There are multiple drawbacks to online education in comparison to face-to-face classes and learning methods students are accustomed to. More than ever, it requires self-motivation and a high degree of time management skills. While online programs have significant strengths and offer unprecedented accessibility to quality education, surveys apparently show that an overwhelming number of students and even educators are convinced that the value of education has declined due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This in-depth analysis tells us more.
It ought to be the best of times for online education.
Nearly everyone who’s learning is doing so online. Teachers and other school leaders are being online educators by necessity and many millions of learners, across all levels, are experiencing online learning products firsthand. Both sides of the education equation are seeing it, touching it, taking online learning for a prolonged, if unexpected, test drive. And, at this same moment, one of the early brand names of online learning – Coursera – is wooing investors and going public.
Under somewhat normal circumstances and for nearly every other kind of marketplaces, that kind of exposure is priceless. Contemplate, for a second, what electric car companies would pay to get every driver in the world into an electric model for a solid year.
But instead of celebrating, we may be entering the worst of times for online education.
That’s because, if you’re going to force people into a test drive, you had better be pretty sure they will like the car, that at least some customers will want to buy it or at least keep using it.
The problem, in this case, is that the extended trial of online learning has been a dud, a disappointment, a disaster. Turns out, most people don’t like online learning. Based on overwhelming public response, remote, online learning is a lousy product.
In February, Barnes & Noble College (BNC) released a report called College 2030 that includes a survey of students and teachers, and institutional administrators. BNC found that “44% of students said the value of college has declined due to the pandemic.”
Does what happened to college during the pandemic need to be underlined? In case it does, college went entirely online during the pandemic and now more than two in five students say that has made college less valuable. Yikes.
BNC also reported that, “students are struggling with the decreased engagement and effectiveness that comes with online learning.” Let’s underline “effectiveness” too. Further, the BNC survey found that an incomprehensible, 94% of students said schools should charge less money for online classes. Remember, students literally sued schools, alleging outright that online education should cost less because it’s worth less.
That’s not to single out BNC. There have been dozens of surveys over the past several months showing the same thing – students hate online learning. Not universally, of course. Online programs are good fits for some students, and those students will continue to pick them where they can. But students clearly are not buying online or digital learning on the mass market.
Teachers aren’t enjoying selling it either.
A separate survey, released on March 1 by McKinsey & Co, asked teachers what they thought of teaching online over the past year. On a ten point scale where ten was “equivalent to in person learning,” American teachers gave their online experience a score of just 3.5. A lopsided 84% of U.S. teachers scored remote learning a 6 or below when compared to in person modes. Fifty-eight percent of teachers gave it a 4 or lower. Just 5% gave it an eight or better.
Keep in mind, rating remote learning a ten was just saying it was equal to in person. It appears McKinsey did not even bother to ask if it was better. Yikes again.
The McKinsey survey also highlights that remote or online learning is worse for poor students and the under-resourced schools that serve them. For rich kids in private schools, remote learning was a setback. For poor kids, it’s been devastating.
Again, this McKinsey survey is not an outlier. Dozens of research papers and teacher surveys have shown the same or similar.
Back to that electric car analogy, getting every driver in a year-long test drive. If reviews of EV test drives were like the ones we’re getting after a year of online learning, the market would crater. If 94% of drivers said EVs need to cost less because they are not effective, if drivers literally sued the car dealers over the quality of the product, investors would get the message. If 84% of car experts gave EVs a score of just six in ten or worse, those building and selling them might pause and reflect.
But this is online education where failures of the past don’t reflect on the view of the present or best of times predictions about the future.
Speaking of, there’s plenty of investor excitement about that upcoming IPO by Coursera, one of the early innovators of the MOOC, the massive, open, online course flop. According to the company’s financials, it lost $67 million last year. It lost $46 million in 2019. Overall, it’s lost more than $340 million.
But this is the online education market, where the noisiest authorities insist on being received in only the superlative degree.