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      Limited accessibility. Paradoxically, the key strength of online education, its accessibility, has also been its main challenge, as not all faculty are comfortable with virtual teaching and not all students have a digital infrastructure that allows them to continue their education online. Moreover, due to the limitations in bandwidth capacity in many countries, both the quality of the learning experience and the value of education have been degraded. Beyond the issue of digital access, in war-torn societies or places where children’s and women’s rights are fragile or nonexistent, the disappearance of the physical space often equates to that of the entire learning opportunity for vulnerable people.

      A defective online experience. The second biggest challenge has been the experience itself. From an organizational perspective, the preparation for synchronous, or live, online sessions takes more time than for in-person ones, and the management of large classes (more than 12 students) with current videoconferencing platforms cannot accommodate for personalization and real-life experimentation. Assessment and accountability have suffered as students have found creative ways to skip classes or “cheat” in exams. And because asynchronous teaching cannot offer the accountable consistency of live classes (be it online or offline) or the opportunity for dialogue, learners generally prefer face-to-face interactions over recorded lessons.

      Reduced value and effectiveness. As learning went digital and lost its immersive experience, cutting off direct contact with peers and experts, tuition fees remained unchanged and education became overpriced. Learners, and even their parents, began considering the value of a gap year to counter the prospect of long days of study spent behind a computer screen. That perception reveals the inefficiencies of the typical online experience, as it lacks animation, reduces motivation, and decreases engagement rates.

      When we look at the statistics behind the massive open online learning experience, such as Coursera’s, about two-thirds of people never get to the end of an online course. When 55 percent of students don’t complete their college education in the United States, it is only legitimate to question and worry about the effect of online learning on the drop-out rate throughout the 2020–21 academic year. Meanwhile, as rising ed tech seeks to solve problems, we can only wonder whether innovation will cure the symptoms or deal with the root problems.

      However, the mass online learning experiment, in spite of its many hurdles, has given us a glimpse of what the future of education could look like.




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