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How Covid-19 is Reshaping Online Education


With the coronavirus creating havoc globally closing down schools, colleges, universities, coaching institutes and other educational institutions, the education sector is under tremendous pressure. While the current situation has hit the sector financially, experts believe that technology-based education organizations and Ed Tech firms see themselves as being relatively insulated from the economic blast caused by the global pandemic. In fact, post the Coronavirus crisis, institutes may think beyond the traditional notions of learning, using the power of Internet and advanced tools and technologies in education. While this is a major opportunity for online education, it’s important to understand its shortcomings, especially in a country like India.

Ed tech driving online learning

According to UNESCO monitoring, more than 100 countries have closed their educational institutions, impacting half of the world’s student population. In what amounts to a grand global experiment in remote learning, schools and colleges around the world have cancelled in-person training and moved to online instruction. A clutch of Edtech players in India, such as UpGrad, Catalsyt, Simplilearn, among others, have seen a sharp rise in new users in March.

For example, online users who have enrolled with Simplilearn for courses on cyber security, Cloud, DevOps, AI and data sciences have jumped 15% in March. Similarly, Catalyst Group, an online learning platform has witnessed 30-40% rise in admissions in the last two to three days and also the number of students regularly attending the online classes have increased. As Akhand Swaroop Pandit, CEO & Founder, Catalyst Group, said, “In the wake of COVID-19 and evolving situation, given that the universities and the schools are shut down, more and more students are opting for online courses.” He added that daily watch minutes are almost doubled in the past two to three days as students are at home and attending regular classes.

Many students and professionals are also signing up for online classes, for entrance exams like the JEE, NEEET, UPSC, SSC or for upskilling.

According to a 2019 survey by Pearson, professionals are thinking beyond the traditional notions of learning to further excel their careers, using the power of Internet and advanced tools and technologies. This signals a massive opportunity for education providers to reinvent learning to meet the needs of a new economy.

The survey shows that professionals are now taking control of their education through a “do-it-yourself” (DIY) mindset, adding to their formal education with a mix of self-teaching, short courses and online learning. In India the trend is already underway, the study finds.

“Gig jobs, unconventional careers, tech disruption and lifelong learning have ushered in the talent economy. Now more than ever, learners understand the need for lifelong education,” said John Fallon, Chief Executive at Pearson.

“People are meeting the demands of this new world of work by taking control of their own learning. Now, technology and innovation are giving educators, governments and companies the greatest opportunity in human history to rise to the occasion and improve lives through education,” he said.

The perils of online learning

Yet, despite the high momentum, online options are still not considered permanent alternatives to classrooms, believe experts, who believes, the sector can at best make a useful supplementary learning system. It would require a significant change in pedagogy to take advantage of innovation in this space.

If online education becomes a norm, no doubt the benefits are many, including cost effectiveness. Students may also no longer travel to other countries to attain a quality education that they are not able to receive in their home country for socio-economic or political reasons.

However, it is not just the classroom that prompts many to study internationally, but also the irreplaceable cultural experiences that international study offers. Other issues, such as uncertainty over accreditation and quality control also remain unresolved.

Even while advocating online learning, most universities are under the apprehension if online versions of their degrees could become more popular than traditional ones.

It goes without mentioning that online education in India faces many practical issues, like stable electricity and a reliable internet connection. Besides, lack of awareness on cybersecurity and other technical glitches could easily impede a student or teacher’s ability to get the most out of the education experience.

On top of that, online education is an elite concept that will only work well in developed countries.
In India, where midday meals have great appeal to school children, setting up online classes is not a feasible idea. Also lack of proper IT infrastructure in smaller education centers can be a deterrent as well. As a result, a sudden shift to online learning is bound to worsen the learning gap for low-income households, poor districts, and poorer countries.

Overall, moving the physical education to the virtual world is a mammoth task, but with policymakers and leaders in the education sector taking the realm, overcoming these challenges is not insurmountable.

The future is bright

In the next decade, digital and virtual learning will be the new normal. Analysts believe that smart devices will play a greater role in learning, virtual learning will become more common and print textbooks may slowly become obsolete. Technology will continue to improve the education scenario in India through solutions such as digital classrooms and virtual labs, said Fallon.

In fact, the Coronavirus outbreak could be a tipping point for education technology, which, when surges to meet soaring demand, could provide employment opportunities to many in the sector in the near future.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at