If you asked a current high school and college student, the answer is probably no. (Check out this NYTimes article.) Thanks to Covid-19, they are no longer taking for granted in-person classes, labs, and performances because for many of them, distance learning unfortunately has not been the same academic experience they were used to in the classroom. With only a few days to prepare, teachers and professors moved as agilely as they could to Zoom, Google Classroom, and other online platforms. While some transitioned gracefully, others had a steeper learning curve. Schools quickly came to realize that you can’t flip a switch and change overnight from in-person to distance learning. It takes time and resources to create effective online courses.
Over the past few years, many colleges (and some high schools) have successfully integrated technology and remote learning into their campus offerings. Ohio State, University of Florida, and Penn State are three such colleges that have created highly rated accredited online degree programs (see this article by U.S. News for a complete list), and many schools offer at least some of their classes fully online. High school students have access to online AP courses that their schools do not teach in-person. Clearly remote learning is not simply a response to Covid-19.
While some students may not be happy with their current distance learning experience, online courses when done well provide a welcome educational opportunity for many. It is a boon for those whose schools do not have the resources to teach a particular class or who prefer the freedom to learn on their own schedule as well as for those who simply cannot attend classes during normal class hours. This is especially true for adult learners with family and work commitments that often make it more difficult for them to attend traditional in-person classes. These online programs offer these students the opportunity to earn the high school, college and grad school credits, or even a full degree, that they could not otherwise attain.
There is no expectation that high school and college will ever become fully online programs (there are times that nothing can replace in-person learning), but as the past few months has shown, there are definitely valuable components that can, and should, be integrated into our current education model. There is no doubt. Online learning is definitely here to stay.