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COVID-19, Online Exclusive, Viewpoints

‘e-’ stands for education

COVID-19 has compelled us to reimagine veterinary medical education. We’re learning to do it differently and more efficiently. The best is yet to come.

‘e-’ stands for education

Prior to COVID-19, higher education dabbled in e-learning. Accessible, engaging electronic content was the exception. In the past week and a half, I have witnessed every institution of higher learning in the veterinary space begin to move their content to e-learning modules. In fact, all were forced to do this, as every class was canceled and clinics were shut down.

To be fair, what most are doing is really remote learning, but what was once a novelty quickly became necessity. And kudos to all of higher ed for stepping up to ensure that students finished the semester.

But more change is about to happen. COVID-19 is transforming the educational landscape, quickly and for the better. Things will never be the same. Here is why:

  1. Right brain moment: Faculty and administrators, who have delivered lectures and labs the same way over and over for years and years, are now forced to innovate around how to deliver similar learning outcomes in a digital fashion.
  2. Sharing of content: I am seeing disciplines and colleges unite, institutions and the private/clinical sector uniting, all figuring out ways to share people, content and expertise. This spirit will, in the long haul, create scalable, relevant content for our veterinary learners.
  3. Giant online experiment: The upending of the way we have always done education has created what really is a giant experiment, and when you experiment you learn things.
  4. Teamwork: Faculty are beginning to leverage and partner with instructional designers to create quality online learning modules. Most veterinary faculty were never learning experts, nor did they aspire to be. They are, however, experts in their narrow specialty or research lane. Partnering with instructional designers and credentialed educators will ultimately create higher-quality learning outcomes.
  5. Higher-quality learning outcomes: As faculty, administrators and institutions put more faith and resources into the technology, training and talent needed to create quality content, we will see granular, digitized learning outcomes become more accessible.
  6. Resources: More money will move into ed tech, thereby expediating the quality products that higher ed can use.
  7. Personalization: We are meeting our future learners where they are. They are digitally native, prefer peer to peer, learn in short bursts and love gamification. This event is, in fact, forcing higher education to move in that direction. (Read my article “A Shared Journey” at https://bit.ly/2UDMKTY.)
  8. Multigenerational: Elevate the basic digital competencies of faculty, staff and administrators in higher education. I have seen it already. Administrators and faculty who have never joined a Zoom call, and for sure not by video, have been forced to learn basic digital skills, which I think is absolutely necessary to hold relevance for our future learners.
  9. More work flexibility: The days of being chained to an office desk are no more. Quality content can be developed from anywhere, anytime. Other vertical industries and professions have done this for years, and now it might become more real for veterinary learning. Robust metrics will be placed on the quality of engagement and learning outcomes.
  10. Greater access to subject matter experts: Leveraging technology to develop and deliver online content activates subject matter experts, regardless of their geographic location, to participate in educating students.
  11. Lower costs: Ultimately, all of higher education will become more efficient. Lectures that students were previously forced to attend will now become richer, interactive, case-based learning modules that students can progress through at their own pace. The hours spent giving pre-lab instructions face to face now becomes a short informative video snippet.
  12. More efficient accreditation processes: Until now, institutions of higher education have been required to undergo in-person site visits, often with dozens of visitors moving great distances at great cost to the institution. Many of the evaluations of site safety, OSHA documentation and learning-site quality can be done through digital and mobile virtual settings, thereby reducing the overall cost and creating a more efficient operation on both ends.

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the whole veterinary ecosystem. Throughout this journey, it seems that every time we think we have adjusted to a new normal, things change again. There are so many factors that we cannot control. The only thing we can control is how we respond.

On behalf of its learners, education is responding in a positive fashion. COVID-19 is capacitating changes in teaching and learning, for the better. Period.

Dr. Jason W. Johnson is vice president, dean and a founding faculty member of the Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine.