Students at various levels of education have been unable to attend school normally and take classes for more than seven months due to the grave circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak. Consequently, along with the rise of virtual online learning systems, methods of education have changed dramatically. Through a variety of digital teaching platforms, students have been able to take classes remotely.
Since the start of the virtual learning era, diverse voices and opinions have been raised. Some doubt the effectiveness of the new learning method, while others view it positively as the start of a new era of education. In response, South Korea’s Ministry of Education announced the Higher Education Innovation Support Plan Based on Digitals on Sept. 17. This includes the ministry's plans to innovate Korea’s online learning environment in higher education.
According to the plan, the ministry has abolished the previous remote learning regulations, which restricted schools from having more than 20 percent of classes online. As they are even considering allowing all courses to be conducted online, a number of educational experts have predicted that virtual learning might gain greater presence in future education.
Professor Kim Hi-sam from the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology recently led a study on the effects of virtual learning and methods to activate virtual learning in colleges. Kim utilized student samples from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Pohang University of Science and Technology, Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, and several other institutes of science and technology in Korea.
Kim stated that by taking advantage of virtual learning's capacity to overcome time and space constraints, it is possible to expand educational resources at institutions through the exchange of online lectures with other universities.
“In virtual learning, surface learning, which mainly involves memorization and comprehension, would be accomplished through adaptive learning based on artificial intelligence,” Kim commented.
“Then, institutions would be able to implement deep learning, which allows students to apply, analyze, evaluate, and create academic materials through projectbased learning in face-to-face classes.”
Kim revealed that he thinks that the expansion of educational resources through online learning and the accomplishment of high-level educational goals may be the primary way to improve the quality of future education while virtual learning alone may not solely replace previous learning methods.
“Virtual learning would not be able to completely replace in-person classes because of the difficulties in communication, running lab classes online, and evaluating student performance,” Kim said. “But, the success of blended learning is dependent on the instructor’s capability to plan and run the classes.”
Kim Byung-jin, the head of policy research at the Korean Council for University Education, shared his thoughts about virtual learning and the future of education.
“We live in an information-oriented society which brought changes to the university education environment,” Kim said. “Since communication is not restricted by space and time, online classes are expected to be adopted more widely in the future.”
Regarding the government’s policies on implementing ‘untact’ education, Kim noted that this type of education had been discussed even before the coronavirus outbreak.
“We see this new type of education not as being temporary but as the path that future education will take,” he added. “I believe that is why MOE is starting to establish policies for innovating digital-based higher education.”
Kim mentioned that he does not believe online education can fully replace faceto-face education because of the lack of emotional communication between students and professors during online classes. Some classes require experiments at school, so in-person classes are necessary for these courses. Therefore, virtual learning should only be considered one of the teaching methods that can be utilized according to the characteristic of the subject.
When asked about the measures that are needed for higher quality online education, Kim said that the government should provide financial support for schools, and universities should create detailed guidelines for professors.
“Due to the sudden outbreak of the virus, schools were not prepared for adopting remote education. It was unexpected, which is why many problems arose,” Kim concluded. “In order for students to receive better education, both the government and universities should do their best through funding and providing guidelines.”