With the end of 2019, just like almost every year, we were expecting a new year full of pleasant surprises, new opportunities and adventures. However, nobody could foresee this tremendous change that the year 2020 was going to have for all of us.
At the beginning of 2020, the world was involved in a pandemic for a virus dubbed COVID-19. In the early months, countries and governments were hoping that the dissemination of the virus would be stopped quickly. Yet, it did not happen.
For this reason, it was necessary for governments to implement a protocol of quarantine in order to decrease the number of infections and deaths among people. Imposing restrictions is not an easier way to handle things, especially for educational institutions which needed to adapt to a new and unexpected reality.
Despite the difficulties and a serious threat to the world’s biggest economies, we have no choice other than to move forward. In these uncertain times and ahead of the unknown, many have turned to online solutions to keep their businesses afloat.
The entire online world has increased its traffic. Many of the activities we did in person, now have to be done remotely using the Internet. One of the industries that has benefited the most from the lockdown are online teaching services. It should come as no surprise, since it is the educational institutions that have been affected the worst from COVID-19.
In the beginning, we all hoped the lockdown wouldn’t last for too long, and that it was just a matter of short time to get back on track. Unfortunately, it turned out many institutions and businesses were forced to find a long-term alternative to be able to continue operation.
This long-term solution was mainly based on transferring the educational services, for example, from the physical environment to the virtual world, and this strategy that many schools and businesses set in motion, has increased the popularity of various online education platforms.
It is important to realize the impact that this pandemic has had upon the education system, and which online learning platforms and tools have benefited the most with this change. Besides, not everything is a rose garden, as new problems and challenges lie ahead.
While some companies and services have suffered greatly during the crisis, others have significantly increased in popularity. Online education and online collaboration services have clearly gained momentum.
The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been different in different countries. Some governments decided to impose strict restrictions and close all their school. This has left millions of students and teachers unsure and confused about their future. Suddenly, they woke up in a new reality. All these people, of whom majority had no prior experience in the online environment, were forced to adapt and employ new learning and teaching strategies almost overnight.
A variety of online educational platforms, video conferencing tools and apps were already present long before the pandemic, but the crisis has only speeded up the inevitable change. In many cases the shift from traditional to digital was the only alternative just to keep business running. Many language schools, for example, have transitioned to providing their services entirely via the Internet, and have remained that way. Consequently, this has even more reinforced their market position allowing them to expand to new areas and create new products and services.
The pandemic started in China, and so the country has been the first to react and adapt to the situation. For China, it was one of the biggest changes in their education system. Around 80% of the K-12 students in Wuhan have gone online or moved to some form of home schooling to continue their classes. Moreover, The Ministry of Education of China has initiated a project called “national internet cloud classroom” to provide internet access to millions of elementary and middle school students across the country.
Undoubtedly, many schools have been confronted with a totally new reality and they have been pressed to react immediately so that students wouldn’t lose time and continue their education.
To keep up with the skyrocketing demand for online teaching solutions, some companies offered their video conferencing services for free. This has allowed many schools to speed up the process of transitioning from the traditional to virtual environment.
Universities like Harvard have broadened their offer with a lot of online courses so that their students could keep learning despite the isolation requirements. Harvard is not the only university that has jumped on the e-learning bandwagon, Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, for example, has developed around 5 thousand new online courses using the platform DingTalk platform.
This is not such a bad move given that, according to researches, students are capable of learning more than 25% to even 60% of the course knowledge while working online as opposed to the traditional education where they can only learn or retain around 8% to 10% of the information and knowledge.
Which online collaboration tools and applications have increased in popularity and why?
In the aftermath of the lockdown, quite a few online video collaboration applications and tools have skyrocketed in demand and popularity in the last months. After all, we are living in the times where e-commerce is a huge industry that is constantly growing, and the Internet has become the only source of revenue for millions of small and medium-sized companies. As mentioned earlier, the COVID-19 restrictions have only speeded up something that was inevitable—the worldwide shift to e-solutions.
For some, the situation has turned out disastrous, for others, on the contrary. Those whose operations relied heavily on the brick-and-mortar concept of business have suffered the worst. They are the ones that badly need to find a new alternative, which, in fact, is only a mouse click away. Of course, easier said than done, but there is no other way out than going online. Such companies have been forced to find the new online space for almost all of their activities and services.
Education is one of those areas that have been affected the worst. Despite the big impact of the pandemic on its normal functioning, all schools and institutions have put all their efforts to transition from traditional to online education.
In this transition, online platforms that offer the video-conferencing feature are particularly interesting. We have to remember that one of the main elements of education is the communication between tutors and learners.
Applications like Google Meet, Zoom Meetings, Whereby or Abeedesk have become ones of the most popular on the market. These allow teachers to create a virtual classroom and invite all the students with only one link.
Some of these tools come equipped with an interactive blackboard, which makes it easier for both teachers and their students to visually represent their ideas. After all, we all become better learners when we see things.
Abeedesk, for example, is totally free, and does not have any time length restrictions. It is an entirely web-based solution meaning you do not need to download or install anything to start enjoying your first online video conference.
There are also many platforms like TED-Ed, for instance, which offer educational videos covering a variety of different topics. The platform is designed to be used for both teachers and students and is very popular for its functions to build educational content. It allows educators to create custom video lessons with additional interactive elements, such as quizzes.
ClassDojo is also very popular among teachers. This platform comes with a function to give feedback. This way, the teacher can reward students’ good behavior and participation in the online learning process. It also allows to share this feedback with parents so that they be aware of their children’s progress and contact the teacher when necessary.
New challenges in shifting from traditional to online environment
Online education is not an easy task. The effectiveness and success of moving from traditional to online environment depends on many factors, and the transition with this level of compromise is challenging and requires commitment.
One of the problems schools and educators have to face is proper training. Even though most teachers know exactly how to conduct classes the traditional way, working in the online environment is more than just moving classes to the virtual world of apps and platforms. Things like fast and stable internet connection, as simple as it may sound, can make all the difference.
The pandemic has mostly affected those countries which do not have enough resources to even make online education possible. This mainly applies to the Third World countries where online education is probably the last thing to be concerned about in a situation where the lack of basic services and infrastructure prevents people from getting jobs or education at all.
Another thing is to find the right tool which would cater to the needs of its users. Despite a wide range of tools and applications, selecting the most suitable could be a cumbersome task. It is important for schools and businesses to do some serious planning and testing before deciding on the proper solution.
Traditional vs Online
Every system has its pros and cons, but from the financial standpoint online education is the clear winner. Buying or renting a physical space with all the teaching equipment like furniture and blackboards could be a financial burden, not to mention the cost of maintenance. The cost of transportation for both teachers and students also adds up.
Another thing that speaks for the online solution is its global reach. In a virtual class a teacher can transmit the information simultaneously to many students located in different places. The class can be attended by hundreds of students, and recorded for on-demand viewing.
With the freedom of online courses comes the ability to take classes at any time you want and work on these classes late at night or early in the morning. This allows you be flexible and easily adjust to your job regime or other home or family responsibilities you might have.
Traditional education does have its own benefits too, one is commitment and engagement. Being in a classroom with the teacher and other students provides full immersion environment and triggers more engagement.
Also, the connections you can make with other peer students can be of great value in the future. So, if you are making connections with people at Harvard or Stanford, for example, you are meeting people that are going to be the future CEOs and millionaires all over the world.
Having more extracurricular options or the activities you can do after attending a traditional class is something that students may also be interested in. You will have different workshops, free entertainment events like concerts, for example, where you can socialize, get to know people and make lots of new friends.
Schools have changed a lot in the past and they are totally different than they used to be. The emergence e-learning is just a natural step in the evolution of the education system. However, that does not mean that traditional methods are gone for good. Each format has its pros and cons, and, just like with other commodities and services, the decision is now on the part of the consumer. The opportunities are far greater than ever, and as a conscious consumer you need to decide which product or servise is actually best for you so you can get the most out of your learning or teaching career.