Even before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, the elearning industry has already made a mark in the education sector, and was hailed as the next important revolution in learning. Between 2012 and 2018, the annual growth rate of elearning among United States college students was 5.30%, with at least 35.3% of higher education students reported enrolling in at least one distance learning course (Digest of Education Statistics, 2019).
While elearning used to simply be an option for students, especially those who cannot travel to their target schools, the pandemic essentially mandated elearning as a sensible and safe option to perpetuate education during a lockdown or quarantine period. While it can be quickly adopted by most urbanized areas, a great majority of the world may find it more difficult to transition to elearning for two major reasons: unavailability/inadequate network and unpreparedness of school faculty to deal with the sudden shift.
With these in mind, this article aims to show the emerging elearning trends in the education sector. From the available technologies to the new methods of teaching, we will discuss how today’s teachers and students can leverage these trends to keep up with the changing times. Other key points that will be discussed include the factors to consider before rolling out elearning initiatives to ensure seamless implementation.
In 2019, elearning already enjoyed high growth and adoption, with education technology investments reported at $18.66 billion. With the ongoing outbreak exposing the vulnerability of physical classrooms, as well as the recent technological improvements that make elearning feasible, online education is poised to experience exponential growth, with projections for the market seen to reach $350 billion by 2025 (Business Insider, 2020; Research and Markets, 2019).
In addition, the introduction of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) eight years ago opened the floodgates for elearning, offering online degrees and micro-credentials to students who successfully complete courses. By the end of 2019, MOOCs accommodated 110 million learners (excluding China) and launched over 2,500 courses, 11 online degrees, and 170 micro-credentials (Shah, 2020).
While the progress of elearning was steadily climbing, Coronavirus cases around the world put a majority of industries to a halt, including the education sector. As the number of local cases rose, education institutions all over the world began shutting down schools and asking students to stay home. An estimated 1.5 billion students in over 165 countries were effectively out of school (UNESCO, 2020).
While most developed countries simply asked students to continue via online learning, a sizable majority were left behind with fewer options. In the United States, for example, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that 9 million school children between 3 and 18 years old (14% of the total K-12 population) do not have internet access available at home (Xu et al, 2020). Worldwide, 706 million students do not have home internet access, while 826 do not have a household computer. Meanwhile, 56 million students cannot utilize mobile phones for distance learning, as they live in areas not covered by mobile service (UNESCO, 2020).
With no end to the pandemic currently in sight, elearning remains the obvious solution to the need for an educational continuance while conforming to social distancing measures. However, since even K-12 school children all over the world are now being asked to start distance learning, questions remain on the capability of students to access elearning, and at the same time, if teachers and institutions have the means and training to implement the program.
Global internet usage went up by 30% last March, even with the lack of live telecasts and sports events. This rate approximates the average annual increase in usage in any other year (Granryd, 2020). In the US, AT&T reported in late March that Wi-Fi calling almost doubled at 88%, while Verizon said that between March 12 and March 19, total web traffic was up 22%. Specifically, streaming video services increased 12%, while virtual private network usage jumped 30%, and online gaming skyrocketed 75% (Business Insider, (2020).
As demand increases, governments are scrambling to free up bandwidth to accommodate more connections. Education is one of the primary beneficiaries of increased network availability. Countries such as the U.S., Ireland, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Panama, Brazil, and South Africa allowed the release of extra radio spectrum and relaxation of restrictions to provide additional capacity to ensure uninterrupted network services. In addition, Tunisia has made its international mobile telecommunications spectrum tech-neutral (3G, 4G, or others) on a temporary basis (UNESCO, 2020).
The Global System Mobile Association (GSMA) has taken the lead in advocating for affordable and fair access to the underutilized spectrum for mobile data to meet the increased demand, with more and more governments expected to follow suit.
While freeing the spectrum helps improve connectivity, it does not help improve the situation of students without the means of access due to a lack of devices. Technology investments in elearning may take longer due to scarce resources, especially for poorer countries. A short-term solution may be to free up airtime for educational radio and television programs, which offer a ready medium to reach technology-challenged areas.
Since March, Austria has resorted to hosting special education programs in its public TV and radio stations, which include learning shows for pre- and primary schoolers every weekday morning from 6:00 AM to 9:00 AM, followed by a three-hour show for students aged 10+. On the other hand, in Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Education (MOE) uses both TV and social media to transmit lessons for all school grades. The country’s National Center for E-Learning deputized 127 supervisors and teachers to deliver daily lessons in 112 educational subjects through 19 TV channels that broadcast nationally. Similarly, Mongolia’s Education Ministry has been broadcasting lessons on TV for every class and subject since February and has made all these lessons available online. Meanwhile, Libya negotiated with private television stations to broadcast compulsory lessons for its middle and secondary school students (World Bank. 2020).
As of January 2020, mobile internet has taken up 52% of total web traffic worldwide, with Asia (61.7%) and Africa (59.8%) carrying the bulk of the load (Statista, 2020). Because of their convenience, ease of use, and affordability, mobile devices have become the default for more people compared to desktops and laptops, especially in Asia. As such, Mlearning, a mobile subset of elearning, is gaining widespread acceptance. 2020 is the year that mobile learning is expected to be a must-have option for elearning, and with the onslaught of the coronavirus outbreak, the need for mobile device-based learning has increased (Pandey, 2020).
As mentioned earlier, the lack of home internet connection among almost half of the global student population brings additional incentive for governments to utilize mobile learning. As mobile signals are sometimes available in remote signals, they can help connect remote students, even when using older bands such as 3G.
With the stay-at-home order in the majority of countries besieged by coronavirus cases still in effect, both students and employees found more free time than they usually need. Those with stable internet connections saw themselves filling up their schedules with free online course enrollments. For example, the Linux Foundation reported an increase in enrollment to its free online training courses by more than 40% (Bayern, 2020). Google also joined the elearning movement during the pandemic, offering free online courses at the Google Digital Garage aimed to develop digital and leadership skills in multiple areas (Havrlant, 2020). Lastly, Elearning resource site ClassCentral, with its regularly updated free course list, shares more than 30 free courses dedicated to coronavirus (Ma, 2020).
Schools have found microlearning suitable for the new generation of schoolchildren that have shorter attention spans. Providing information at a rate that matches their ability to focus helps them absorb knowledge more efficiently. In fact, microlearning has been reported to improve learning transfer by 17% compared to traditional learning methods. In addition, it generates 50% more engagement, while reducing development costs by 50% and increasing development speed by 300% (Gutierrez, 2018).
Even the coronavirus pandemic got its share of microlearning. Single page posters teaching the proper way to handwash, showing the different effectivity rates of safety masks, and videos on how the virus gets transmitted are some of the more popular items circulating in social media.
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With online classes becoming part of the new normal, the focus should also be given to the instructors tasked with continuing education amid stay-at-home orders. The sudden onset of the virus left little time for instructors, who are equipped to conduct classes in a single-room setting, to pivot to an online mode of teaching. Thankfully, teachers are getting a windfall of free training resources. Google and Microsoft have long made their collaboration software free for educational purposes, so tools should not be a problem when creating online lesson plans and sharing them.
In addition, solution providers have generously handed free teaching resources and education services related to online learning. As of June, there are at least 315 free education resources and teacher services for K-12 leaders offered on the web with subjects such as those dealing with the coronavirus, Black Lives Matter, and SEL and SPED solutions, among others (Blackburn, 2020). That said, we can perhaps expect more free content geared for teachers as long as the outbreak keeps schools closed.
For over a decade since the term was coined, Gamification has become an effective tool that generates engagement and improves test scores among students. The positive effects of gamification have been documented extensively, and they all point to one thing: it helps learning by catering to a person’s competitive nature. In a survey conducted by TalentLMS, 82% said a gamification system makes them happier, while 82% like multiple difficulty levels and explorable content. In addition, 62% would be motivated to learn if leaderboards and competition among colleagues were involved (Bravon, 2020).
While gamification usually hides the lesson within the game, one recent innovation happened this year where the lesson is the game itself. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools across Canada and eliminated all field trips, a Montreal-based History teacher came upon a novel solution. He required his students to play the popular video game Assassin’s Creed, but with an additional objective: submit reports based on the historical background of the game (Favis, 2020). Game developer Ubisoft included a discovery mode in Assassin’s Creed for its Odyssey release, which features a guided tour of the setting with the usual gameplay removed. Quizzes were also incorporated.
Other games such as Roblox or Minecraft are also popular teaching aids in diverse subjects such as climate change, basic engineering, and cellular biology. On the flip side, gamification is a popular tool for bringing video game qualities to learning.
As early as a few decades ago, elearning was seen as the next wave in education, and the coronavirus outbreak further accelerated the demand for distance learning tools. Fortunately, the advances in technology have caught up with the requirements for elearning, so it is now a feasible mode of education. Developments in gamification, mobile learning, learning modules, and collaboration tools have made elearning a positive experience for those who can avail of it.
However, coverage is an entirely different story, as network coverage for the entire world is still far from being accomplished. While it is theoretically possible to connect anywhere in the world, the costs associated with doing so, especially in remote areas with little economic value, are something most countries are not yet willing to undertake. Until then, the dream of providing elearning opportunities to everybody will remain a dream.