Soft Skills and Online Higher Education

Rosa Ulloa-Cazarez

Institutional Challenges in Online Higher Education (OHE) and Current Context

OHE is an evolutionary and flexible way of instruction that evolves from traditional forms of distance education incorporating pedagogical advances, information technologies and computational developments (Allen &c Seaman, 2014). Online learning is commonly supported by web platforms called learning management systems (LMS) that enable instructor-student interactions either in synchronous (same time) or asynchronous (alternate times) formats.

From the dimension of students, widespread access to OHE allows student enrolment beyond a face-to-face classroom or institution across cities, countries and worldwide (Clinefelter & Aslanian, 2016) and options to participate in different environments from the social, cultural and economic conditions of the place of residence of the student (Fyall et al., 2017).

From an institutional dimension, OHE flexibility enables strategic solutions for educational institutions that are unable to teach students face to face because of the effects of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, forcing people to keep social distancing as one of the precautions to control spreading the coronavirus. This scenario will persist challenging higher education institutions that must safeguard and guarantee the wellbeing of students, professors and staff, keeping distance restrictions for an unforeseen period of time.

Wellbeing is a blessing and challenge not easy to attain and sustain in challenging times. OHE literature shows a trend in enhancing machines and processes that often times prevail over promoting continuous improvement of student experiences. To reverse this harming trend, universities need to implement human centered strategies and designs necessary to attain and provide quality educational standards (Lepeley, 2017) including human and social development imperatives across education and into the global workplace (Ochoa Pacheco & Lepeley, 2019). But OHE solutions in challenging times, as during this pandemic, are developed thinking in survival considerations and are abruptly implemented and often with minimal pedagogical and technical consistent support.

It is certain that OHE will maintain its current status, and most likely will continue growing as a major educational solution after the effects of COVID-19 pandemic are gone, but this calls to pay increased attention to persistent quality issues that remain unsolved: student failure and dropout (Tai Chui et al, 2018; Bawa, 2016; Mohammadyari & Singh, 2015; Tan &c Shao, 2015). Both have a significant impact on the lives of students in general and those from traditional educational settings that do not have other choices of higher education enrolment.

There is growing research documenting institutional strategies and types of educational interventions to deal with quality issues in OHE. For instance, identifying relevant factors (Castillo-Merino & Serradell- Lopez, 2014); developing computational models, prediction strategies and technologies to monitor student progress (Romero et al., 2013; Chrysafiadi & Virvou, 2013). However, so far, there are no conclusive results as to what strategies are more effective to diminish student dropouts and failures.

 
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