How is online learning changing higher education? | Top Universities

How is online learning changing higher education?

By Chloe Lane

Updated June 22, 2021 Updated June 22, 2021

Sponsored by American University of the Middle East

The sudden impact of COVID-19 led to an overnight switch to online learning. Initially it seemed that many higher education institutions were unprepared for this challenge. However, one year on, many students are enjoying online learning.

As universities invested in better IT software, students learnt to socialise online and lectures could be taught from anywhere in the world, it began to look like online learning may play a huge part of the future of higher education.  

Here are some of the ways online learning is changing higher education.  

Adapting to change 

As in-person lectures were replaced with live lectures, assignments were submitted virtually and graduations were moved online, some universities found it easier to adapt to online learning than others.  

The American University of the Middle East (AUM) in Kuwait is one example of a university that succeeded in adapting quickly to this new style of learning. As a result, AUM recently received a five-star rating for online learning in the QS Stars Ratings

The American University of the Middle East realised that an important part of the university learning experience is the collaboration between students and faculty. Throughout the pandemic they focused on building and maintaining that sense of community that had existed on campus and transferred that to their online learning.

By 2021, many universities had moved other student support services online. AUM was again ahead of the curve, quickly moving its Tawteen Career Center entirely online to help students prepare for a post COVID-19 work environment, with online mock interviews, virtual workshops and one-to-one consultations offered to students.

This year, AUM adapted its annual career fair by holding it virtually. More than 8,000 students and alumni participated in the seventh career fair where they met and spoke with top local and international employers who were offering around 1,500 job opportunities. The virtual event also featured a variety of networking tools such as chat rooms, teleconferencing, webcasts, webinars, and one-to-one interviews.

AUM Tutoring Center also offers its students free academic support to encourage them to become active and independent learners.  

Improvements to IT software  

In the first half of 2020 alone, there was a record-breaking investment in education technology.

This investment in the early stages of the pandemic meant there was a huge step forward in the way lectures were taught. Many universities around the world, including the American University of the Middle East, used the online platform Moodle, and invested in the integration of various other live streaming educational tools.

Students were able to use their computers, laptops and mobiles to log in to a single interface where they could attend and engage in live lectures, access materials, interact with each other and with faculty, submit assignments, check grades and attend online tutoring sessions.

AUM has also unveiled its mobile app to help students stay up to date with all the important university information and to get quicker and easier access to learning resources.  

Now many universities are finally looking to return to on-campus courses, online learning may be used to make education more accessible for students who are unable to attend in person. Online learning will give many students the option to access high quality teaching from anywhere around the world.  

Additionally, students will be able to access resources, such as webinars, video tutorials, FAQs, and social media communications that will allow them to better prepare for class and improve the interactions between lecturers and students.  

Connecting with people around the world 

The social aspect of the university was something that students missed while studying online. However, many universities around the world have used technology to connect students through shared interests.  

For example, at the American University of the Middle East there is a focus on developing a digital eco-system, which will create a vibrant environment for students to study and socialise.  

They have put on a wide range of events for students including competitions, talks and quizzes. Recent examples of online events hosted by the school include a music trivia night; an event for world water day which included activities and competitions; and an online fitness coaching event.  

These online events look set to continue long after the pandemic is over, with events being live-streamed to include people from around the world. 

The rise of online courses 

One aspect of online learning that has really boomed is the rise of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and self-paced e-courses. These are open to everyone, free of charge, often offered by prestigious institutions to give learners an opportunity to attend additional courses of their choice.

The Soft Skills E-courses platform at AUM is available for students, faculty and staff, and is an opportunity to engage in self-paced e-courses that will upgrade their skills. Through AUM's partnership with Skillsoft, the university offers exclusive access to over 6,000 soft skills world-class video courses.

AUM has recently given an introductory online two-week long workshop about building and programming robots. During the workshop, students learnt about sensors and actuators for robotics, electronic connections and interface, software programming, and logic design for robotics systems.

Also, as part of its student-centric approach to provide high school students with a genuine and holistic learning experience, AUM offers online courses and workshops through the AUM youth website in science, coding, English, mathematics and more.

These free online courses allow students to expand their knowledge and learn more about a subject they’re interested in, helping them set self-development goals and make more informed choices about their education.  

Hybrid learning: the future of higher education? 

As remote teaching has proven to be a success, it’s up to the universities and their students to decide what the future of higher education will look like. Some have suggested that a hybrid model will be the way forward, where students will attend some lectures in person and others remotely.  

But could the future hold something more high-tech? The American University of the Middle East thinks so. 

The university has obtained telepresence robots that will allow students and faculty who are unable to reach campus to be on campus remotely via the robot. These robots feature two cameras with a wide field of view and a tilt, pan and zoom system. You can also choose locations and get the robot to travel there.  

Whatever the future of higher education holds, online learning has made a significant contribution to it.

Lead image credit: American University of the Middle East

This article was originally published in June 2021 .

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