Whether we like it or not, COVID’S new normal has been redefining the way we live. We have left the world of casual living and entered a Brave New World of masks, social distancing, lockdowns, and vaccinations.
But it is not all doom, gloom, and the end of the world as we know it. As Tom Stoppard, the playwright wrote “Every exit is an entrance to somewhere else.” There are many positive effects arising from the global pandemic as we rethink our fundamentals in all areas of life, none more so than in the world of higher education.
Just ten days before the end of 2020, Scott Jaschik released a live update on Inside Higher Education Magazine’s website. It had the curious effect of both shocking yet not surprising the education establishment at the same time. “Pennsylvania State University will start the spring semester online, because of “extensive analysis and scenario planning given worsening virus conditions nationally and across the state, indicating predictions of rising hospitalization rates in the coming weeks,” it said.
It was of course expected. Penn State University president Eric J. Barron wrote, “shifting to a remote start has been a scenario we have been preparing for, by building flexibility into every level of our operations in order to prioritize our students’ academic achievement”. The decision was consistent with the Department of Education’s recommendations, which had the previous week urged all colleges to delay the start of their spring semesters.
The World Economic Forum’s COVID Action Platform’s latest report, issued by Conrad Hughes stated without references that “there is a general consensus that heavy online learning is far from satisfactory, and can only go a certain distance in what attention spans can tolerate”. Hughes’ view, however, is hotly contested by other education experts.
An article entitled “Why Online Learning is the Future Of Education highlights the very opposite view; the new normal of long-distance study via the Internet is here to stay, and it’s better than the old system.
It quotes, for example, the Babson Research Group’s Survey which found that over 30% of higher education students in the United States are taking at least one distance course this year. That’s nearly 6.5 million students. “The growth of distance enrollments has been relentless.” says Julia E. Seaman, the study’s co-author”.
Bill Erbey, the billionaire philanthropist, educationalist, and angel investor has been advocating this move for years.
“Education today has not changed in its primary business model since the beginning of time. You bundle the kids up, send them to the scholar, and they sit there for a while, and learn. From a retail perspective, higher education is pretty much like a brick and mortar retail store.” Bill says that education is one of the last bastions of where physical presence is required to sell a product.
Bill thinks it is not a question of one method or the other. For an increasing number of students, academics, and those who work in the educational world, the solution lies in a combination of both campus and distance learning, working together. He is not calling for the destruction of our great educational edifices. In fact, he is all for them.
“That is not to say there is no real value in having young adults being able to go away to school. It is a maturation process, where they are in a protected environment, and they get to socialize with other young adults” he says.
Erbey has for years advocated “a shift where perhaps one or two years would be spent on campus and the remaining time studied online”, highlighting that it’s also a lot cheaper than getting students and bundling them up, then sending them to the Hilton Hotel for quite a while”.
And he has put his money where his mouth is. Bill Erbey, together with his wife Elaine , established an educational service known as Scholarly. co, which facilitates the seamless distribution of knowledge from the best teachers and colleges, to students and working professionals. “We utilize our broadcasting capability to deliver live online education from the best teachers and in doing so, we add value to both the recipient and the provider of the knowledge”.
Bill and his wife Elaine, who both sit on the board of Scholarly, are highly committed to education. “My wife and I believe that how you improve the world is to get people better educated, and that is the challenge. I am not sure our educational system has kept up with the explosion of information and data in the world, he said in a recent TV interview.
The Erbey’s scholarly. co, has developed outreach programs to match international students with colleges and universities on campus, and live virtual classrooms, utilizing brand-new technology in the form of System73, where students can interact in real-time with their professors and fellow students globally.
Bill Erbey genuinely cares about people, opportunities, and education. He has donated over 90% of his net worth ($1.8 billion, according to Forbes Magazine Rich List six years ago) to institutions of higher learning. So Bill’s dream of incorporating distance learning technology with physical presence campuses is more than just another successful business investment. It is Bill’s passion.