COVID-19 has changed the way we do pretty much everything, and education hasn’t been excluded. The education system has been forced to undergo massive changes in response to the pandemic, with many public school systems essentially being forced to adopt a work-from-home model overnight in the early weeks of 2020. Higher education has also seen many changes, with campuses closing their doors and offering online classes instead of in-person learning.

While it’s not clear how effective or ineffective these efforts have been yet, what is clear is that online learning might have a solid place in the future of education. It’s less costly, more accessible (in some cases), and has had some positive results across the country. But how do you quantify the success of online education and its place in the future? What are we looking for?

Let’s dive into how online learning has changed since the pandemic, where it’s at now, and where it might be in the next decade or so.

The Old Model

Distance learning might seem like a new concept with tools like Zoom and other conferencing services, but, in fact, it’s older than that. Distance learning dates back to the formation of the Post Office, where long-distance communication became a viable and dependable option for the average person. In 1858, the University of London became the first institution of its kind to offer an External Programme, which would pave the way for future distance learning.

In 2009, President Barack Obama made a significant contribution (around $500 million) in federal funds for the formation and expansion of online learning programs. What does all of this tell us? Simply this: online learning is a viable option, and, when it’s done right, it works well. Plenty of working parents, busy professionals, and everyday people have completed education programs online and earned real degrees in their spare time. With online learning, you can earn a pharmacy technician certification or other entry-level certification in as little as 10-12 months!

Online learning offers a number of benefits, such as the flexibility and convenience of taking courses when you want. For example, adults who work may take online or distance courses to earn their degree or develop skills for their job.A Bachelor’s degree in Engineering provides students with the fundamental training necessary for an engineering career.

The COVID-19 Response

The COVID-19 pandemic crept up on the US, and, unfortunately, the country just wasn’t prepared for what was coming. As of February of 2021, around 500,000 people have died from the virus, and while vaccines are being administered across the country and the world, life as we know it has been significantly changed.

One of the things that changed the most was how we viewed and participated in education. Public and private schools sent students home, and while the transition was quick, the results were mixed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. Many schools found that students were either performing in a similar way to physical learning, while others found a drop in both attendance and participation.

However, the data shows us that the 2020-2021 school year has seen a significant improvement. It was simply a matter of adjusting to new changes, and students across the country have seemingly adapted just fine.

What Does This Mean For The Future?

So, is online learning the future of education? It’s unlikely that we’ll see massive adoption of online-only programs, but it’s clear that our current programs won’t just go away once the pandemic settles down. Online learning is a flexible, often more accessible option for students of all ages. There’s also been an increase in the number of programs available online in recent years, so the options are ever-expanding at both college and k-12 levels. The big reason we’ll likely see more online learning in the future is cost.

Costs Of Physical and Online Learning

Overall, online learning is a more affordable alternative for prospective college students. With the cost of higher learning doubling since the 1980s, it’s no wonder the average college student is looking for a more affordable alternative. It’s not that the quality of education has risen, or that things just became more expensive. Rather, college has become more of a privileged opportunity than an accessible means of improving one’s standing in the world.

The cost of higher education online is significantly cheaper than in-person learning, causing many students even before the pandemic to make the switch.

Let’s not forget that our public education system has taken massive funding cuts in the last 20 years, and the federal budget in 2017 spent only 2% of its total budget on major educational programs. Even as costs have risen, enrollment in colleges and other educational institutions continues to rise.

The Bottom Line

Education is a priority for millions of Americans, but as prices continue to soar, many prospective students will be looking into online education as a viable and affordable alternative to traditional schooling. College costs have skyrocketed since the 1980s, but online programs are often more affordable. Since online colleges don’t have to cover the costs of physical buildings, maintenance, utilities, and more, they can generally offer a more affordable education package. The bottom line? Online education might just be the future of learning.