The Future of Online Learning in a Post-COVID-19 World
When lockdown was declared in the UK on the 23rd of March, few of us could have guessed the impact it would have on the future of online learning. However, with four months’ worth of changes, that future is now coming into focus.
Never has the axiom, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, rang truer than it has in the first few months of lockdown; during which we saw more system-wide change within the education sector than we had in the past two decades.
The innovation that was facilitated by the ‘stay-at-home’ order has raised the profile of online learning in ways that are likely to persist beyond the pandemic. Gone seem to be the days when online learning was only undertaken by part-time learners or those facing significant time constraints.
What’s more, the pandemic has proved that online learning can be on equal footing with its classroom counterpart. COVID-19 has also served as a much-needed wake-up call to educational institutions and providers, demonstrating what can be achieved with the help of technology-enabled solutions offered by EdTech.
Online Learning in Lockdown
With the coronavirus pandemic rendering all mass gatherings and face-to-face contact with the outside world unfeasible, the future of education was put under a big question mark.
We could hardly have foreseen the vigour with which educational institutions, providers, and students themselves would adapt to the new normal, which involved a full adoption of online learning and assessment.
However, what we saw happen amongst educational providers wasn’t just a shift to online learning motivated purely by necessity. In many cases, providers, anticipating emerging trends, did more than simply convert their in-class offerings into online alternatives.
Providers were seen going beyond ‘quick-fix tools’ such as Zoom, Teams and email; choosing to instead opt for a whole suite of technological tools offered by EdTech, such as virtual assistants, immersive learning and interactive video content, to make online learning more accessible and personalised.
This marks a turning point in the educational sector, which is now utilising the lessons engendered by having to deploy ‘emergency technology-enabled learning, teaching and assessment,’ to prepare for the future of both online learning and education as a whole.
The Future of Online Learning Post Lockdown
As lockdown drew to its end, many – such Dr David LeFeurre of EdTech Lab at Imperial College London – asserted that in-class learning can no longer be considered superior.
This is because COVID-19 has accelerated nascent trends, namely the ‘transition to the digital economy’ and the resulting dwindling interest in face-to-face classes even prior to the pandemic. Simon Nelson of FutureLearn, argues that students are increasingly eschewing F2F learning in favour of its much faster, efficient online alternative.
As a result, there is increasing pressure for education providers to deliver distance learning that is more engaging, collaborative and emotionally fulfilling for their learners.
With every industry becoming digitised, it is now in the providers’ best interest to anticipate various future scenarios and reflect on what education should look like to meet the demands of our changing and increasingly technology-enabled world.
An idea that has taken hold in recent months is blended learning: a hybrid model that incorporates a mixture of face-to-face and online components. Students spend a portion of their time within a physical classroom, while the remainder is carried out remotely. The proponents of the model argue that the model may both increase engagement and give providers the opportunity to experiment with new technologies and ways of doing things.
While many believe the blended model to be the answer, they also caution against opting for quick-fix methods of attaining it. Namely reaching for tools such as Zoom and email and adopting a ‘read and learn’ approach to remote learning. To ensure this type of learning keeps up with student interest and demand, a carefully thought out ‘design and implementation of a digital-first curriculum’ and investment into EdTech is needed. This will pave the way for superior and more interactive learning experiences.
EdTech During the COVID-19 Crisis
In an age of intense competition within the adult education sector, it’s important for education providers to adopt innovation as one of their key values, to be able to compete in a system where student choice is pivotal.
While it may seem logical to suspend investment into innovation during this time, according to Jan van Houtte – the Director of Teaching & Learning at Barco – this period should be seen as an opportunity for providers to both reflect on how technology can enhance learning and ‘generate new income through attractive new offers for previously untapped markets.’ And this is where EdTech comes in.
EdTech, also known as ‘educational technology’, has been around for the last 15-20 years, and has enabled the education sector’s seamless adoption of online learning during the COVID-19 crisis. The UK’s EdTech sector is one of the fastest-growing in Europe, according to Tech Nation.
The UK’s EdTech sector generated
in venture capital investment in 2019
Source: Tech Nation
During the coronavirus crisis and the ensuing lockdown, the EdTech sector saw a 22% increase in investment, which – according to Gerard Grech of Tech Nation – suggests that coronavirus served as a catalyst for the adoption of EdTech services.
What’s more, upwards of 100 EdTech companies have offered their services to educational institutions to keep classes running during lockdown. One such company was Barco, an up-and-coming tech firm specialising in digital projection. Berco’s weConnect virtual classroom solution enabling two-way engagement and highly enriched learning experiences has taken the sector by the storm. The University College London (UCL) has since adopted the tool to deliver engaging real-time teaching to its international students.
Ways Providers Can Benefits from EdTech
While EdTech sounds like a golden bullet and an answer to many questions facing providers, knowing how to take advantage of this technology or how exactly it can be of benefit isn’t always clear.
To demonstrate how EdTech can help you refine your offerings and provide your students with engaging and immersive remote learning experiences, below we outline a few case studies to get you started.
Bolton College collaborated with IBM Watson to bring to life ‘Ada’, a virtual assistant tasked with delivering on-demand requests for information, guidance and advice to the college’s 11,000 students. Ada now has the capacity to respond to 2,500 questions regarding general course enquiries as well as more specific queries relating to the students and the curriculum.
Thanks to Ada, Bolton College has been able to significantly reduce the workload of its staff, tighten up its finances and redirect the saved hours into delivering quality content and learning experiences to its students.
Grimsby Institute of Further & Higher Education has transformed its offerings and the way they provide learning with the use of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Through this technology, Grimsby is able to offer its students ‘real life’ work experiences in low-risk settings, thus equipping students with the necessary skills and experience to be ‘active participants of the future workforce’.
“The immersive experiences that we provide mean students can experience things going wrong in a simulated environment before they go wrong in real life. It prepares them for high-risk scenarios in their career that could be life-saving. Additionally, we provide students with industry standard technology that gives them a better opportunity to find and transition into their chosen career paths.”. ~ Debra Gray, Principal at Grimsby FE & HE Institute
Nottingham Trent University has leveraged the technology infrastructure offered by EdTech to utilise analytics and better support its students by giving them the tools to refine their approaches to learning.
The university’s Student Dashboard ‘draws data from 7 institutional data sources and uses Solutionpath’s StREAM tool’ to work out students’ engagement levels and compare them to their peers. The Dashboard is used by students as well as staff, who are asked to regularly inspect student engagement. Educators and personal tutors are alerted by email when student engagement dips and are therefore able to intervene fast and assist students with whatever’s preventing them from engaging with the course.
As a result of this technology, Nottingham Trent University has been able to foster better rapport between students and educators; with educators reporting improvements in terms of their interventions with students and an overall positive impact on student behaviour.
University of Wolverhampton has adopted a 3D visualisation system to accompany lab-based anatomy and dissection lessons. Students are given touch screens, which allow them to examine the intricate relationships between various parts of the body – something that would not have been possible without the technology.
Since rolling out the feature, University of Wolverhampton has seen increased student participation and engagement.
Hackney’s Woodberry Down Community Primary School has also taken steps towards embracing EdTech in a bid to help it streamline its day-to-day operations and reduce staff workload.
The school now uses technology to allow for more efficient record collection and tracking of student progress. From taking photos and filing students’ work on the go to digitally assessing work, teachers have been able to significantly reduce the time needed to gather and file evidence. Instead, their digital portfolios allow them to access student records seamlessly, having completely eradicated the need for lengthy and inefficient paper trails.
The COVID-19 crisis proved a watershed moment for the delivery of online learning and education as a whole. It has also shown us the lengths to which education providers will go in order to do right by their students; as evidenced by the mass adoption of online learning and EdTech solutions.
At Candlefox, we welcome the innovation and creativity that have defined the sector since the start of lockdown. We also look forward to partnering with all players in the student journey and continuing to support our partners through the changes unravelling in the space.
Get in touch to find out how we can help you.