Colleges faced unique challenges in 2020. Many campuses are the physical space in which their students study, work, live, and play.

When COVID-19 emerged, the shutdowns forced higher education institutions to find a path forward. That path included all of the obstacles that workplaces, housing complexes, and schools were subjected to. So what did that path look like, and what changes may become permanent in post-secondary settings?

In this limited blog series, we will take a look at how COVID-19 changed higher education in three areas: classes, physical spaces, and community.

The Chronicle of Higher Education released their latest issue, “Rethinking Campus Spaces: How to Prepare for the Future of Learning and Work” (available for purchase here). In this issue, they spoke with leaders of colleges that had decided to bring people back to campus after the shutdowns in the spring of 2020. This study provides the framework for this limited blog series.

In part 1, we’ll discuss the changes surrounding college classes that took place in 2020, and the future of higher education post-COVID.

Class and Education Trends before COVID

Tuition costs and student debt were hot topics before the pandemic hit. Many institutions of higher education were looking for ways to survive 2019 and 2020 budget cuts while also providing cost-effective degree programs for a generation that faces the highest college costs in history.

Online and hybrid class models, and even full degree programs, have been increasing in popularity. But before COVID-19, these tracks were most attractive to students who were non-traditional (adult students heading “back to school” after having a family or separate career), budget-conscious, or looking to complete certain courses on a more flexible schedule.

All of these reasons – financial, flexibility, learning preference – created a demand for a class experience wholly unlike the large, packed lecture hall courses we often see in the movies.

So if the classroom experience was changing before the pandemic, what is its impact on the college classrooms of today and the future?

Attending Class in Unprecedented Times

When the pandemic shutdowns began, colleges – like many businesses and institutions – scrambled to create an environment that would allow for the continuation of classes and also keep students, faculty, and staff safe from this new threat.

Colleges and universities handled this new challenge in the ways they thought best. They switched applicable in-person classes to online platforms. They also decreased the number of students allowed in classes that couldn’t be replicated online, including trade skills and other hands-on classes like science labs.

Lecture halls, which many college leaders, architects, and designers had been seeing trends move away from in favor of more flexible and reconfigurable spaces, were now suddenly the perfect place to hold smaller classes and to allow for proper social distancing.

As the pandemic wore on, more and more solutions and services were being offered online. Academic advising, mental health appointments, and financial aid services migrated, in many cases, to Zoom or other online discussion and collaboration platforms.

The world, and younger generations, are constantly trending toward more flexible and digital options, and COVID-19 pushed many elements of the college experience to digital platforms as well.

Another widely appreciated change during this unprecedented time has been the inclusion of more outdoor classroom settings. Courtyards, quads, and grassy areas that were previously underutilized have now been converted into classroom spaces, on campuses where the weather is warm enough to have all or part of a semester’s classes outdoors. New awnings and other shade structures were built, campus WiFi was ramped up to reach these spaces, and outdoor outlets were installed to accommodate computers and other learning devices.

According to U.S. News, “research by the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College in North Carolina, which is tracking institutional COVID-19 responses, finds that nearly 1,400 schools have transitioned to online instruction for the spring” of 2021.

But what happens when the pandemic ends?

The Future of College Classes

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, some COVID-inspired changes will become the preferred method of the classroom experience.

Now that so many students, faculty, and staff have had a taste of remote education, it is very likely they will want more opportunities to learn via online or hybrid methods.

The biggest lesson this pandemic has taught us – all of us – is that everyone wants more flexibility. When people can tailor their class schedule and method to match their learning preferences and busy lives, not only do more people want to pursue higher education, but they are almost guaranteed to have a more budget-friendly and engaging college experience.

Administrative leaders are also taking note – hybrid and online learning are great ways to increase class availability and make classroom use more efficient. If classes only meet once a week for hands-on or group work, rather than meeting 2-5 times a week, more classes can utilize the space each campus has to offer.

We’ll talk more about physical spaces on college campuses and the effect COVID-19 had on them in part 2 of this limited series.

The Future of Education Lies in Technology and People

Tomorrow’s classroom experience will still need a few things – technology, collaboration, and people. But people and technology aren’t always perfectly matched. So what can you do to make the most of your classroom – or workplace – online experiences? Explore Meet Me In The Cloud’s managed services and collaboration services.

Whether you need training and education, event assistance, or other collaboration-based support and services, contact us today.

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