Is Classroom Obsolete in 21st Century?

With a giant leap into the 21st century, we have surmounted most of our shortcomings and learned new ways to do things at the least possible time. Be it business, education or science and technology, we have made inconceivable and spectacular progress everywhere.

Our approach to education has also seen sea changes and it was our undying enthusiasm to adopt singular education system where innovation can thrive actually led to the rise of a modern education system that has almost weeded out anything unnecessary.

In the 21st Century, we have seen and will continue to see rapid change in how we advance knowledge, how we leverage technology and how we deliver more education, more options, and more quality, with less.

Traditional colleges are incredibly rigid in treating all the students alike which they are not. As compared to the traditional 18-22-year-old full-time residential student, the learning experience that today’s working adults need is entirely different and all this can be ascribed to change in demographics. Higher education has to be able to cater to the needs of all these learners that traditional model simply cannot do.

As universities evolve, classrooms will not vanish, but how they operate will change dramatically. In spite of advances in distance education, learners will continue to feel the need for physical spaces where they can interact with faculty and other learners, where they can limit distractions, where they can put their newly acquired skills into action and contextualize their learning socially. What they will not call for are spaces where they are simply lectured to. In this case, the role of educator will morph into outcomes assessor and learning facilitator.      

However debate continues as to what skills are learned more effectively face to face vs. Online, nobody harbors an iota of doubt in his/her mind that technology extends significant advantages when it comes to processing new content. As you know, even the simplest YouTube video can be fast-forwarded, paused, replayed and rewound at one’s leisure, functions not available in the traditional lecture. 

Then, of course, technology can add self-assessments, asynchronous discussions, adaptive delivery, and simulations, among a slew of current and future features that are hard if not possible to replicate with PowerPoint or the traditional chalkboard. 

Without a doubt, the classroom as a lecture-hall will gradually fail to draw students attention and make room for new formats that embrace new pedagogical styles and technologies.

Now we all agree that growth in online education is not banal and at times we consider it as a complement to classroom-based learning, and at times substitute. Online education has a tremendous impact on how universities carry out their business and how they cater to the needs of an increasingly diverse student population. 

At some point in time, the notion of attending the lectures of world’s best faculties crosses every student’s mind but they have to feel dejected as it is not possible practically. What would be your instant reaction if you are told that video lectures of veteran educators can be bought at your doorsteps at no cost? The latest wave in online education MOOCs is doing the same for you. 

The viability of MOOCs are in question and financially sustainable business model for them has not yet been determined. It is still possible however that advertising and additional services like certification, corporate sponsorships will bring forth some revenue to keep them going.

There is also some evidence that students will ultimately be allowed to earn university credit for MOOCs, which could lead to lower costs for residential campuses and revenue generations for providers like Udacity, Coursera, and Edx. 

Hopes are vested in the developing countries as many educational entrepreneurs there are finding out ways to leverage this content in creative and financially sustainable ways.

Competency-based models are another way to cater to student’s need and could be best options for adult learners who have a lot of on-the-job experience, some college credit and little time to waste. Competency-based models examine learning outcomes rather than classroom time, and students take exams that examine whether or not they have mastered competencies required for the credentials of their choice.

Under this model, professors turn into advisors and their role is to guide not advise. Though face to face learning still holds importance this model can also utilize technology to facilitate Q and A sessions or online discussions cutting downtime and travel burden for students. Now it is also apparently visible that more and more specialized degree programs are introduced keeping an eye on increasing students employment quotient. For instance, in the energy industry, it is already happening. Prominent B Schools are offering one year specialized Master of Science degree in fields like information technology, accounting and finance, data analytics and supply chain management. This degree undoubtedly will help students stand apart and gain competitive mileage over their peers.

The classroom is not going away, but outside the classroom learning is catching on especially among non-traditional categories, so universities need to increase the options for outside the classroom learning to reach more students. 

As we move further into the 21st Century, the way we seek and impart education will certainly be different so it is prudent to learn to adapt to the changes that we have to face in the education arena in the near future. Classroom teaching will not be a dime a dozen concept yet new technological innovations might make it an option, especially in case of higher education. Classroom education had never been available to vast majority of us due to various limitations. Likewise, governments alone especially in the developing economies cannot cater to the educational needs of people. Needless to say, depriving them of education due to lack of infrastructure and other resources will have detrimental effects on the economy of the country in the long run. So finding an alternative to classroom education also becomes essential if education has to be made available to each and everybody.  

Read More, about classroom strategies at BEYOND TEACHING.