The coronavirus crisis has hit higher education like a tsunami. Leaders at growing numbers of colleges and universities have made the prudent call to shut down face-to-face classes and move to online. The good news is that online delivery offers a safe and effective alternative for most courses. The not-so-good news is that there is a great disparity in the level of readiness for online options among educational institutions. While a small number are prepared, for many online is a foreign and intimidating terrain. This crisis can provide a catalyst for educational institutions to create Plan O – an online learning strategy that will serve to address not only future crises, but also long-predicted rising demand for online learning, particularly among increasing numbers of adult learners.
Suspending face-to-face classes was a prudent first step. Now it’s time to be practical about implementing online. If your institution is currently in rapid response mode, don’t expect perfection. State-of-the-art design of online courses can take months. You don’t have that luxury. Leverage existing online expertise on your campus by creating training teams to assist less experienced faculty. Faculty can keep it simple by using what they’ve already prepared for face-to-face courses. Students are forgiving of technical errors when they know their professor is trying and cares about them.Creating a welcoming environment with an introduction discussion and Ask-the-Professor space goes a long way to putting students at ease. Most important, just as in a face-to-face class, students need to see that professor is present and accessible. This means checking the online classroom daily, participating in discussions, and setting up virtual office hours and times for phone calls.
Though crisis mode is not ideal, necessity can be the mother of invention. As the crisis subsides, you may resume face-to-face classes, but it’s not time to go back to square one. The current situation underscores the need for Plan O. Educational institutions should embrace and expand e-learning competence to accommodate both crisis situations and everyday student needs, such as illness, work demands, or disability. E-learning is not a novelty. It’s been around for over 30 years, and it’s not going away. E-learning is evolving with innovative theories of learning design and a wealth of resources, such as learning management systems, quality standards, faculty training, and technology tools to improve online class look-and-feel. With on-line readiness, completely on-line or blended versions of courses could be available just-in-time, as needed. Let’s not wait until the next crisis. The time for Plan O is now.