May 20, 2020

Online courses have been around for a considerable amount of time. E-learning has experienced a striking growth, empowering users with opportunities to expand their knowledge and learn indispensable skills, in some cases even prompting a switch in careers. By 2025, this booming industry is predicted to be worth more than USD$25 billion. Convenience and flexibility have bolstered up online education, helping it carve out a sizable niche for itself. An increasing number of people are learning on online platforms, enabling the mastery of skills to run in parallel with living a digital life. 

While the impact of COVID-19 on business is ubiquitous, the education sector is facing arguably the largest turmoil. Over a billion students (89% of the world’s student population) are unable to go to school or university due to measures taken to stop the spread of COVID-19. The social lockdown has brought the whole world to a virtual standstill, leaving students with no choice but to embrace E-learning. As the education sector falls headlong into this unprecedented crisis, learners are rushing to equip themselves with a viable alternative to physical classrooms. During this difficult time, E-learning could potentially play a big role in the rescue of education.



Most E-learning classes are not accessible to poor students or those living in remote regions, and teachers are not technologically adept at handling digital learning platforms. To get through the current setbacks, the world must look to the examples set by their Chinese counterparts. Stretching over 7 locations in east China, Zhejiang University (ZJU) has shifted to a fully online smart campus in this crisis. Within two weeks of the lockdown, they were able to offer more than 5,000 courses to both undergraduate and graduate students without missing a beat. ZJU started their online classes on 24 February and kept themselves right on course with their initial term calendar. Their course hub “Learning at ZJU” and live streaming app “DingTalk ZJU” have attracted thousands of visits, furthermore over 2,000 graduate students will be giving their online thesis defense this spring.

Proactive effort to take its ecosystem online has been pivotal in their success. Since the outbreak, ZJU has strived to get subsidized network plans for users and funded E-learning for more than 1,000 disadvantaged students. Lecture playbacks and courseware packages have enabled students to access materials even with subpar internet speeds. In recent weeks, they have swiftly created 200 smart classrooms for teachers to shoot video courses or live stream their classes. To ensure that their teachers are well-armed, a wide spectrum of training sessions for the teachers on topics like online delivery and digital learning platforms have been conducted.



Global education companies like Pearson and most of the top universities have made their online programs available for free in response to the Covid-19 crisis. According to the chief executive of Pearson, visits to its platform have quadrupled following the spread of coronavirus. Across all E-learning websites like Coursera, Udemy, and Khan Academy, there is a huge surge of activity and this demand is rising every day as teachers, parents, and students resort to online resources.

Thousands of Filipino teachers are raking in overtime as E-learning has turned a disaster into an unexpected boon. While other businesses are devastated, the fact that most of its employees mainly work remotely has cushioned the blow for this industry. During this lockdown, students and professionals in China, Japan, and other parts of Asia are using their time to develop their English language skills. With online English tutors being 40 times cheaper than other learning centers, it is no surprise that these tutors are in high demand. At the height of the school closures, the stocks of online platforms like China Online Education have risen by 154%. Gaku Nakamura, the CEO of RareJob- a company that connects Filipino tutors to the Japanese market- says that their students have nearly doubled.



This unanticipated shift to online education can spur innovation with lasting consequences. History has shown us that disruption in the status quo gives rise to a revolution in technology and makes way for a new normal. Any skill becomes obsolete in a few years as the technology progresses at breakneck speeds, making E-learning the best tool for users to keep up in the job market. Different people have different learning styles and there’s no better system to provide personalized guidance and flexibility in classes than the internet. Online learning is on the rise, and will decidedly take the place of land-based learning in the future.

Universities can utilize this opportunity to make online learning a permanent presence in their curriculum. Online degree programs are growing faster than traditional degree programs, and more universities are getting on board. With the rapid progress of technology, soon educational institutes will need to rely on E-learning for survival. Universities like Harvard, Drexel, and John Hopkins University are taking this lockdown as a means to expand on their vast array of free online certified courses. Having full-fledged courses that contribute credits to physical programs ensures the convenience of online education is grounded in reliability for the users. COVID-19 may serve as a test of how robust the current educational institutes are and will jolt them to take actions that will improve resources, connectivity, and infrastructure for the future.



As we prepare for the worst, these dire situations have given rise to pockets of opportunities that we will carry into the future as things go back to normal. The crisis will make us more ready to cope with the next catastrophe as we keep the big picture in mind. To achieve our global shared goals and respond swiftly to natural disasters, there is no alternative to collaboration between the education sector and technology. The E-learning platforms and global universities have risen to the occasion and this adoption of online tools will not reverse once the pandemic has passed. In a world where we adjust to the new norm of frequent global emergencies, this irreversible shift will chaperone the education sector to a more agile world.


Written by

Nafisa Sadaf

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