Learning moves beyond the classroom
Gen Z participants are fairly critical of the implementation of distance learning during the pandemic, pointing to the uninspired application of platforms to existing educational models, the resultant high levels of teacher burnout, and the confusion created by oscillating between online and in-person models.
Beyond the pandemic, participants expect virtual learning to continue, albeit with much-needed reforms, such as improvements in virtual teaching methods and mandatory certifications for online learning. They expect online platforms to improve security features and educational institutions to develop their own learning platforms. Such developments could take virtual learning mainstream, particularly with the advent of augmented and virtual reality.
Some participants expressed concern that online learning could hurt social skills by depriving students of interaction with their peers. However, others felt that distance learning could benefit shy students, who might have more confidence to participate in a virtual setting.
Virtual learning raises equity issues
Gen Zers expressed concerns about the distributional impacts of online learning. As technology becomes more important, this simultaneously makes education more accessible (thanks to digital platforms) and more exclusive (because the technology required to access these platforms is expensive). Some posited that in-person instruction may become an exclusive experience, accessible only to the elite. Tackling this new digital divide will need to be a key focus for policymakers and educators.
Some participants pointed out that economic hardship created by the crisis is causing many to forgo education, resulting in a decrease in the quality of education in developing countries. Still, others were optimistic that these challenges could be overcome. They argued for schools providing laptops to all students to bridge the access gap and envisioned a future in which the school one goes to is no longer determined by one’s postal code.
Challenging incumbent institutions
Gen Z participants also expect the pandemic to challenge incumbent educational institutions’ market power and entrenched methods and assumptions. They see online learning lowering the emphasis on the “college experience,” devaluing degrees and decreasing the cost of education.
Ultimately, these could be positive developments, shaking up a sector that has been largely impervious to change and creating the opportunity to redefine the concept of learning itself.