Embracing online learning: The new educational paradigm

Hybrid learning is a permanent change.
Here to stay.

As Covid-19 continues to impact how we live, educators have had to rapidly adapt to online learning. While this may have initially been viewed as a temporary measure, new research has shown a hybrid learning model has several advantages over traditional classroom learning.

Many workplaces and universities have embraced the benefits of the online environment, particularly the increased flexibility for employees and students alike.

Driven by the desire to improve, innovative schools have followed suit. Other schools have adapted out of necessity.

In a win-win for students, families and educators, the benefits of hybrid learning models have become much clearer.

The benefits of online learning
While many schools have been forced to shift to online mode, new research by McCrindle has identified some key benefits of the digital learning environment. In their study of 1,201 Gen Z students, McCrindle found they were more likely to cite the online environment as better than the classroom for developing several crucial competencies, including;

  • Adaptability (53 per cent vs 25 per cent),
  • Personal organisation (49 per cent vs 32 per cent), and
  • Time management (46 per cent vs 34 per cent).

Curiosity and creativity came out close to even for both environments. Significantly, 70 per cent of students described their ideal learning environment as a hybrid one, incorporating both classroom and online learning.

Innovative schools embracing online learning
The tertiary education sector has readily adopted online and hybrid learning. Prior to the pandemic, many universities already offered full or partial online course delivery modes, with many more adopting this practice since Covid-19.

The K-12 sector, too, was moving down the online path prior to Covid-19. The Australian Christian College group of schools, for example, have offered online distance education for over 10 years, and are now Australia’s largest non-government provider of K-12 online schooling. Their school at Marsden Park in northwest Sydney, offers a complete online school option for New South Wales students from Kindergarten to Year 12. The program utilises well-recognised digital technology solutions, such as Canvas and Google for Education. Supported by qualified teachers, students follow the registered Australian curriculum, complete with university pathways. Similarly, Australian Christian Colleges (ACC) in Queensland and Western Australia also provides a complete online schooling option for students from Prep to Year 12.

ACC also makes available hybrid offerings at their Singleton school in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales. Senior students can complete four days per week of learning face to face, with the fifth day online.

Another innovative example in the K–12 space is Crimson Global Academy. Crimson is an online high school offering accelerated courses where students can work towards achieving internationally recognised GCSE and A-Level qualifications, facilitating entry to prestigious Ivy League universities in the United States.

Many schools are lagging behind
Several other government and independent schools are using online learning management systems. However, they are using these mostly as tools to continue what is essentially classroom learning, forced to fit the digital delivery model.

Covid-19 has sped up schools’ online delivery, especially in the top-tier private schools that have the resources and funding needed to do so. Other schools don’t have the financial capability, and some – particularly those in remote areas – are struggling to provide quality online learning.

Furthermore, education authorities are potentially causing a delay in the widespread adoption of hybrid and online learning by putting roadblocks in the way. Online students, for example, only get 45 per cent of the funding they would get if they went to an on-campus school. Importantly, this funding disparity is not due to the absence of physical buildings as these are funded separately, it's just a legacy from an era when remote students were posted paper-based work. Some states make it difficult for families wanting to choose online school by requiring students to meet specific requirements to enrol as online students. In South Australia, for example, students are only eligible to access online learning if they are unable to regularly attend a day school, for reasons such as geographical isolation, work commitments or medical conditions.

Education’s future will remain online
There’s no doubt the Covid-19 accelerated adoption of online learning is here to stay. As McCrindle points out, the global education paradigm shift makes it extremely unlikely we will return to a learning environment the same as the one pre-pandemic. The future of learning involves accepting a whole new reality.

It’s not about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Rather, leading educators will blend the best of traditional teaching methods with innovative digital technologies, creating the effective, highly engaging learning environments students need for future success in a post-pandemic world.

It's also worth considering that if our workplaces are going to be hybrid environments, and our Universities are already hybrid environments, it would appear that students who have mastered hybrid learning environments will be well prepared for what lies ahead.