The rise of online learning during the pandemic

  • 16/09/2020
  • 11:22
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The priorities for education institutions have changed drastically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Namely, from on-campus education to online alternatives. Not only has the educational environment continued to evolve during this period, but it has also embraced a range of new technologies which are countering the global skills gap.

Over 1.6 billion students were affected during quarantine efforts, and this represents more than 91% of students around the world. In the UK, potential international students have been hit hardest due to travel restrictions. The UK normally educates over half a million foreign students per year – or 20% of its entire student body – and the pandemic has created a huge financial deficient. However, there has also been an increase in domestic students upskilling with industry-specific skills. This was a trend before the pandemic and has been accelerated due to the turbulence caused in the global job market.

Even as we see on-campus learning return, what we saw as short-term responses have transformed the world of education for good. Look at where the investments are to understand current and future trends. Udemy – one of the biggest online learning platforms in the world – recently received $60 million from one single investor. Their business is expanding to meet the skills needed in the global marketplace, and online learning is a catalyst for post-COVID-19 recovery. It’s valuable for all organisations to know what’s happening behind the scenes, and how to improve your own online education best practices with the newest approaches.

Digital transformation

Online learning ROI versus traditional education debates continue, but user data analysis is transforming both environments. Online learning enterprises use this data with machine learning algorithms to enhance student learning patterns. This practice will be common across all educational sectors in the future and allow for content to be personalised for each individual. This represents a huge leap forwards in online education of all types and is a key innovation of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

As the individual needs of a student and or employee are recognised, understood and catered for, the organisation using the online platform will also benefit. Therefore, organisations can also develop and brand their processes based on marketplace needs. The e-learning content itself will adapt, and instantaneous feedback loops will improve learning curves. This will accelerate progression and help entire workforces to upskill at a faster rate. Plus, with an option outside of face-to-face learning sessions, participants can benefit from flexible study periods that fit around their own schedule.

Positive disruption

Digital learning platforms are helping to liberate students and teachers from many of their daily struggles. This can be seen in the paradigm shift from traditional classroom-based structures to adaptive-learning platforms. A central part of this change comes from how these platforms recommend learning experiences, similar to the way Netflix or Amazon guide users to content that they are more likely to enjoy. Many industrial entrepreneurs like Elon Musk champion progressive approaches to e-learning, and understand that innovative learning techniques will replace traditional methods.

The issue with traditional schooling practices is that they are often more about signalling than learning. When students acquire certain qualifications, they signal to future employers that they may be suitable for a position, even if they have no experience of it. This is also called the ‘credentialist’ view (Albert, 2017), which argues against collecting credentials, and promotes experience-based learning. The online coding institute, Lambada School, is an excellent example of this. The school is 100% free to attend, is oriented towards in-demand tech skills, and students only start paying once they land a relevant high-tech job. These types of learning agreement are fast becoming the norm and outmanoeuvre many long-established approaches.

Unlocking futures

The educational landscape cannot be fully transformed without support from the policymakers and regulatory boards. The key focus is on leveraging and incentivising innovations within both the public and private sectors. Corporate organisations play a central role in this dynamic, as their interests should be in student-centric and outcome-based (judged by practical application) education. This moves away from the older compartmentalised higher education styles and mirrors trends that reward continuous and holistic improvement, as opposed to position/credential attainment alone.

This contrasts with the upper tiers of online higher education however, where there is always the question of how far face-to-face education can be replaced by digital platforms alone. When the Times Higher Education surveyed 45 prominent universities across the globe in 2018, 63% expected prestigious institutions predicted that full online degrees would be offered by 2030, but only 24% thought that online version would be more popular than campus-based versions. Moving on to 2020, the amount of universities offering online versions of their courses is growing. The top Russell Group universities show us how close we are to the 2018 prediction. More than 50% of these institutes (iNews, 2020) have already moved completely online, or have ‘blended’ learning approaches that are a mixture of e-learning and campus-based modules.

Facing challenges

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased monetary constraints for students and universities however, so hybrid models – digital and traditional – are helping education communities to transition into the new normal.

The exacerbated and pre-existing needs of the UK’s economy have forced universities to focus on the needs of the national workforce. This is helping online higher education courses to become more focussed on in-demand skills as well as balancing the need for social distancing. Organisations are looking at the best practices for new entrants as well as their entire existing workforce, and the educational sector is seeing the biggest disruption in its history.

For deeper insights into the virtual learning world, read the second and third blogs in our online learning series or contact our team today.