COVID-19: The EdTech Boom
An Opportunity for Remote/Distance Education and Online Learning Platforms, Tools, and Service Providers
The coronavirus COVID-19 is affecting almost every state, country and territory around the world.
When Times Higher Education surveyed leaders of prominent global universities in 2018, the 200 respondents – from 45 countries across six continents – were emphatic on one point: online higher education would never match the real thing.
Although 63 percent expected established, prestigious universities to be offering full degrees online by 2030, only 24 percent thought that the electronic versions would be more popular than traditional campus-based degrees (“How will technology reshape the university by 2030”, Features, 27 September 2018).
Fast Forward to 2020: Far Future Becomes Reality…
The number of children, youth and adults not attending schools or universities because of COVID-19 is soaring. According to UNESCO monitoring, over 160 countries have implemented nationwide closures, impacting over 87% of the world’s student population. Several other countries have implemented localized school closures and, should these closures become nationwide, millions of additional learners will experience education disruption.
For example, all students in mainland China and Hong Kong – from kindergarteners to doctoral candidates – were asked to stay home and pursue their education online after the Lunar New Year break ended in late January. At the tertiary level, this affects 30 million learners at 3,000 institutions.
Robert Hsiung, CEO of the online educational company EMERITUS, said: "The massive move to online is forcing the education system to figure out how to drive engagement at scale in their courses."
This has created a window of opportunity for EdTech companies and startups.
Let's get specific… Market Pain Points and Needs
The EdTech team of the World Bank’s Education Global Practice has published a document about remote learning and the COVID-19 outbreak. The document refers to several very interesting points, as follows (to name a few):
> COSTS – Few (if any) education systems, even the highest performing, are well equipped to offer online learning for all students at scale, quickly. Costs, especially capital costs, are usually quite high. Providing sufficient infrastructure is often seen as a primary hurdle to be overcome.
> THE DIGITAL DIVIDE COULD WIDEN – The move to online learning at scale typically disproportionately benefits students already advantaged in various ways (e.g. rich over poor, urban over rural, high-performing over low-performing, students in highly educated families over students from less-educated families).
The internet penetration rates vary among countries (as shown here below). This parameter might also have an impact on the ability of education systems and students to step into a remote eLearning system:
Quality of learning is heavily dependent on the level and quality of digital access. After all, only around 60% of the globe’s population is online. While virtual classes on personal tablets may be the norm in Hong Kong, for example, many students in less developed economies rely on lessons and assignments sent via WhatsApp or email.
Moreover, the less affluent and digitally savvy individual families are, the further their students are left behind. When classes transition online, these children lose out because of the cost of digital devices and data plans.
Unless access costs decrease and quality of access increase in all countries, the gap in education quality, and thus socioeconomic equality will be further exacerbated.
> PRIOR EXPERIENCE – Where online learning is already widespread, 'success' is more likely. On the contrary, when first going online, education systems should expect dips in student achievement.
> PROFOUND EQUITY CONCERNS (!!!) – While many large scale investments in educational technologies are accompanied by rhetoric touting the potential for technology use to close various education gaps related to access and performance between different student groups, in practice the particular and individual needs of students with disabilities and other special education needs -- a group that can often greatly benefit from the use of assistive technologies of various sorts -- are often not sufficiently considered when deploying online learning environments at scale.
> BANDWIDTH – Supporting the use of low bandwidth (including offline) solutions is key. Videos, for example, can offer valuable learning resources when schools are closed, providing that there is sufficient available bandwidth, the content is engaging, and production values are of sufficient quality.
International bandwidth usage per Internet user (kbit/s), 2019* Note: * ITU estimate. Source: ITU
However, Educational radio and television are viable options, especially in low resource environments.
> CURRENT LMS – It may be more difficult to utilize existing learning management systems (LMS) designed to support in-class instruction for use in exclusively online environments than it may first appear: Education systems that already make widespread use of digital learning management systems in support of teaching and learning as content repositories and in tracking assignments may find that these tools do not easily lend themselves to support online instruction beyond self-study.
> TEACHERS – Teachers working online need to be trained and supported.
> PEDAGOGICAL APPROACHES – Some pedagogical approaches can be more easily translated into online learning and distance education environments than others.
The COVID-19 as an Opportunity
The market emerged needs in the face of the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, is an opportunity in several fields. The following list provides a set of verticals that may thrive these days:
Remote Learning Platforms and Software
The World's Bank Edtech Team has published Remote learning, distance education and online learning resource list (it was last updated recently).
The selection of resources and platforms that you will find here has been elaborated in order to facilitate the rapid identification of helpful technological solutions that could be used to support remote learning. It covers a list of many platforms and software for:
Assessment, content repository, file management, LMS (Learning Management Systems), training, video conference systems (like Zoom, Google Hangouts, ect.), digital pedagogies, and more. All those resources might see a surge in use.
UNESCO has published a similar list.
Public-private Educational Partnerships Could Grow in Importance
In just the past few weeks, we have seen learning consortiums and coalitions taking shape, with diverse stakeholders - including governments, publishers, education professionals, technology providers, and telecom network operators - coming together to utilize digital platforms as a temporary solution to the crisis. In emerging countries where education has predominantly been provided by the government, this could become a prevalent and consequential trend to future education.
From Microsoft and Google in the U.S. to Samsung in Korea to Tencent, Ping An, and Alibaba in China, corporations are awakening to the strategic imperative of an educated populace. While most initiatives to date have been limited in scope, and relatively isolated, the pandemic could pave the way for much larger-scale, cross-industry coalitions to be formed around a common educational goal.
Partnerships seem to be a key success factor both in business, research and education systems.
Cybersecurity Considerations in a COVID-19 World
With the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, school systems across the globe are closing their doors, restricting travel, and moving to remote or distance learning models in an effort to provide learning continuity. It is essential to consider cybersecurity and privacy before implementing technology-driven alternatives to classroom learning.
Crises of any kind provide hackers endless opportunities to exploit people when they’re already feeling vulnerable. School systems can help their staff, students, and parents avoid phishing attacks by providing clear guidance about district methods of communication.
Moreover, schools and districts rush to move learning online, it is important to make sure good cybersecurity practices are in place.
In light of the current pandemic the European Disability Forum (EDF) has developed recommendations for policymakers, through discussion with the forum members, based on its members’ current work, and priorities. These recommendations aim to address the range of risks persons with disabilities face.
Similarly, the U.S. Department of Education releases a fact sheet for protecting students with disabilities civil rights during the covid-19 response.
Providing assistive and accessible technology platforms, tools and services – for remote learning – should be addressed.
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash
Recent Remote Education Initiatives
Companies are responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. For example:
> COMCAST announced steps to help ensure people stay connected to the internet as more schools suspend classes and companies encourage employees to work from home due to the coronavirus.
> VHS LEARNING, provider of supplemental e-learning for high school students, announced its support for schools facing closure due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
Schools forced to close for health reasons and schools currently creating contingency plans can use VHS Learning services and support to keep students on track and help students and teachers stay connected. The organization currently partners with more than 660 schools worldwide, in 40 states and 44 countries.
> AMAZON FUTURE ENGINEER offers free and creative coding coursework. Computer science learning opportunities are available for U.S. students, teachers, and parents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
> ROBOKIND announced the advanced release of their District Enterprise robots4STEM® Avatar Version software to provide coding instruction at no cost for students in districts that are experiencing school closures due to the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.
> DISCOVERY EDUCATION announced a virtual conference focused on remote learning. As part of Discovery Education’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a special edition of The Discovery Education Virtual two day Conference or VirtCon had been held on March 26-27, focused on helping educators use digital content to engage homebound, remote students.
> FOLLETT is partnering with WEIGL PUBLISHERS, Inc. to offer Lightbox and AV2 World Languages free of charge to schools worldwide through June 30.
> REMOTE MUSIC EDUCATION is going on without missing a beat in Hudson Valley, New York.
While many music teachers panicked or gave up hopes to make any progress when faced with a change in class venue, my students were already inquiring about online options. Here are a few tech helpers that are keeping us on track: Zoom, Calendly, Band-in-a-Box, Schoology, Noteflight, Audacity, Wix (website creator), Sight Reading Factory, Vimeo, Youtube.
> BRITANNICA is offering free, emergency support and virtual-learning classroom resources.
> COMMON SENSE launches online COVID-19 resource hub for families and educators compiles quality, age-appropriate media and education choices to use while stuck at home.
Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak disruptive effect has both negative and positive implications on the education market. Many EdTech companies and educational service providers are initiating moves that might improve their positioning down the road. Join them and enjoy the game.