The rise of digital education: shortfalls and how the Open Institute is overcoming them

Digital education is now in its full force. Students around the world are united by a common circumstance, as a result of the global pandemic. While studying entirely online has its advantages, it certainly has not been met only with joy. The transition from physical to digital lecture hall has not been smooth, and concerns have been raised. But with digital education evidently here to stay, the only way forward is to adapt and overcome all issues. That is exactly what the Open Institute intends to do.

Computers have been integrated into education for a long time. With the appearance of the internet, global communication and information exchange have become faster than ever before. And so, the idea of digital education has been gaining momentum over the years. The global COVID-19 pandemic not only sped up the process, but made studying online the only option. Most higher education institutions seemed well-prepared for online lectures. The reality of the situation, though, may suggest something different. Students are growing dissatisfied with the constant Zoom video calls and crashing software on the daily, whereby an even bigger and more long-term problem is presenting itself: Is digital education as effective and thorough as its traditional attendance counterpart? Even if this question might not have a straight “yes” or “no” answer, there are several points of view and arguments that need to be discussed first. This is where the Open Institute comes along – as an answer to a difficult question. With the clear idea of eliminating the downsides of digital education, the Open Institute makes the promise for high-quality, well-developed theoretical and practical online courses. This article will present the strategy of universities for digital education, the concerns of students and how the Open Institute is planning to address and solve them.

Efforts and problems of universities in the age of digital education 

Universities around the globe have been integrating online courses into their programs ever since the dawn of the digital revolution. With the introduction of distance learning, there has been a decline in attendance full-time programs. That being said, the global pandemic has taken higher education institutions, along with everyone else, by surprise, giving them little to no time to adapt to the new reality of entirely digital classrooms. That poses the question of how prepared they have been exactly and what the long-term effects on education will be. 

Making the shift from physical to digital lecture halls

Some of the world’s top-ranked institutions have offered online programs for years. This fact suggests that although not all degree programs may have been adapted to the digital form of study before, universities have definitely had the means to do it. While some consider online learning as more difficult in terms of self-motivation, institutions recognize the importance of providing aid in each step of the process, and take great care to ensure that their students receive the same levels of support that they would receive on campus.

Fast forward to the global pandemic as a result of which the situation has quickly transformed. Instead of online programs being a great option for international students, people with disadvantages and many more, they are now the only option. The sudden shift to an all-digital classroom did not come without its implications. Many have feared that the move to online education was too abrupt, leaving lecturers and students alike no time to adapt to the new normal. In Germany, in June 2020, over 2,000 teachers warned against “forced digitization” at universities. However, taking things into perspective now, universities seem to have coped rather well. So, how did they achieve that?

The coping mechanisms of higher education institutions

From twelve percent in the winter semester, the number of online courses at universities rose to a staggering 91 percent for the summer semester. This change, albeit unexpected, happened more seamlessly than anyone had imagined. Nine out of ten lecturers surveyed in Germany stated that the shift only took a fortnight to a month the most. 

One of the main objectives for universities during the pandemic has been to maintain the high quality of education provided in attendance programs. To ensure that, it has become a model for many universities to offer constant support in the form of consultations with tutors and lecturers. These tutors are specific to the respective module being taught to provide students the right guidance based on their expertise. Additional guidance, both academically and administratively, is always given to ensure the successful completion of the students’ chosen degree. It is crucial for higher education institutions to upkeep their high status and academic level, because it is the students who will suffer otherwise. Although it is a challenge to meet each student’s individual academic needs, universities around the world have been trying to achieve that over the past year. 

Yet, even after having been in practice for a while, online education is far from perfect in its current state. Several challenges must yet be overcome.

Ideal in theory, flawed in practice: the reality of digital learning

Although the idea of online education may be alluring, and the concept may work, it is only to a certain extent. There still remain issues that need to be solved in order for it to work as seamlessly as planned.

•    Lack of a digital teaching concept
In Germany, just half of the surveyed lecturers have stated that their university has a digital teaching concept. The problem lies in the insufficient planning by universities, which in itself creates disorganization and slows down the learning process. One of the main shortcomings in this situation is the misdistribution of staff. At many higher education institutions, there are not enough people solely responsible for the smooth running of online lectures. In addition, not all lecturers are digitally trained. If they do not learn how to use the required software first, it will be very difficult to do their jobs properly.

•    Technical problems
Online classes have a big flaw: they are completely dependent on technology. It is required for students to have well-functioning personal computers, a fast internet connection, microphones, cameras and more. Logically, the same applies to the lecturers. Should the internet connection fail, for example, class is over. 

Furthermore, not everyone has access to a digital device. In that case, if the university cannot provide its students and staff with devices, online learning is completely out of the question. It has also been reported that both students and teachers find the software confusing and often struggle to use it. 

•    Students’ expectations
With the development of the pandemic and no outlook of heading back to the lecture hall anytime soon, students are starting to accept the new normal. However, with that their expectations and demands for an improved learning process grow. Since universities have now had the time to put digital education into practice and do a “trial run”, students will expect more from the semesters to come. That creates additional pressure for the higher education institutions, which if not handled adequately, could lead to a decline in their reputation as well as to an increase of drop-outs.

It is without a doubt a difficult situation to be in. The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented phenomenon of rapid digitalization. When discussing the new reality of digital education, it is necessary to take into account the views of the main participants: the students.

Why students are growing dissatisfied with online classes

Despite the numerous advantages of online education during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is one main disadvantage that students are suffering from: this is not the form of study they signed up for. While it should be acknowledged that there are currently no other safe and valid options, frustration builds due to a number of factors.

•    Lack of human contact
Humans are social creatures. In order to live a healthy and fulfilling life, human contact is necessary. What is more, a social setting encourages learning and leads to better academic results. Studying alone in your room for months on end with only digital interactions not only makes the process less enjoyable, but also leads to depression. 

•    No campus life 
One of the main components of the university experience is campus life. With that taken away, the whole experience is altered. This particularly affects first-year students who have not had the opportunity to socialize and get to know their peers. Students are now forced to study in isolation at home, while before they were able to go to the library, discuss academic topics and work together on tasks and assignments. 

•    Less practice
For some degrees, such as engineering, biology, chemistry and more, it is absolutely essential to gain enough practical skills. This is typically done in smaller groups in laboratories and on site, but with the pandemic there is a certain level of uncertainty that affects practical lessons. With many places being closed for an undetermined period of time, students are left unsure about when and how they will gain their much-needed practical experience.

•    Foreign exchange programs
Exchange programs like Erasmus+ have been an integral part of the university experience for years. With the global pandemic and international travel restricted, it is now very difficult to impossible for students to take part in such programs. This naturally has left students feeling disappointed. 

•    Not enough interaction
A big problem mentioned by students has been the lack of interactive content prepared by lecturers. While in attendance they can take part in the conversation and quickly ask questions, online it is a slower and more frustrating process. Even more, many lecturers struggle to prepare interactive presentations and lessons that satisfy the students’ needs. Professors typically use presentation programs and note‐taking programs to disseminate information. Therefore, a huge deal of the responsibility falls on them – students demand more attention to detail and a more interactive approach.

•    Feeling cheated
As mentioned above, the majority of students have not signed up for an entirely digital form of study. This creates frustration and the feeling of being “cheated”. Especially applied to students in countries where tuition fees are high, such as the UK and the USA, many have complained that they are paying for nothing. According to a number of surveys across the world, the majority of students agree that learning takes place better in physical classrooms than through online education. Furthermore, students also complain that online education is affecting both their physical and mental health negatively with excessive screen time leading to interrupted sleep and increased stress. The students also feel that online assessment causes more anxiety than traditional forms of assessment.

Overall, there are a number of issues concerning digital education. Online education has been on the fringe for a long time, but the COVID‐19 pandemic has made it the mainstream. It is a fact that a year later, universities and students are still adapting to this form of study. Under the given circumstances students generally consider online education a viable alternative. The global pandemic has led to adoption of online education on a large scale around the world for the first time, so it is only natural that there are still issues in this virtual “trial period”. Nevertheless, there are certain disadvantages that can already be eliminated with the assistance of the right online platform. It is essential that unique and carefully developed teaching, communication and research methods are used during this time. That is what makes the Open Institute a proper digital destination for students from all over the world.

The Open Institute as possible solution to the major problems of online education

The Open Institute is a new online educational platform, especially developed with the students in mind. It is its goal to meet the needs of students that are left untargeted in the traditional form of online learning. Providing a wide array of different services, the Open Institute is the technically advanced version of an academic educational institution. With a view into the future, the Open Institute intends to close the gap between the real-life and digital education by offering coaching, conferences, workshops, research activities and networking that complement the academic educational pathways, contributing not only to an application-oriented approach, but also to deeper social interaction among students.

Why the Open Institute works better?

While it is now the norm for higher education institutions to deliver the educational material through presentations and conference calls, the Open Institute does not stop at the bare minimum. 

First and foremost, the Open Institute offers academic programs on a digital basis in cooperation with international universities. That means that the top of higher education is all synthesized in one platform, so it is easy to navigate and find what you are looking for. There are courses in several departments: Business, Management and Law; Medicine, Health and Social Sciences; Humanities; Engineering and IT; Media, Communications and Culture. Thus courses from the leading international universities are all available at the click of a mouse. At the Open Institute, all levels of higher education are yours to reach. You can pursue Bachelor’s, Master’s, MBA, DBA and PhD degrees, as well as additional internationally-recognized certificates in various fields.

Furthermore, the courses are technically advanced and glitch-free in comparison with what you are used to. One of the main complaints of students around the globe has been the lack of interactivity and socializing with online lectures. That is precisely why the Open Institute addresses the issue by making the lectures a collaborative process between student and lecturer. What is special about the platform is the development of intelligent linking of: 

•    classroom lectures and digital lectures
•    digital seminars
•    digital trainings
•    digital conferences and workshops.

Advanced training programs for lecturers 

A big complaint coming from students about the reality of online learning has been the way in which lecturers present their material. Often deemed as “too stiff” or “boring”, it is also difficult for lecturers to teach in this new digital setting with no prior experience. That is why the Open Institute is developing a program for lecturers. There they can learn how to adapt to the digital world and make a lasting impression with their presentations. Because the way we process information in person and digitally is different, it is an important task for the teachers to alter their methods accordingly. With the Open Institute, they can learn how to engage their students and keep their interest, so that they are satisfied with online education. The main objective of this approach is to improve digital education as a whole, creating an enjoyable experience for lecturers and students alike.

Qualitative and quantitative expansion of the digital equipment

Just as important as the personal devices used for online learning is the software which provides the setting for a digital classroom. If the software is lagging or unstable, that interrupts the whole lesson. That is precisely why the Open Institute is focusing on the well-functioning and reliable software that is simply an enabler of the learning process, instead of a hurdle to overcome. As one of the most important components in online learning, it is only natural to expect smooth and seamless execution from the software through which classes, workshops, conferences and discussions are held, and the Open Institute is ensuring just that.

A social setting online

Another big issue for students during the global pandemic has been the reduced ability to socialize. Universities are unable to provide the necessary social aspect – on campus students are able to freely interact with each other, study in the library, hold meetings, brainstorm, exchange ideas and help each other out with homework. Online, all you have is yourself and a screen. The Open Institute recognizes that as a big problem leading to poorer academic results and worsened mental health and prioritizes the social aspect of the university experience. Taking an innovative approach, the Open Institute has a concept that includes:

•    open virtual exchange rooms
•    meeting rooms 
•    digital speed dating
•    interdisciplinary laboratories and more.

The main intention is to recreate the university experience for students who are missing the social side. That way, not only is the learning process easier, but it is also as close to campus life as possible in a digital setting.

Digital research has never been easier

Among researchers, doctoral students are suffering greatly from coronavirus lockdown restrictions put in place around the world. Interruptions caused by the response measures are producing a wave of worried research students who are concerned about the completion and quality of their work. Generally, a doctoral student is both a researcher and a student. With universities being closed down for an undetermined period of time, that leaves a lot of uncertainty. Here too, the Open Institute offers a solution.

•    Digital conferences and workshops 
It is important for researchers and students to participate in conferences and workshops in order to gain new knowledge and enhance their skills. Attending a conference is a great opportunity for doctoral students to meet more advanced researchers, as well as established senior professionals and scholars. Listening to talks and presentations can open up new ways of thinking about a specific topic or even give you a new idea, one that you had previously not thought about. At some conferences and workshops, scholars have the opportunity to present their own work and receive early feedback, which can be essential for their academic success. What is more, they are also the perfect place to network and meet new likeminded people. However, such events are now on hold due to the lockdown. To address that issue, the Open Institute is already moving one step ahead. Digital conferences and workshops are conducted online where participants can interact with each other. Through the smoothly-running digital platform, no student will miss out on their chance to attend such an event. 

•    Digital publishing 
Publication of the dissertation is one of the constitutive steps in a doctoral program. The Open Institute provides the opportunity for researchers to publish their work on the platform. It is of high significance for doctoral students to publish their dissertation with a reputable source. On the Open Institute platform every single scientific publication is presented and can be obtained at any time worldwide via the relevant bookstore. 

•    Digital peer reviews
Peer reviews are an important step for all researchers. Peer review procedures have always been used for quality assurance of scientific articles, monographs or other scientific high-quality research works or projects. They encourage authors to meet the accepted high standards of their discipline and to control the dissemination of research data to ensure that unwarranted claims, unacceptable interpretations or personal views are not published without prior expert review. At least two experts in the same academic field critically review these papers as part of a peer review process. They provide critical feedback to the authors of the paper under review, which must be implemented within specified forms and deadlines before publishing. The peer review commission at the Open Institute consists of experienced scientists who work closely with the authors to bring the submitted research to a valuable standard.

Sign up for the Open Institute for a solid foundation for success in an increasingly digital world 

Although it is no secret that studying digitally has its disadvantages, the fact is that it is here to stay. It is the logical outcome of years of digital evolution. The global pandemic has indeed escalated the process and forced the shift from real-life to digital learning, making online lectures, conferences and research the new normal. Adjusting to an online learning model could be a challenge at first, but once you adapt to the format, there are numerous benefits to be realized. One of the main advantages is the flexibility it provides – you can study and work at the same time, or even take time off and relax. Another plus is the networking side. Online, you can meet and communicate with people from all over the world, without having to travel at all. Businesses are looking for employees who can innovate, and innovation often comes from outside your immediate world. Being exposed to new ideas from professionals in other countries may spark creativity of your own—creativity that can turn out to be valuable for your organization.

Why sign up for the Open Institute?

At the Open Institute, you can obtain an internationally-recognized certificate that will lay the foundation for your academic and professional success. While studying from your home, you have the opportunity to benefit from the knowledge of experienced lecturers who will give you the most realistic and valuable university experience. 

What is more, this online university platform has a unique personal approach tailored to every student’s needs. The qualified lecturers are there to make sure that no question is left unanswered and every student has gained the most out of the online classes.

A degree obtained online also shows a great deal of motivation and organization, as you are virtually the master of your own time. An online degree also equates to strong technical skills, a definite plus for any job seeker. 

All in all, digital education has turbulences. The whole process is still being perfected, but improvements are already being made. The Open Institute stands firmly in its role as an innovative and forward-thinking educational platform that is developed with the best interests of students in mind. In a state of global uncertainty, one thing is for sure: you will be making the right choice by trusting the Open Institute with your education.

Keywords: digital education, online lectures, COVID-19, pandemic, students

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