5 Online Education Trends to Follow in 2021

Written by SI • March 17, 2021 •  2 min read
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At the beginning of 2020, the world of education felt like business as usual. But by April, virtually every student had become a distance learner. 

While the vaccine rollout should hopefully return us to some form of normalcy over the next year, 2020 taught us that education is changing — and that change can happen rapidly. We might be more comfortable now than we were in April, but who knows where we’ll be in another eight months?

In an effort to provide an accurate glimpse of the current educational landscape, and to help students, educators, and universities better prepare for the year ahead, we’ve gathered some evidence-based predictions for emerging trends in online education. 

1. More Online Learning Programs in Higher Education

Throughout the pandemic, countless articles have been published declaring that “Online Education Is Here to Stay.” While a complete and radical shift to digital courses remains improbable, we can almost certainly expect to see an expansion of digital course offerings and online education enrollment. 

K-12 schools will likely try to get back into the classroom as quickly as possible, but market research suggests that the 2020 pandemic could have paved the way for a massive expansion in higher-ed online learning. The rapid shift to distance learning at the beginning of the pandemic, though chaotic at times, demonstrated to students and institutions that online education could fulfill students’ growing needs for convenience, lower costs, and flexibility

At Science Interactive, we aim to accommodate schools as they develop the online programs that are right for their students. With the ability to choose from physical kits, digital labs, or a combination of both, colleges that partner with us have a range of options to help deliver engaging experiments for their students.

2. Expanded Use of Open Educational Resources

When educators were asked to move online, many were given few resources to help them do so. In the absence of any formalized guidance, teachers and professors around the world were forced to figure out how to facilitate their new digital classrooms and continue meeting the needs of their students (unsurprisingly, they met the challenge). Many turned to Open Educational Resources (OER).

According to UNESCO, OER’s are “learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright that have been released under an open license that permit no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others.” 

As higher-ed costs become increasingly expensive, OER’s convenience and affordability will make them ideal for the modern learner. Last year, SI partnered with Odigia, a learner engagement platform that offers higher-ed institutions a deep repository of customizable open educational resources (OER) content. By combining our lab kits and digital content with Odigia’s platform and comprehensive OER library, we’re empowering higher education institutions to meet the needs of their students.

Visit OER Commons for more information on Open Educational Resources.

3. Increased Focus on Learning Analytics

Education has traditionally lagged behind other industries when it comes to data analytics, but that might be changing. More and more LMS’s are incorporating analytics programs to identify areas for student improvement—in fact, our own lab management platform SI Cloud is built to analyze student gradebook data and identify students that might be struggling, giving instructors an opportunity to provide extra guidance before they fall behind. 

As distance learning becomes more prevalent, using this sort of data to analyze student learning and adapt teaching strategies could become a more widely accepted practice. We might see a particular interest in data analytics when it comes to student advising. Director for Retention at Syracuse University, Kalpana Srinivas, points out that a student’s advisor is one of the key people they need to build a relationship with and predicts that more student advising programs will employ data analytics strategies to increase retention, the idea being that “if colleges and universities can place more and better information into the hands of a greater number of people, this enables better decision making.”

4. More Use of “Micro-Learning”

With modern learners requiring more flexibility and personalized instruction, 2021 could see more courses adopt strategies for micro-learning. Micro-learning is education that’s organized in small units and tailored to the learners’ specific needs—think, the Duolingo approach to language learning. 

Micro-learning isn’t new, and it’s not inherently better. But when employed in the right context, this sort of straight-to-the-point training content can more effectively engage learners, provide them with the right content when they need it, and help increase long-term retention. Because micro-learning is better suited for digital platforms, an increase in online learning could correlate with an expanded use of micro-learning strategies.

5. Greater Emergency Preparedness

The most important lesson of 2020 was probably that we were not ready for it. As we mentioned already, when classrooms shut down and schools scrambled to move online, it was often the teachers themselves taking on the brunt of the work and assuming all of the new roles. It’s imperative that institutions develop emergency preparedness protocol so that when disaster strikes again, schools are ready to adapt and meet all of the needs of their students and educators

And as always, we consider ourselves part of your support team. Whether you need to move your lab online immediately or you simply want to start prepping for the next semester, our distance learning team is standing by to help you build the course that’s right for you, your school, and your students.