‘We Are Witnessing an Educational Revolution That Goes Beyond Universities’
Higher education has special value in the dynamically changing world of highly competitive labour markets. Employers care not only about diplomas, but also about the quality and relevance of the knowledge and skills gained from university. Online learning has become ‘the new normal’ in education—a minimum prerequisite. These issues were discussed by experts during the eLearning Stakeholders and Researchers Summit (eSTARS 2021) organised by HSE University in cooperation with Coursera.
The panel discussion ‘Disruption and the Changing Nature of Online Education’ featured the participation of Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera, Yaroslav Kuzminov, Academic Supervisor of HSE University, and Vladimir Mau, Rector of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). The moderator of the event was William Kuskin, Associate Dean for Digital Education at the University of Colorado Boulder, who noted that the participants of the discussion were visionaries with internationally recognised experience in transforming educational systems.
According to Prof. Kuskin, the pandemic has been a powerful driver of fundamental changes in the education market. It has created a social demand for universities to integrate digital tools into the learning process. Supporting this idea, Jeff Maggioncalda said that the intensive development of technologies, globalisation processes, and changes in the landscape of the labour market have forced the world to adapt to the new digital reality. Online learning provides the widest possible range of educational content and demonstrates high flexibility and unprecedented accessibility for students around the world.
According to the Coursera CEO, online learning has changed the format of communication with teachers, with more and more courses being held online. A great emphasis is placed on empirics and digital laboratories, which, thanks to the support of industry leaders, make it possible to maximise expertise in the subject area and find promising jobs. Higher education has special value in the dynamically changing world of highly competitive labour markets: employers care not only about the applicant's diploma, but primarily about the quality and relevance of the knowledge acquired. Online technologies are widely used not only by students and professionals in order to improve their qualifications, but also by business communities and governments to develop employee competencies and to create jobs in the digital environment.
Customised Online Learning
Yaroslav Kuzminov talked about the ‘new normal’ in education, in which online facilities are seen as a minimum prerequisite, rather than a replacement for conventional technologies. This minimum prerequisite will be further supplemented by more advanced elements, such as AI, simulators, and services.
We are witnessing an educational revolution that goes beyond universities and significantly affects secondary schools. Online learning is personalised thanks to technological advances and the analytical recommendations and predictive capabilities of big data
Yaroslav Kuzminov said that the need to facilitate feedback has been one of the key problems in education since the emergence of Jan Amos Comenius’s concept of mass education in the 17th century (as opposed to the individual approach of Plato's academy). Mr Kuzminov believes that every group, class, and audience is divided into those who successfully master knowledge and those who lag behind, those who fall into step with the lecturer or the teacher, and those who lose sight of the context.
‘The main problem with the stage of education we are trying to address with online technology is the loss of large numbers of students and pupils. Teachers are unable to provide feedback to a disparate audience. Digital tools make that connection much more stable and assured. A quality university must facilitate informal, effective, and direct contact between teachers and individual students or groups. As hubs of intellectual communication and development, universities have a bright future in this regard,’ said Mr. Kuzminov.
During the pandemic, HSE students realised that the campus is not a building in itself, but what goes on inside it. With the help of technology, the university can be scaled to any location and provide uniform standards of teaching culture and mutual interest. During the pandemic, more than a hundred leading figures from the global academic community joined HSE University. An internal HSE study shows that these professors from leading universities were able to ensure higher student involvement in the educational process than the average HSE campus employee. Thus, social interaction is not superseded by online learning, but enhanced by it.
From Product to Person
Vladimir Mau compared the pandemic's impact on society and the subsequent dramatic digital transformation of educational systems to military action. Just as the First World War led to the rapid growth of state regulation in the economy, distance learning was a new institutional solution to the COVID-19 pandemic that triggered changes in the structure of markets and generated existential risks.
Four waves of sociological studies by RANEPA on the adaptation of students and teachers to distance learning have shown two natural but contradictory trends: there is a consistent acceptance of distance learning, and most teachers see it as a convenient, acceptable, and effective tool, while pessimism about the impact of online learning on higher education is growing.
Listing the problems of online education, Vladimir Mau mentioned sometimes inadequate social adaptation, reluctance among certain audiences to adopt new technologies, and the ethical aspect of using digitalization for good. Meanwhile, the responsibility for whether such technologies become a force for good lies not only on the providers of content, but also on its consumers.
According to the Rector of RANEPA, technology should serve education—not the other way round.
The fundamental shift we’re talking about now is the transition from a product-centric approach to a customer-centric one
At the same time, growing individualisation and the variety of online products accentuate the personal responsibility of individual students: now it is not the teacher who decides what, how long and how exactly to study—it is the students themselves. While artificial intelligence can assist in choosing learning trajectories, it is not always the right tool to determine educational strategies.
According to Vladimir Mau, online education promotes the concept of lifelong learning: ‘A normal university today is no longer just a source of higher education. It is a place where one can learn for life. Different forms of distance learning should be used at different stages of professional life. One fifth of the 250,000 students of our Academy are mid-career graduates.’
Demand among adult audiences for quality, practice-oriented on-the-job online education intensifies both intra-industry competition between universities and inter-industry competition. As providers of digital content, universities are now in competition with technology companies and EdTech leaders. 'Education is increasingly becoming an investment in the future, so absolutely everyone is coming to this market,' said Vladimir Mau.
According to Jeff Maggioncalda, the qualitative transformation of educational systems is facilitated by synergy in the academic community, the exchange of expert experience and best teaching practices, universities growing beyond their physical walls, and collaboration between universities, technology companies and innovative businesses.
Prepared by Ekaterina Zinkovskaya, HSE eLearning Office.
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