What is the future of education during the pandemic – and beyond?

Education has gone through a real paradigm shift in recent months. By mid-April school closures had affected more than 1.5 billion students. This threatened access to education and impacted learning worldwide. Many institutions were forced to rapidly bring courses and exams online for the first time - speeding up the move to distance learning and reshaping education as we know it.

Now, as UK universities plan to welcome students back on campus from September, there’s no doubt that people will expect a new type of learning experience, away from traditional education models. So what is the future of education during the pandemic - and how must higher education institutions innovate for the future?

New processes and teaching methods  

The UNESCO report, COVID-19 and higher education: Today and tomorrow, published in May 2020, provides a framework for universities and colleges transitioning out of the crisis. It outlines three larger phases for institutions to follow, which are listed below:

  1. Continue: “Despite the health crisis...guarantee the provision of the service in the absence of face-to-face modalities and, therefore, the continuity of distance learning.”
  2. Reopen: “Facilitate the reopening of HEIs [higher education institutions], with the limitations imposed by the health authorities, in order to resume face-to-face teaching activities. This is the phase in which most actors set the desirable horizon.”
  3. Restructure: “Generalise a new model of organisation of teaching and learning processes, typically hybrid, in order to improve the quality of service and also equity, taking advantage of the lessons learned during the phase of teaching continuity. This is an opportunity that perhaps not all HEIs will be able to experience and take advantage of.”

Today, many higher education institutions are already beginning to think about how to restructure. As a result, they are planning to offer hybrid in-person classes with distance learning this upcoming semester. This will accommodate both students and staff on campus, as well as those who can’t attend in-person.

We had a quick jump to online exams last spring. The trend will continue and we’ll see a push towards innovative digital testing and more summative assessment that demonstrates students’ 21-century skills and deeper understanding of coursework.

However, the changes to education certainly won’t stop there. This HBR article outlines an interesting scenario. It outlines how lectures could be commoditised for viewing online. This would free up time for instructors to focus on more research-based teaching, problem solving and student mentorship.

“This is a hybrid model of education that has the potential to make college education more affordable for everybody,” write the authors.

A different educational path

Many were surprised to see university applications in the UK actually go up in spite of the pandemic. According to a report by Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) they’ve increased 1.6% compared to this time in 2019. But as expectations of higher education change, many students in the future might not opt for a traditional university education at all. In fact, it turns out Generation Z - at least in the U.S. - aren’t too enthusiastic about heading to university or college.

According to a survey conducted by ECMC Group, an American non-profit for students, more than half of respondents said they were open to something other than a 4-year degree. At the same time, just 23% thought going to university or college was the only way to a good job.

Moreover, 70% wanted to create their own educational path. And 59% expect to continue learning throughout their lifetime through courses and training.

This is all happening against a backdrop of a global digital education market that is expected to reach $33.2 billion (USD) by 2025 (up from $8.4 billion today). Of this, self-paced online education is expected to boast the largest piece of the market.

So, higher education institutions that offer a more modular and personalised learning experience online, which teach skills relevant for our rapidly changing world, will have an excellent opportunity to attract new students post COVID-19.

As the global market becomes more saturated, there will also be more global competition. In turn, this will increase innovation in education and develop new, exciting learning tools for future students to enjoy.

Learn from mistakes and innovate for the future 

Now is an excellent opportunity for higher education institutions to consider how they’ve fared with digital teaching these past few months. It’s also time for them to make plans to prepare for the future. This may mean adapting more inclusive online teaching methods and technology to avoid marginalising students, as the UNESCO report recommends. Or, it could mean universities begin to reconsider the majors they offer - and adjust them to ensure students that enrol are better prepared for their careers ahead.

Education will never be the same. But the universities and colleges that shift their objectives, and prepare inclusive content suited to a new generation of students’ needs will thrive in the industry - and act as leaders for others looking to do the same.

Brought to you by McGraw-Hill Education, proud supporters for the Online Festival of Learning, Teaching, and Student Experience 2020.

To our LTSE 2020 audience, tune into our sessions at the event to gain some valuable insights from our Digital Faculty Consultants (DFC) which are also respected current business instructors. Our sessions will be:


15th September, 12:10 – 12:50 

Looking to beat the competition in business school? You’ll need a headstart… how the new digital classroom environment can propel your students, if you have the right support.

Presented by: George Hulene & Rob Lowe


16th September 13:30 – 14:10

Ready, Set Go! How Gamification in the classroom will give your students the leading advantage in 2020

Presented by: Angela Short & Caroline Ennis


17th September 16:10 – 16:50

Main Stage Session: Post-pandemic strategy for higher education

Panellist: McGraw hill President International, Tony Lorin

You can find out more about LTSE 2020 and register here.

Do you need support transitioning your courses online or to a hybrid model? The McGraw Hill team are always here to help.

 We’ve just partnered with the Online Learning Consortium to provide the best support, mentorship and virtual coaching to faculty members on effective learning practices for the new age.

Learn more in our press release here. To reach out to a member of the team to learn more, fill this form out.