Higher Education


Are There Any Positive Pandemic Outcomes in Education and Edtech?

By Henry Kronk
July 28, 2020

There’s no question that the covid-19 pandemic has devastated families, institutions, and countries around the world. More than 150,000 people have died from the virus in the U.S. alone. In June, unemployment reached 11.1%. Schools at all levels have been forced to completely change the learning process to adapt. That new reality will need to continue at least through the beginning of the fall semester in most districts. In short, the coronavirus has completely altered American education. But has it all been bad? Two recent polls have indicated a few positive pandemic outcomes in education will be at work this coming school year.

First, polling conducted by YouGov on behalf of the education publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt found that, despite the disruptions felt last spring, teachers feel more confident to take on the challenges posed by the coming semester. Perhaps more importantly, teachers are also feeling greater support and respect from their communities.

Second, a poll conducted by the online program manager (OPM) 2U found that students are warming to the idea of online learning. A majority say that, as a positive pandemic outcome, they are now more likely to consider pursuing a college degree online.

Positive Pandemic Outcomes in Education: Teachers Are Feeling the Love, and Students Have a Different Outlook on Online Learning

In the U.S., the teaching profession is staring down a mounting crisis. Poor working conditions in many states pushed teachers to protest and strike throughout 2018 and 2019. Over the past 15 years, enrollment in teacher colleges has been plummeting. And, increasingly, Americans do not respect teachers as professionals.

For that reason, the results of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s annual Educator Confidence Report are encouraging. (They surveyed 1,200 K-12 teachers and 200 administrators.) In 2019, just 34% of teachers felt somewhat or very positive about their profession. This summer, that figure has surged to 49%. In addition, 62% say they expect an increase in respect for teachers.

Among teachers with ten or more years of experience, 27% said they have “no interest” in leaving teaching in 2019. This year, the figure jumped to 37%.

In another surprising but positive pandemic outcome in education, teachers also report feeling much better prepared to teach remotely and in hybrid environments following the “trial-by-fire” this spring. Three-quarters of respondents said they were confident about taking on the challenges posed by the fall semester.

“Educators were forced to make quick, drastic changes last spring, and despite the disruption, our research shows their confidence in using and teaching with technology has increased,” said HMH CEO Jack Lynch, in a statement. “There is still concern about the fall and what our ‘new normal’ will be, but the marked increase in optimism is a testament to the resilience, adaptability and commitment of our nation’s teachers, and the clear realization we all have of how critical and central their jobs are to a thriving society.”

Students Have a More Positive Outlook Towards Online Degrees

2U polled 1,754 of their prospective students throughout July about their attitudes towards online learning. True, the participants had already expressed interest in some way in a 2U-delivered online degree at some point in May. But some indications of positive pandemic outcomes speak for themselves.

Among the respondents, only 20% said that they would not have considered an online degree without the advent of COVID-19. Meanwhile, 73% said that the coronavirus had made them more likely to consider online learning.

“In this time of significant disruption, it’s incredibly important to 2U that we understand how and why students are making decisions as the pandemic continues to create new challenges and opportunities in education,” said 2U Co-Founder and CEO Chip Paucek, in a statement. “The results of this survey show a clear share shift toward online higher education among prospective degree students. As more and more of these students affirmatively choose online degrees, universities with experience delivering intentionally designed, high-quality online programs with great student outcomes will stand out to this growing universe of learners.”

The novel coronavirus has turned the world upside down. But good can also come with bad. We have recently seen evidence of positive pandemic outcomes in education. As education continues to realign, there is hope that some changes will be for the better.

Featured Image: Simone Viani, Unsplash.