The past year has been an experiment on online learning. Around the world, students of all ages, and their teachers, had to immediately transition to studying and working from home.
It was a measure to curb the spread of COVID-19, a highly contagious and deadly virus that has so far killed millions around the world and continues to infect those who are yet to receive the vaccine. Yet, it was also an opportunity to learn about the effectiveness of digital classrooms, the benefits of the set up, and the challenges it created.
Most countries had to close schools and make students learn from their own homes. In fact, according to estimates, around the world, over 1.2 billion children were out of the classroom in 2020. This year, many countries, especially where vaccinations have vastly lowered the rate of infections, reopened schools. However, experts believe that the experience from the past year will have lasting changes in the education system.
The Benefits and Challenges
The result, after several months of online learning, is a mixed bag.
There are benefits to it. Previous studies have found that students who accessed learning materials online retained 25 percent to 60 percent more information. In comparison, students who had to attend a lecture in a classroom only retained 8 percent to 10 percent of the lesson.
Experts explain that online schooling is effective because it enables students to learn at their own pace. Students have more control over their education. They can go back and re-read parts that they did not completely comprehend. They can also accelerate parts that they already know.
For most, e-learning leads to time savings. It takes children on average 40 percent to 60 percent less time to understand the lesson compared to if they went to a traditional setting.
However, there were also challenges. Access to technology needed for distant learning is the biggest hurdle. Not all households can afford a laptop or a tablet for each kid. In the United States, fast and stable internet can also be quite expensive. A family that is already struggling to put food on the table will be unable to afford another expense.
Those that do have access to the tools required to online schooling may not have the appropriate environment for studying. They may not have a room of their own, or a quiet spot at home.
Potential for Investment
Regardless of the challenges, there are clear benefits to it. Some students thrived when they were learning from home as opposed to going to a classroom. Likely, like remote work, there will be those who hope to continue attending their lectures over the internet.
This creates opportunities for companies to develop new technology that will improve the experience of remote learning.
Even before COVID-19, the adoption of education technology (shortened to edtech) was already on the rise. Globally, investment to edtech reached $18.66 billion in 2019. By 2025, the entire market for online education is expected to grow to $350 billion. In the U.S. alone, the market will be worth $12.8 billion.
The use of edtech further increased during the pandemic. In 2020, edtech saw a significant surge in interest in language apps, video conferencing software, virtual tutoring, online learning software, and others.
There is also potential in newer technologies that can help children improve their academic performance. There is adaptive learning, a tool that allows students to tailor their learning modules around their specific needs, difficulties, and preferred ways of learning. It is different from the traditional broad-based approach that has been proven to not always be effective.
Not Just Schools
Moreover, it is not just schools that are implementing edtech. Companies, too, are adopting learning devices and software to provide opportunities for employees to improve existing or gain new skills.
About 98 percent of all corporations have a program to give employees access to online learning.
This benefits companies because it ensures that their workforce are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to do their work. Markets experience constant shifts, creating new trends that make previous strategies ineffective.
Research has also found that access to virtual learning can improve employee retention from 25 percent to 60 percent. It also has been proven to boost income in 42 percent of American companies.
The past year has created ripples that will influence shifts in trends across all sectors, including education. This creates opportunities for investors as interest and use in edtech rise all over the world, and not just in schools. Many companies are also using edtech to improve employee skills, retention, and profit.