The Future Of eLearning Post-Pandemic
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The Future Of eLearning Post-Pandemic

The pandemic saw the greatest disruption to the global education system in human history. Schools everywhere were forced to shut suddenly and youngsters, teachers, and parents were propelled into a form of learning that few had previously experienced. According to the World Economic Forum, at its peak, the pandemic saw 94% (1.6 billion) of the world’s school-age children out of the classroom and learning remotely from home. And 63 million teachers found themselves connecting with their pupils on digital platforms in an unplanned way, often with little training or time to prepare.

Needless to say, all this prompted widespread fears that eLearning would result in a bad experience for youngsters.

And such fears were justified. In their report on surveys of ministries of education on responses to COVID-19, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) estimated that children lost an average of 47 days of schooling (a quarter of the school year) across 108 countries. And the World Bank [1] predicted that without effective compensatory action there could be a loss of $10 trillion dollars in earnings over time for this generation of our young people.

The Response To School Closures

Of course, as schools closed, governments responded by providing access to remote learning options, usually on digital platforms, and endeavored to increase access to the connectivity and devices needed to effectively access those platforms.

Just how effectively the switch was made depended on many things, not least the wealth of the countries involved. This was confirmed in the UIS surveys which showed that whilst no high-income country rated online learning as ineffective, 22% of low-income countries did.

A survey held in the US in March 2021 on "Parents’ Opinions on eLearning During the Pandemic" [2] found that whilst only 16% of parents had prior experience of their children learning remotely online, 61% were satisfied or very satisfied with it, and 55% now view it favorably and would welcome its continuation in some form. By the time of this survey, of course, significant resources had gone into making remote learning far more effective than it was in the early stages of the crisis. And teachers themselves had become better at leveraging the power of digital tools.

What Might The Future Hold For Education Delivery?

Needless to say, these efforts have prompted a major rethink of education delivery and the UNESCO surveys demonstrate that remote learning through digital platforms will continue to play an important role in education. Over 90% of the 200 participating countries report that hybrid models combining remote and in-person learning have continued as schools reopen. Not only this, but to build resilience and allow education systems to adapt to future shocks, these hybrid models are set to continue into the future.

This raises lots of questions about the future of all aspects of teaching and learning and the need for all stakeholders to constantly monitor and measure how effectively education systems integrate new digital technologies.

There are fantastic new opportunities for co-operation within education. Teachers have had to collaborate with one another on a new level—locally, nationally, and globally—to improve their online teaching methods, opening new channels for creative solutions and cultivating a willingness to learn from one another and experiment with new approaches.

Simultaneous silent written examinations were brought to a halt and replaced with more creative assessments that, in the future, could even be tailored to each and every individual by incorporating AI.

Addressing The Drawbacks And Closing The Digital Divide

However, the transition will be far more successful if the shortcomings of eLearning are identified and addressed. The March 2021 survey found a lack of social interaction to be the biggest downside parents cited for remote online learning, with 79% seeing that as a significant drawback of the format [2]. Education is a social experience. Hybrid models will need to enable students to interact with each other, participate actively in their own learning and more readily receive and provide feedback, perhaps drawing on cohort learning models being deployed by higher education companies such as Esme Learning.

The EdTech sector has enjoyed huge growth during the pandemic in terms of both start-ups and investment—with over $10 billion in venture capital investment across the world. During the pandemic, many of these organizations offered their services for free to help and support remote teaching and learning. To coordinate their efforts, it would be great to see the educational equivalent of COVAX (a body set up by the World Health Organisation to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines) with the aim to close the digital divide, help schools and universities adapt and evolve, and ensure all our young people benefit.

The lessons learned from this crisis cannot be wasted, and the apparent willingness of parents to engage with a new approach to education must be capitalized on before it dissipates.

In the words of Jaime Saavedra, World Bank global director for education:

This shock might have lasting negative impacts, but it must be an opportunity to accelerate, not go back to where we were before. We will go to a new normal with a different understanding of the role of parents, teachers, and technology. A new normal that should be more effective, more resilient, more equitable, and more inclusive. We owe it to our children.

References:

[1] COVID-19 Could Lead to Permanent Loss in Learning and Trillions of Dollars in Lost Earnings

[2] We surveyed 500 parents to get their thoughts on their children e-learning during the pandemic.

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