The unprecedented and rapid spread of COVID-19 has forced countless organizations to transition to remote work. Among the industries most affected by the pandemic is the education sector.
As of April 15, 2020, 1.6 billion students (91.4% of total enrolled learners worldwide) have been affected by school closures caused by COVID-19. In order to prevent classes from completely shutting down, traditional colleges and universities had no choice but to immediately shift from in-person to online learning, or E-Learning.
Teachers are diving head first into the digital world at a scale that has never been seen before. In this article, we are dissecting how E-Learning is helping traditional education institutions, students, families, and the workforce overcome the learning and training gap induced by the ongoing pandemic.
The Education Industry Before the Outbreak
Around 65% of US faculty members support the use of Open Educational Resources (OER), which includes E-Learning courses. Plenty of educators, however, remain firm believers in the superiority of live classroom lectures over the efficacy of learning through online course videos.
But these arguments have likely not taken into account the various tools and programs designed to make online lessons more engaging. Today, colleges and universities are using distance learning platforms as a means to continue the distribution of lessons during the pandemic.
Education Industry After The Outbreak
As previously mentioned, around 1.6 billion students were affected by school closures caused by COVID-19.
In addition to classes, these closures disrupted several other operations of education institutions like enrollments, admissions, and campus tours. As a response, institutions have partnered with edtech companies– from MOOC providers, video conference softwares, and learning platforms–to help with the transition into digital classes.
Impact of COVID-19 on E-Learning
The Digitization of Education
Despite the steady growth of online education in recent years, the world has never seen this kind of surge in the use of online learning tools. ClassIn, for example, had to boost their server capacity by 100 times this year to serve an influx of new students along with an increase in usage from current students. Zoom, on the other hand, added 2.2 million new users this year. The company reported that these new users outnumber their entire client base for the previous year, at 1.9 million.
Now that traditional institutions are experiencing the value of E-Learning firsthand, it will likely be very difficult for them to simply drop these tools once the nationwide lockdown ends. Instead of reverting back to live classroom lectures, E-Learning will become the new normal for the education sector.
Increased Demand for e-Learning Technologies
Rise of Virtual Classrooms
The use of virtual classrooms as a complement to traditional classrooms was on the rise long before the pandemic began. However, school closures have now influenced educators to explore additional features of virtual classrooms in order to mitigate the time loss triggered by the suspension of classes.
Before this large-scale shift to E-Learning, many students only utilized these tools to access supplemental materials and submit their output. But thanks to the pandemic, it only took a few weeks for E-Learning to take over a massive portion of their academic journey. Students are now using E-Learning tools for communicating, presenting, tuning in to lectures, engaging with other students, and more.
Some virtual classrooms adhere to synchronous learning, in which the curriculum is given a set timeline to mimic a traditional classroom environment. This is great for tracking the progress of lessons as well as students, which is extremely important as it’s often difficult for teachers to gauge how much a student has learned under an E-Learning setup.
On the other hand, asynchronous learning platforms are also favored by many educators. Institutions that are concerned with students not being able to keep up with lessons due to the repercussions of the pandemic (especially among lower income families) can find this setup particularly useful.
Among the most commonly used virtual learning platforms are:
- Google Classroom
Discounts for MOOCs
One of the few positive outcomes of the ongoing pandemic is the fact that students and working professionals alike now have much more free time. Thus, Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs have significantly ramped up their marketing efforts for both audiences. These courses teach skills that can be industry-specific or broad, like improving one’s productivity or capacity to retain new information.
Some of the offers currently being promoted MOOCs include:
- Coursera is partnering with several colleges and universities impacted by the pandemic; students from these universities will gain access to 3,800 courses on the platform for free.
- Udacity focuses on tech-related skills. Students, laid-off workers, and remote work managers can access one nanodegree program for free for one month.
- edX has released Epidemic courses wherein individuals can become certified in skills related to the prevention and treatment of diseases.
In our E-Learning Industry report, we discussed the strategies MOOCs are implementing to increase their user base. These marketing initiatives definitely allowed some MOOCs to develop a strong brand presence amongst their target audiences. One well-known tech MOOC, Coding Ninja, reported a 150% growth in enrollments in March of 2020.
Impact of COVID-19 on Traditional Schools
Government bodies around the world have partnered with multiple private companies to provide the tools needed to make E-Learning available for more students. In China, for example, the Ministry of Education gave access to videos, books, and assessment tools to schools located all throughout the nation.
Meanwhile, in the United States, the federal government has relied on telecom companies to ensure that students have reliable access to the Internet. In fact, Comcast and AT&T are offering low-income families free Internet access as the pandemic persists. This has been a major help to students, especially since about 18% of them have little to no access to the Internet, according to a report from the US Department of Education.
These private-public partnerships are only expected to grow stronger, especially with the development of 5G technology. This will allow students to access video materials, launch online conferences, and use AR technology with less loading time; which makes for a more seamless remote learning experience. Some of the essential tools currently used by educational institutions are Google G-Suite (Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides) and Zoom for video conferences.
Tech giants have their own initiatives for supporting online learning. Google has pledged approximately $50 million dollars to educational institutions so they can access the E-Learning tools required to resume classes. Apple has also offered to coach educators in transitioning to remote learning.
Online learning for young children
Many E-Learning companies focus exclusively on providing educational materials for children. From interactive lessons to educational games and apps, these tools are designed to retain a child’s attention by keeping them engaged and stimulated. These companies invest resources, bring in technical expertise, harness the latest educational technologies and coordinate with parents and teachers to ensure that their products can effectively enhance a child’s educational development.
Top e-Learning companies for young children include:
- ABC mouse
- PBS Kids Video
In fact, Google Trends shows that out of all searches related to the keyword “online learning,” those catered to preschoolers were the most popular from January to April 2020.
Online learning for K-12 schools and universities
Different states have had different responses to school closures. Some have combined solutions such as virtual learning environments, self-paced learning courses, and print-based lessons to meet the needs of their students. 23 states are currently using supplemental online programs for their K-12 students.
On the other hand, universities have instead outsourced supplemental learning courses for their students by partnering with established MOOCs. Video conferences are also being used to facilitate and resume lectures from professors.
Luckily, these programs are welcomed by Generation Z with open arms. These students have already been expecting to use digital tools to enhance their educational experience. Since around 93% of them consider themselves well-versed in technology, schools are actively looking into various technological solutions to address their learning preferences.
Impact of COVID-19 on Families
Finding Solutions for the Digital Divide
Many educators are concerned for students from low-income families who do not have regular Internet access as well as essential learning devices like laptops. Statistically speaking, about 18% of American students do not have regular Internet access at home, while 17% do not own a personal computer. These students are at a tremendous disadvantage considering the remote learning solutions enacted by school districts across the US.
Here are some of the key problems students face due to the school closures:
- Unstable and intermittent internet connection
- Limited access to broadband internet
- Insufficient availability of devices
- Non-beneficial learning environments
One of the solutions offered by private companies is apps that work without the use of the Internet. Some of the mobile learning tools that carry offline capabilities are:
- Eneza Education
- Ustad Mobile
The following mobile learning tools contain systems that remain fully functionally if used offline:
- Ustad Mobile
Moreover, Congress recently passed the Homework Gap Trust Fund Act, which provides learning devices like laptops and tablets as well Internet access to students from low-income families.
Earlier, we mentioned that telecom companies have their own initiatives for ensuring that all students get to participate in E-Learning platforms. One example is AT&T’s $10 million dollar Distance Learning and Family Connections Fund, which provides various E-Learning tools to parents, teachers, and students alike. Comcast, on the other hand, is providing free Internet access for a month to students from low-income families.
E-Learning Offers Cost-Saving Education Solutions to Parents & Students
E-Learning courses provide a cheaper and more flexible alternative to those who are concerned with their higher education plans.
The variety of online courses to choose from is also a big plus; students get to choose from different kinds of programs such as MOOCs and Boot Camps. These institutions focus on employable skill sets that could help users get jobs in their target industries. As these institutions become more widespread and trusted, the credentials and certificates they issue gain more authority as well. An added benefit is the lack of hurdles and constraints for students in accessing these learning materials. In fact, they’re now even more accessible given the shift to digital resources following the COVID-19 outbreak.
Impact of COVID-19 for E-Learning on Businesses and Professionals
E-Learning for Professionals
A great deal of new E-Learning courses were inspired by trending and highly relevant topics, such as the ongoing pandemic and even remote learning management tactics.
These courses are largely being targeted to professionals; from managers of newly-remote teams to individuals who were laid off due to the outbreak.
Some E-Learning platforms were actually designed to address the challenges businesses face in adjusting to this new remote setup. As discussed in our E-Learning Industry report, corporate E-Learning initiatives have proven to improve employee retention, productivity, and company-wide efficiency.
Most working professionals are currently working from home, as about 88% of American organizations have transitioned to a remote set-up for the time being. Professionals (including those who were recently laid off) are using this opportunity to either upskill or re-skill through E-Learning courses in order to keep up with today’s fast-paced market. Linux Foundation even reported a 40% increase in the use of their free courses within a single week.
The table below lists a few of the more popular courses for professionals:
Remote Work Courses:
The Future of E-Learning
Adapting to school closures has shown traditional education institutions that E-Learning is feasible and undeniably necessary in this day and age. Businesses and professionals have benefitted as well and are now more prepared for the workforce of the future.
As the technology behind E-Learning continues to advance, these courses and tools are expected to only become more prevalent in schools and the business world.