In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, a vast number of people have taken to utilising online educational resources. In particular, those with full-time employment have been capitalising on such resources to further their knowledge and expertise. According to Encoura, an educational technology firm, Coursera recorded a 370% rise in course enrolment across all disciplines by the end of March 2023. Furthermore, renowned online learning platforms such as Udacity and edX have also been gaining traction.
Due to layoffs, reduced working hours and the introduction of work-from-home restrictions, employees are now having more free time available. In addition, conditions that are unrelated to the pandemic may also play a part in this, such as the increased accessibility and quality of online education in recent years.
Online education has been extremely beneficial for certain professionals, such as software engineers who offer IT outsourcing services. Working individuals are making the most of their time by taking advantage of the convenience of online learning, whether for professional development, personal interests or leisurely activities. Below, we explore some of the key drivers behind this trend.
Technology for online education has come a long way, but there is still room for improvement. Works is an example of a software company that can develop bespoke applications to meet particular requirements.
Teachers are now able to utilise various tools to create virtual classrooms, enabling them to distribute and analyse digital content, monitor individual student performance, and enable collaborative learning. Zoom provides users with the opportunity to electronically raise their hands or divide into smaller groups to promote discussion.
Teachers may also facilitate student-led conversations outside of scheduled class time by establishing online forums. These forums can be beneficial for adult students who have busy schedules, such as those with family commitments or full-time employment, as they do not require synchronous participation and students can contribute when they have a few moments available.
According to the OECD, “online learning…allows learners to pick a time, pace, and location appropriate with job and family commitments.”
Furthermore, today’s technological tools may be beneficial in the classroom. Machine learning algorithms can identify patterns, allowing them to tailor information to each individual user. As Forbes blogger Ilker Koksal notes, “the platform may alter the e-learning material when a student is struggling with a particular subject.
Reforms to the Classroom
Educators who had not previously been acquainted with digital teaching techniques had to rapidly adapt to the novel situation caused by the pandemic. Some of the most significant modifications they have implemented can be seen below:
- Making sure that digital resources, such slideshow presentations, are legible on screens of all sizes.
- For those students who are unable to attend a particular session, an alternative option is available to view recordings of the lectures at a later time.
- Using publicly available information to support their own work.
- Keeping pupils interested and involved in class via the use of interactive activities.
- Offering online “office hours” during which students who are having difficulty may ask inquiries.
- Inviting participation and guiding conversations.
The following video discusses the many ways in which the integration of technology and pedagogy may enhance the educational experience for students:
Increased Ease of Use
MOOCs, or ‘Massive Open Online Courses’, are available through Coursera. When these courses were first made available around 10 years ago, they attracted a large number of students; however, some of them found the online format challenging.
According to the New York Times, the online enterprises have been growing at an increasing rate. It is estimated that it takes between four to six months and approximately £1,200 to complete the ‘nano degrees’ offered by a few educational institutions. This suggests that these organisations have gained valuable insight which may provide a blueprint for schools districts and other organisations that are transitioning to a virtual environment.
The current pandemic has opened up new opportunities for people to further their education. There are a plethora of resources available for those who wish to develop their professional and personal skills during this period. Despite the difficulties of the current situation, it is important to remember the potential to improve and grow.
Koksal’s assertion that “top tier colleges are democratizing learning by making courses available online” is corroborated by the wide range of courses on offer from both Stanford University and Harvard University. These courses cover areas such as computer science, engineering, mathematics, business, the arts, and personal development.
Shift in Thinking
Some have advocated for a four-year residential programme, but the Harvard Business Review posed the question of whether such a programme is necessary. The tone of the inquiry seemed to suggest that the answer may be negative in some cases. There are digital alternatives which can replace certain aspects of the classic college experience; for example, lectures which do not require human interaction can be recorded as multimedia presentations.
It is likely that these changes are more relevant to those preparing to attend college than to those already in the workforce. Nevertheless, alterations to how higher education is typically delivered may have widespread implications. In some cases, hybrid models which combine online and face-to-face engagement may prove to be more accessible and cost-effective for older individuals.
Refreshingly Harsh Pedagogical Shaking
Many of the changes we have seen recently have been brought about as a result of the pandemic, though some of them may have been necessary anyway. It is unfortunate that many people are unable to access higher education due to financial constraints, and even if they are able to attend, they may struggle to repay their student loans upon graduation due to a lack of job opportunities in their chosen field.
By reducing the cost of higher education and increasing access to training for sought-after jobs, online education can help tackle both of these issues. Factors such as lower course fees, the presence of numerous course materials available for free online, and the lack of travel costs such as petrol and parking fees, make online education potentially more cost-effective than more traditional forms of education.
Justin Da Rosa of Battery Ventures recently stated that advances in online learning are becoming more economical, accessible, scalable and tailored to skills that employers seek.
Making a Plan for the New Norm
As we all adjust to the new reality, some are taking the extra time to pursue educational opportunities. With online courses, individuals can develop their skills and further their education without compromising their safety by travelling to physical institutions. Compared to more traditional forms of education, online courses are more affordable, more accessible, and require less time commitment.