Just a few years ago, taking continuing education courses in 100% online programs was something of low prestige and dubious quality. Not to mention undergraduate degrees in totally remote formats, which were considered training that were better to hide in the personal curriculum. However, the reality of post-pandemic distance education has changed significantly.

Before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, one third of the higher education programs offered, mainly in continuing education, were in online format, a market that had been growing year after year, improving the quality of the platforms, offering more support to students and implementing improvements in teaching-learning methodologies.

However, it was still this type of training that presented the highest levels of student dropout, lower academic performance than their peers in classroom training and quality that still generated strong doubts, according to the results of the research conducted by Eric P. Bettinger, Lindsay Fox, Susanna Loeb and Eric S. Taylor, in the United States.

The pandemic brought an unthinkable increase for this teaching-learning modality, forcing both students and institutions to migrate their entire program offerings to these modalities, which gave the opportunity to recognize some interesting patterns.

Among these findings, it is possible to find that the students who prefer this type of education are those who also work, take care of their families and have a better average income than those who mostly opt for face-to-face training, which becomes something interesting to recognize when thinking about the causes of dropout or the decrease in academic performance, revealing dimensions that go far beyond the learning modality alone.

When we look at the future of higher education, with our feet in the present, we can visualize a great agreement: the education of the future is hybrid. Combining digital study material and automated assessments, with face-to-face instances to discuss ideas with peers and learn in hands-on experiences with teachers; and this, in the words of Jeff Seaman, director of Bay View Analytics, is “an unprecedented agreement on the direction of higher education”.

In this way, distance education is here to stay, but not nearly as a substitute for face-to-face learning, but rather as a complete solution that provides flexibility and effectiveness to the teaching-learning process. This is so clear that, according to a study by Bay View Analytics, 82% of teachers say they are interested in incorporating digital experiences in training.

Beyond the opinions of digital enthusiasts and lovers of face-to-face, higher education in the world will continue to move towards hybrid models, which will bring with it the challenge of turning remote experiences into learning moments of ever greater impact, and face-to-face classes into an instance that is truly irreplaceable and far beyond the traditional lecture of content.

Although this consensus is well known, it is also true that higher education institutions still have a long way to go to be able to integrate a programmatic offer that responds to the speed of the changes we are experiencing today, as well as to ensure the training of technicians and professionals with the competencies that are really needed in the world of work.

Nevertheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel, although we do not know how long it will be.