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What Would Happen if Everything Remains Online Forever?

What Would Happen if Everything Remains Online Forever?


An Inside Higher Ed blogger, Dr. Josh Kim, recently penned an article posing the question, “What if everything stays online forever?” Dr. Kim acknowledges that not everything is online now, and certain functions like construction, maintenance, and hospital services have to remain face-to-face.

After his acknowledgement that not everything can be online, he asks, “What if everything that can be done online stays online?” Given that many people have worked successfully from home for the past six months, could those workers be just as successful if they worked from home for the next six years? When will employers decide that the savings from the remote workforce outweigh the benefits of having everyone in an office? I wrote about the latter question, which was posed by The Economist, in a recent article.

Dr. Kim asks whether or not allowing employees to travel to in-person conferences provided a return on investment to the company or to a university. Would attending online conferences at 20 percent of the cost but 80 percent of the benefit be a reasonable trade-off?

Dr. Kim then poses the question that any academic engaged in online learning would ask — will face-to-face learning ever be the same again? His answer is no. He believes that residential learning will return, because students and professors miss the classroom.

However, in-person classes will have digital components. Experiments in flipped teaching will become the new norm. The Learning Management System (LMS) will be a platform for collaboration and interaction, instead of just an online repository for the course syllabus and other materials. Office hours will move mostly online.

I agree with Dr. Kim. At the same time, I believe that savvy professors and other administrators will see opportunities arising from expanded digital interaction in the college experience. Digitizing collaboration and interaction in a class means that there is an opportunity to reflect and analyze what actions improved engagement and learning and what did not.

Additionally, classroom data can be more easily shared. Course materials, in particular those from the Open Educational Resources (OER) world, can be evaluated and shared with colleagues in your department or colleagues at other universities.

My formal education occurred at traditional universities. However, I was privileged to lead a virtual university for nearly 18 years.

The research available for improving teaching and learning using digital tools is phenomenal. If the online experiences from the past six months increase the number of faculty willing to utilize and embrace digital tools, I believe that colleges and universities could substantially improve student learning outcomes. I hope Dr. Kim is right, and I believe increased digitization of the higher ed classroom will provide benefits for years to come.



Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus.


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