It would be a huge understatement to say that 2020 was a challenging year in education. Last spring, COVID-19 disrupted everything: educators had to quickly adapt their teaching strategies to remote learning; busy parents had to juggle full-time jobs while keeping their children on-task; and high school seniors, in the middle of filling out college applications and applying for college scholarships, were suddenly forced to rethink their futures.
Fortunately, things are looking up in 2021. Millions of Americans have already been administered a COVID-19 vaccine, and this number is only going to rise. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, has optimistically stated that if herd immunity is achieved, we could be back to normal — or close to normal — by fall 2021.
But how will students learn in the meantime? What will education look like for the next couple of semesters and beyond? Although the situation is constantly evolving, here’s what you can probably expect in 2021.
Shift Towards Blended Learning
Despite the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, many schools will not fully return to in-person instruction anytime soon. Instead, you can expect more institutions to adopt a blended learning model, which involves mixing elements of online learning and in-person instruction.
Blended learning offers numerous benefits. Unlike traditional teaching methods that cater to one specific learning style, blended learning is better positioned to meet the needs of multiple types of learners. It also provides more opportunities for teachers to engage with their students and reach them however and whenever they prefer.
Last year, flexibility was key to successful remote learning. Facing challenges such as unreliable internet and getting easily distracted at home, many students struggled to keep up with a normal workload. In response, educators began cutting back on assignments and providing more lenient due dates.
It’s safe to say that students can expect more or less the same leniency in 2021. Although our technology has improved and many students have settled into a routine, flexibility is still needed in the classroom.
Online Learning Is Here to Stay
The COVID-19 pandemic thrust online learning into the spotlight. The sudden shift to online instruction left many incoming college students wondering: How does online college work, exactly?
Although many students and professors initially disliked the new online format, others seemed to enjoy unexpected benefits from the transition to online education. For example, shy students, once too scared to speak up in class, now find it easier to voice their opinion in an online environment. Students with family obligations or full-time jobs can benefit from the increased flexibility and affordability that comes with getting an online degree.
These unexpected benefits are likely to result in colleges offering more online learning programs for students. High-quality, online learning programs were on the rise long before 2020. The pandemic simply fast-tracked the process.
Increased Use of Online Tools and Technology
When the pandemic forced schools to go remote, educators had to step up their education technology (EdTech) game. Now, it seems that many of them are feeling comfortable enough with technology to potentially incorporate it into their long-term teaching strategies.
From Google Classroom to online scavenger hunts, the best teachers are constantly finding new and creative ways to use technology in the classroom. Some teachers are using technology to create a richer education for students. Digital field trips, for example, can take students to faraway places, while video conferencing tools can make it easy to bring in a subject matter expert into the classroom. You can expect many of these tech-based learning strategies to stick around for the long-term.
Embracing the Outdoors
Outdoor learning isn’t a new concept. In fact, teachers in the early 20th century embraced open-air learning as a way to mitigate the spread of the tuberculosis outbreak that was ravaging the country at the time.
Last summer, teachers took their classrooms outside for similar reasons. Guided by the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative, they began using outdoor spaces for learning — and with great success. Many teachers often found that their students were more attentive during outdoor instruction and absorbed more of the lesson.
Not to mention, outdoor learning can improve education inequality. Those who may not have access to reliable broadband can participate in outdoor learning, which is why it’s likely that educators will once again take their lessons outside this summer.
Emphasis on Project-Based Learning
People have been buzzing about project-based learning for a while now, and for good reason. With the cost of higher education skyrocketing, students (and their parents) want to be reassured that they will graduate with the skills and knowledge they need to secure a high-paying career.
Project-based learning can help spark the curiosity of students while preparing them for the “real” world. This teaching method encourages students to gain knowledge and skills by exploring real-world problems, engaging in interactive lessons, and collaborating with their fellow students.
Completing project work can greatly benefit students by helping them gain critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, and leadership skills. It can also potentially benefit businesses and governments by strengthening workforce pipelines across the country.
It’s difficult to say with certainty what education will look like in 2021 and beyond. However, we’re already seeing many of the changes we’ve mentioned above being implemented in classrooms across the country. No matter how long the pandemic lasts, it’s clear that education has been permanently changed in many ways.