Reflecting on the shift to online learning during the pandemic, Education Forum founder Dennis Hayes argues that important arguments around online learning, face-to-face teaching, and the importance of education itself have still to be won.

If someone had said back in 2019 that most university teaching could go online within a few months, no one would have believed it. They would have been told that it would take years for academics and universities to prepare.

The pandemic of 2020 showed that it was possible to move teaching online fast. A pragmatic decision made necessary by a government lockdown changed university teaching almost overnight.

Some excellent university technicians facilitated huge technical changes to teaching. This was very impressive, but it was merely a technical shift that had no basis in professional or curricula development. The argument for online learning had not been won.

A few universities went ‘online only’, but others went for a blended approach. The blended universities recognised that students wanted face-to-face teaching. But this was another pragmatic decision aimed at keeping students and avoiding the conflicts that erupted over fees and accommodation costs at the online-only universities.

The blended approach worked, even if it meant only three hours on campus each week and ended only when the government imposed further lockdowns, but it had no basis in professional or curricula approaches. The argument for face-to-face teaching had not been won

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