Forbes Advocate

The future of education: What can Australia's next generation of students expect

Australia's education system is evolving. What can the next generation of students expect when to comes to classroom and online learning?

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As we all know, prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic, primary and secondary school students sat in traditional classroom settings.

School began at 8am and ended at 3pm, and online learning at this level was largely experienced by distance learners.

As for tertiary education, though recorded lectures were available for certain classes, stringent in-person attendance for on-campus tutorials was generally required in order to successfully complete any course.

Fast forward to 2020, and we've seen a dramatic increase in the number of online courses in Sydney where the majority of the country's most prestigious tertiary campuses can be found, and drastic changes to how we undertake our studies at every other educational level.

So what can we expect to see in the coming years in education?

What changes will be made to the way Australians teach and learn, or to the way we study?

Today, we explore what the next generation of students can expect in their own journey through Australia's evolving education system.

An increase in digital learning

In 2020 we saw online learning become the "new normal" as schools and learning institutes closed their doors in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we enter the post-pandemic era, however, more students and education industry leaders alike are asking the same question: will online learning still be heavily utilised when it's no longer the only option?

The answer, it seems, is yes.

Whilst full-time online learning is not for everybody, the benefits of this flexible learning option speak for themselves.

Remote learning saw students working from the comfort of their homes, which in turn, provided mature students with dependents or work commitments to shape their learning habits around their own personal and professional schedules.

Digital learning is irrefutably a much more flexible and accessible option for many, with online courses becoming highly popular amongst full-time workers looking to upskill, parents caring for younger children, and for all other students wishing to return to study despite being unable to amend their busy personal schedules around rigid on-campus course structures.

Developing skills through independent learning

But will future employers consider an online qualification to be on-par with a traditionally acquired qualification?

Although the rise of digital learning has provided Aussie students with the added benefit of possessing more autonomy over their learning journeys, this benefit is in truth, a double-edged sword.

The reason for this is simply that in order to learn effectively, remote learners need to be self-motivated and self-reliant, with good time management skills and the ability to work independently.

Thankfully, these are all skills that are highly valued by employers, so the majority of forward-thinking employers aren't likely to discriminate between those who studied on-campus and candidates who completed online courses.

This shift from on-campus study to digital learning has also prompted many to value the development of skills over simply accruing degrees.

Regardless of whether you do learn online or on-campus, the ability to apply your learning is naturally going to continue being an essential component in the completion of any educational pathway.

A refocus on "soft skills"

Independent study skills and developing an ability to independently manage productivity aren't the only positive effects of digital learning during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic saw a refocus on prioritising mental health, as many struggled with isolation throughout various lockdowns.

As a result, Australia's education industry has followed in the footsteps of many other industries across the globe, and has examined the importance of developing "soft skills" alongside other professional skills and training.

Although in the past, soft skills weren't considered to be 'teachable', there is a growing awareness that these particular skills are still incredibly essential for building future generations of self-possessed professionals.

The rapid transition from traditional learning to e-Learning has also made it clear to teachers and students alike that adaptability is an essential skill for lifelong learning, and not just learning in a classroom setting.

Other valuable soft skills include the ability to show empathy, understanding and resilience.

It's likely that future generations of students will be prompted to develop these skills and character traits alongside developing more industry-specific skills.

Alongside this, more resources will be made available to teachers so that digital learning does not come with the consequences of less one-on-one time between students and educators.

This means that educators will maintain the ability to tailor lessons and learning to each student, as they would with in-person learning.

Technological changes for teachers

When we look back at the sudden switch to remote learning, it is often from the eyes of a student, and seldom from those of a teacher.

But the pandemic forced the world's educators to suddenly adapt to a whole new way of teaching, one they were likely not taught during their own schooling years.

As a result, there is likely to be more of a focus on learning technical skills within teacher training courses, so that future generations of teachers can work confidently both in person and online.

Future teachers can expect training that revolves solely around developing technical skills and staying up to date with digital learning technologies and their affordances.

In other words, teaching as a profession is likely to become increasingly technical in order to reflect the ongoing digital transformation of the education industry as a whole.

If the global pandemic has taught us one thing, it's that we constantly need to be adapting and changing our techniques in order to be equipped for future challenges.

Remote learning has held a strong impact on students at every level around the world, and yet, they have come out the other end with skills that will help them thrive throughout their uni years and beyond.