While countries are at different stages in COVID-19 infection, currently there are over 1.2 billion children amongst 186 countries affected by school closures worldwide during to the pandemic. Education systems have, “by default,” turned to eLearning.
How is the education sector responding to COVID-19?
In response to the heightened demand, a large number of online learning platforms have come to offering free access to their services. Amongst these platforms include Mathletics, an award-winning companion tool to be used by educators in teaching students math. For language learning, there’s Duolingo, a free mobile and web app that teaches 30 languages, including as Spanish, French, Mandarin, and Japanese. Science teachers have access to Stile, and resources like Lemonade Stand cater to the older learner as a self-directed platform that helps students develop entrepreneurial skills.
One can certainly make the argument that eLearning was already a burgeoning industry, with global Edtech investments hitting US$18.66 billion in 2019 and the global market for online education expected to climb up to $350 Billion by 2025. With the sudden influx of classrooms using tech-based learning, new features are rapidly being deployed to meet growing needs. For example, Lark, a Singapore-based collaboration suite developed by ByteDance, began offering teachers and students unlimited video conferencing time, real-time co-editing for project work, and smart calendar scheduling, amongst other features.
At-home effects of online learning
The quick changes from eLearning platforms reflect the less-than-smooth transition from real to virtual classrooms. As the first country to experience classroom shutdown’s due to COVID-19, Chinese students have been the most impacted by long-term use of online learning. Lack of interaction, loneliness and poor exercise are but several effects reported by young Chinese students asked about their at-home situation. The World Economic Forum profiled one such Chinese student, 10 years old, and suddenly living the life of an “online learner.”
For education for K-G12 students, parents are now also an essential part of the equation. Educators aren’t there physically to guide students. For parents that suddenly need to enforce at-home living in addition to their usual working lives, just having the tools for learning is not enough. LMS’s that can additionally provide the proper scheduling and incentive to learn regularly are especially beneficial for parents that aren’t fully capable of monitoring their children’s education at all times of the day.
Creating social environments for learning
With interaction at an all-time low, there is a rise in use of collaboration platforms that support live-video communications, including Hangouts Meet, Teams, Skype, WhatsApp, and Zoom. Not all native learning platforms feature this particular functionality just yet, but it is expected that more learning software developers begin taking into account more ways to incorporate live-video as a core function of their eLearning platforms.
More digital means of creating digital learning content
Many traditional classrooms make use of various arts and crafts styles of learning to apply theories in practical ways. In a remote environment, this is no longer as simple as handing each student glue and popsicle sticks. The start of COVID-19 saw more education being in orally communicated rather than applied in practical settings. This can be expected to drive less engagement in the long run. In response, we’re seeing more reliance on platforms that allow digital content creation, for educators to give students a chance to visually grasp theories through application. This idea fits squarely with the popular “gamification” concept that has been made popular in recent years, where sparking a sense of entertainment and/or competition further aids in overall knowledge retention.
eLearning with more offline functionality
One of the prominent challenges of a heavily online-based education is that the delivery of resources tends to be greatly reliant on internet connection. This has increased the necessity for learning platforms like language learning app Kolibri, education tool Rumie, and Ustad Mobile which market themselves as mostly offline services that don’t require constant internet stability.
Psychosocial support is important as well
Mental health affects learning. In distanced environments under fear of infection and social interaction, mental health is at risk and should be taken deeply into consideration. For that reason there are various resources for educators to properly address the COVID-19 situation to students, and parents.
Here are some resources provided by UNESCO for how to take the right approach in addressing COVID-19 concerns for educators:
- InterAgency Standing Committee guidelines for protecting and improving people’s mental health and psychosocial well-being during an emergency
- WHO mental health and psychosocial guidance during the COVID-19 outbreak
- UNICEF guidance on how teachers should talk to children about COVID-19
- UNICEF guidance on how parents and caregivers can talk to children about COVID-19
What this means for online education
The transition has not been so smooth, simply due to the sudden nature of the change. This means there are those that critique how effective eLearning truly is, and others continuing to defend its uses. However, it is without a doubt that these events have been the eye-opener that will encourage unprecedented growth in both the online education and video collaboration sectors. eLearning platforms are realizing that they can potentially be (and should be) much more than simply a set of resources, but a means to collaborate, and encourage better learning on one’s own time. These are all indirectly applied through features based on user feedback and general demand. The online education community has a larger sample size than ever before, and will, without a doubt, come out of the pandemic better equipped than ever.