Sudden and unexpected events usually pressure society to experiment with new ideas. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused monumental changes to every sector, majorly the education sector with schools, universities, and educational courses moving online leading to a virtual learning scenario. Virtual vs in-person classes Even before the pandemic, online learning was rising driven by growing internet access as well growth in the use of mobile devices. There is no doubt that the education sector has undergone radical changes within a very short period. One advantage of online education is flexibility in terms of sources and the nature of the content. From following tutorials to going over learning materials, listening to audiobooks, and watching videos, the internet offers a large database of learning materials. The rise of EduTech The pandemic has exposed the need to integrate technology into the education system as opposed to using it as a crisis management tool. The sector has shifted towards ‘Zoom classrooms’ in an attempt to replicate on-campus and in-person learning into an online environment. The last 12 months have seen a 5-10 year growth in the EdTech market with $8.3 billion in VC funding in the third quarter of 2020. During the same period, Google’s Classroom platform increased its teachers from 3 million to 7 million, and its students from 40 million to 150 million. Interactive learning platforms like myViewBoard enable teachers to stream their Whiteboard sessions directly through YouTube, social media, and directly through personalized online portals. Online communication platforms like Zoom and Skype have been instrumental in delivering content and creating interactive classroom environments. Technologies like video, robots, virtual classrooms, and Artificial Intelligence among others have played a key role in making online classes more engaging, lively, and interactive. Edutech is projected to reach $400 billion in the next five years but will still be a small fraction of the $6 trillion global education sector. Benefits of Online Learning Online learning has grown from supplementing in-person learning, to becoming the mainstream mode of teaching and learning. Below are the advantages of online learning:
Efficiency – there are multiple ways to deliver online content including guided infographics, PDFs, recorded videos, live classes, and podcasts among others. This increases efficiency and productivity in both teaching and learning.
Flexibility – Initially, online learning at a professional level was dominated by business executives who found it hard to juggle between job commitments and full-time graduate programs. Online learning increases the flexibility of individuals to learn while still working.
Affordability – online education allows students to save on cost points like transportation, accommodation, and meals among others. Furthermore, access to a large database of online content reduces the need for paperwork. This reduces the cost and is also beneficial to the environment.
Customized learning experience – online learning enables students to align their learning to their level of ability and individual requirements. Again, online classes tend to be smaller than in-person classes which allow students more time to interact and engage with their teachers.
Challenges facing online education While there is a lot of progress made in online learning, challenges still abound especially considering it is still a nascent sector. Here are the top challenges affecting online learning:
Computer/ digital Literacy – online classes require some degree of digital literacy and technological proficiency including the ability to log in, participate in classes, do research and assignments, and communicate with other students and teachers.
Time Management – online learning requires the student to be self-driven, a self-supervisor, and a good time manager. Lack of proper supervision and poor coordination may see some students to lag which may lead to poor results.
Quality of education – for years, the quality of online learning has been measured below conventional education. This is mainly due to loopholes regarding supervision, coordination, and students' comprehension among others.
Conclusion Online learning creates a lot of flexibility for students and teachers allowing them to balance between work and study. Moreover, students access content in various types and forms. It may be a relatively new landscape but online learning enables students to take their studies in a supportive and convenient environment.