environment. Nursing students can see and treat virtual patients online as part of their education.

KU also has technology to help students with special needs. Ally software helps visually impaired students via a braille component. There are also online resources for students with attention deficiencies and other learning disabilities.

The final component of successful online teaching and learning is flexibility. KU's online learning center operates seven days a week, and many online lectures have been moved to evenings and weekends to allow student parents to spend time with their families.

Private, career-focused colleges and universities are providing a valuable service. In a recent survey, 97% of college students listed finding a job as one of the most important reasons for attending college, and research by the World Economic Forum shows schools providing job training are filling a void in our college education sector. 

The COVID pandemic will eventually be contained, but it's impact on American education will remain. The days of one-size-fits-all education policies must end. Education Sec. Betsy DeVos recently noted how, "America's antiquated approach to education fails too many students. Ultimately, we need to encourage many options for students of all ages. The result will be a workforce and a nation capable of conquering any challenge and seizing any opportunity."

The pandemic makes crystal clear the benefits of school choice. Politicians, regulators, education officials and school administrators face a new education landscape and will need to change with the times. Government officials should embrace school choice at the K-12 level and in higher education by supporting policies that maintain a wide array of options for parents and students.

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