Accelerate the democratization of knowledge
History has shown that technological progress has a standard adoption of 15 years or more in the higher academic setting. Take computers, for example – in the 1950s computers were advanced enough that Cobol and Fortran (programming languages still in use today) were developed. It was not until the 1980s, however, that computers became commonplace in the university setting. Or take the internet – although it was created in the early 1980s, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that the internet became widely available in schools.
One of the amazing things about technology is that it has the power to expand access to any field it applies to. As custodians of higher knowledge, higher education’s reluctance to embrace technology in a timely manner has had the opposite effect of restricting access for many people. While the outside world has rapidly changed, over the past few hundred years higher education has consisted almost exclusively of traditional, paid, classroom instruction. Over the past decade, that had started to change as educational institutions slowly began to embrace the technology – but nothing like what we’ve seen in recent years. COVID-19 has completely remodeled the landscape education.
Within months, the ability to teach online went from an option to an absolute necessity. Many schools raced to implement their first learning management system (LMS), find safe and secure online meeting software, equip their instructors with the right infrastructure, and expand their technology footprint. As a month turned into a year of remote learning, people began to see educational opportunities beyond the traditional classroom. The past few years have seen unprecedented interest, investment and adoption of educational technologies (EdTech).
One of the unique advantages of e-learning is its ability to scale almost endlessly. With an online teaching model, knowledge can be acquired without geographic limitations, classroom capacity restrictions, or instructor or student schedule constraints. Once a course has been created digitally, it can be delivered on demand to hundreds of thousands of students anywhere in the world with minimal effort.
The implications for society of being able to expand the dissemination and sharing of knowledge are enormous. While the Internet has largely democratized access to general knowledge and the sharing of data and ideas, higher education has been much slower to embrace this development. As the world becomes increasingly complex and jobs increasingly specialized, lifelong learning is essential, not only to be a competent professional, but also a competent member of society.
COVID-19 accomplished in months what had traditionally taken decades for technology adoption in education. Access to higher education knowledge has started the process of democratization, making it more accessible to learners outside the confines of traditional academia. While most of us can agree that we would have liked to witness this change under much less duress, this increased availability of knowledge is a little silver lining during an otherwise difficult time.