Students and training providers at all levels of education were compelled to quickly adapt to online learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. The ramifications of this, as well as the changes required to make it work, will change forever the balance of how education is delivered.
Without the option of face-to-face meetings – whether through government instructions or simple self-preservation – the situation with COVID-19 pushed everyone to embrace virtual learning. This has been evident in the past; but following disruptions like earthquakes, they were essentially short-term policies that reverted to “normality” once the problem had been solved. But, as with many things, the pandemic imposed changes that were more widespread, and deeper, than anything before. The question of what the long-term effects will be, as well as what education will look like in the post-COVID era, sparked speculation. On the one hand, an immediate return to traditional classroom learning was critical straight away. On the other hand, others saw the forced transition to online education as a chance to reimagine how education may be offered.
The Education Sector’s Response to COVID-19
Since its earliest inception, online education has been accepted by adult learners who are pursuing higher education/ skill development as an alternative path to classroom learning. But the COVID-19 pandemic forced training providers and students at all levels of education to quickly adjust to virtual courses. Initially, with changes in the level of infections, training was relocated online, then returned to the physical classroom, and then shifted back online. In some circumstances, instruction was provided via a hybrid of online and face-to-face delivery, with students having their training provided with a mixture of online and in-person training (often called “blended learning”).
But as the usage of online training became more widespread, so did the recognition of its benefits to both teachers and learners. In many cases, it became a preferred, rather than an accepted, alternative to the classroom.
Advances in Resources
Students and families have found innovative ways to get the facilities and resources they need to participate in and finish their curriculum. School buses, for example, are being used to provide mobile hotspots, and class packages and educational lectures have been broadcast on local public broadcasting stations.
Electronic resources and activities that may now be integrated into online learning experiences have also become more widely available and adopted. Experts from all over the world may now attend online classes thanks to synchronous online conferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Meet. Presentations can also be recorded for individual learners to watch at their leisure.
What does this Signify for Education in the Future?
Many people believe that an unplanned and rapid shift to online learning with no associated basic computer training, insufficient bandwidth, and little preparation will result in a poor user experience that will hinder long-term growth. But others believe that a new hybrid model of education will emerge, with significant advantages. Wang Tao, Vice President of Tencent Cloud has been reported as saying: “I believe that the integration of information technology in education will be further accelerated and that online education will eventually become an integral component of school education”.
The Challenges to E-learning
However, there are challenges ahead. Those students who lack access to reliable internet access or technology find it difficult to engage in digital learning; this divide exists across countries and between income levels within countries. OECD data has shown that while 95% of students in Switzerland, Norway, and Austria have access to a computer for schooling, only 34% of students in Indonesia have.
Looking within countries also shows up wide discrepancies take-up. In the United States, for example, there is a considerable divide between those from affluent and poor homes: although nearly all rich 15-year-olds said they had access to a computer, nearly 25% of those from underprivileged families did not. This has prompted schools and governments in some countries, for example, New South Wales in Australia, to provide digital devices to pupils in need. But there are many people who are concerned that the increase in online courses will exacerbate the digital gap, and therefore the availability of learning opportunities.
Effectiveness of E-learning
There is evidence that people who have access to the right technology can learn more effectively online in a variety of ways. Students who learn online retain 25-60% more material than those who learn in a classroom, who retain only 8-10%, according to a number of studies. This is because online learning takes 40-60% less time to study than traditional classroom learning, thereby increasing students’ capacity to learn more quickly, as well as giving them the ability to go back and re-read, skip, or accelerate through subjects as needed.
It is undeniable that the pandemic wrought havoc on the traditional educational system that many believe was already losing relevance. In addition to the opportunity to find new and more accessible ways of learning, the need for distributing knowledge across borders, companies, and all aspects of society was highlighted by the pandemic. It is crystal clear now that the pandemic merely accelerated a trend that was here already: switching to online learning is here to stay with us permanently; it is incumbent on all of us to fully exploit it.