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The Future of Education is Online, or is it?

For many countries, COVID-19 has forced the largest remote learning experiment in history.  Policymakers and elected officials were faced with making big decisions in very short periods of time that will have long-lasting implications on children for years to come.

Learning Loss Disparities and the Children Falling Behind

In the United States, teachers reported that students were 2.4 months behind expected milestones in November, while October assessment results found students to be 1.5 months behind in reading levels and 3 months behind in math skills. While in Australia, teacher surveys suggested just over a month of loss. And in the United Kingdom, teacher surveys reported 3 months of learning loss in July.

Black and Hispanic students continue to be more likely to remain remote and are less likely to have access to the prerequisites of learning—devices, internet access, and live contact with teachers. Left unaddressed, these opportunity gaps will translate into wider achievement gaps. Looking forward, we consider several different scenarios to estimate the total potential learning loss to the end of this academic year in June 2021. While the worst-case scenarios from the spring may have been averted, the cumulative learning loss could be substantial, especially in mathematics—with students on average likely to lose five to nine months of learning by the end of this school year. Students of color could be six to 12 months behind, compared with four to eight months for white students. While all students are suffering, those who came into the pandemic with the fewest academic opportunities are on track to exit with the greatest learning loss.”

According to McKinsey on Covid-19 learning-loss disparities

The Challenges of Online Learning

The top 3 key challenges that need to be addressed for online learning to succeed are:

Why has Online Learning Not Succeeded in some Cases

The most critical aspect for lack of success (or indeed failure), is due to the rush to go online in response to the crisis that is the Covid-19 pandemic.

Taking classrooms online followed a very similar pattern to how some corporations failed in digital transformations.  They took their existing processes and simply tried to transfer them online, versus leveraging the technology to create new processes. 

Obviously, the policy-makers, teachers, principals and superintendents never planned for a digital transformation in such short order, so of course, there will be some short stumbling blocks as the transformation online gets underway. And just because there are some stumbling blocks at the start does not mean we should give up, rather we should be learning and adapting to improve our results and capabilities.

Online Education Requires Investments and Resources to Get it Right

“Teachers who taught at public schools gave remote learning an average global score of 4.8, while their peers in private schools, which often have better access to learning tools, averaged a rating of 6.2. There is obviously a wide variation in resources for students and teachers in public schools, too. Teachers working in high-poverty schools found virtual classes to be especially ineffective, rating it 3.5 out of 10, bolstering concerns that the pandemic has exacerbated educational inequalities. Teachers in wealthy and private schools were also more likely to report that their students were well equipped with internet access and the devices required for remote learning, which may explain why their students were also most likely to log in and complete assignments.”

According to McKinsey Teacher survey: Learning loss is global—and significant

In short, to start up a proper online teaching solution, supplementary support systems (e.g. proper content development, teaching methods, teaching assistants, office hours, tutoring, etc.) and the added investments (and resources) required should be considered and made available where appropriate.  

A common misconception of online learning is that it costs less, but in reality that is not true. In fact, there are different costs when it comes to online learning.  One of my favourite examples: “1 hour of ready online learning content takes 100-160 hours to produce. 1 hour of ready eLearning content costs $8,150-$36,205 ($22,178 on average) to produce (if the job is done by skilled contractors, the costs can be lowered by up to 30%).”

Another example of additional online costs, when teaching larger groups online (or young children) you will need teaching assistants just like in the real world. One is giving the lesson and the other is moderating, answering questions, helping with any issues, etc.  Often, online solutions do not consider a second resource, hence the disruptions to the class and other students are too hard to control.

Online Education will become more Personalized and Hybrid

When supporting any wide range of groups that have various disparities, a one size fits all approach is never the appropriate action.  We strongly believe in the hybrid model of education, but multi-layering of supplement support services in addition to the primary instruction (lectures) such a tutoring, online learning programs/games, smaller teaching pods, break out workshops, teaching assistant, virtual office hours, and even coaching will enable education to get out of the manufacturing way to teaching changing education paradigms (Animated Ted-Talk Video by Sir Ken Robinson).

For students who currently have access to the internet and a computer, research shows that on average, students retain 25-60% more material when learning online compared to only 8-10% in a classroom.

E-learning requires 40-60% less time to learn than in a traditional classroom setting because students are able to learn at their own pace, skip easy sections or spend more time re-reading when needed.  Instead of going at the pace of the entire classroom, each student goes at their own pace keeping the engagement levels higher. 

The Future of Education is to take the Best of Both Worlds

Just like the innovation and technology behind the modern vaccines that are protecting us from COVID.  The opportunities to create new digital learning environments will only become better as we learn more from schools and educators who are willing to try new approaches.

The future of education will be blending of the best of the existing in-person methodologies supplemented by new technologies, new processes and new resources.  Companies like TutorOcean are inspired in how they can make a global impact to ensure access to knowledge is a right and not a privilege.

From online tutoring sessions to helping universities and colleges easily connect their mentors and coaches with students, we are only at the beginning of what will be of re-shaping an industry that really has not changed much from a 100-year-old model instructing with a farmhouse and teacher at the front lecturing kids.

If I had a crystal ball, I predict that we will see the following improvements where we progress our traditional education system from lecturing to learning.  Let’s stop talking at our children and start providing an environment that encourages learning at their own appropriate pace.  So here are five future educational changes I hope we will see in our education system:

  1. On-Demand Content: Imagine every school board finding their best teacher for every subject that records their lectures for all students to watch.
  2. Online Learning Programs and Tools: There are many awesome online tools like Duolingo (For Languages) and Desmos (For Math), where tools can supplement what students learn by increasing practise opportunities or let them explore at their own pace.
  3. Access to Online Tutors and Coaches: However, online learning programs don’t work effectively on their own.  So having tutors & coaches on-demand to help students when they get stuck and unable to progress will give them the confidence they need.
  4. Smaller Learning Pods: With a hybrid approach, where some classes are online and others are in-person, I can see a future where the classes become smaller pods where students with similar interests and levels are grouped together to help support and motivate each other to succeed.
  5. Education Becomes Global: Lastly, this one is my most ambitious hope, but I do see a future where some boards realize that education is not a local task.  Want to learn Spanish, why not have a learning pod that connects students in your school with students in Spain where language learning can go both ways.

With the right resources, support, and evidence-based strategies, teachers will be critical in helping develop our students to become the innovators, technologists, doctors, scientists, and teachers who will protect us from future disasters.

Thoughts on the future of online learning?  We would love to hear from you!

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Jonathan is the VP Growth at TutorOcean. Jonathan previously worked at Klipfolio, Invest Ottawa, Irdeto and IBM. Jonathan is also the Co-Founder of STEAM Foundation who successfully launched a Kids Coding Camp helping inspire students early in their educational development. Jonathan is also an active startup advisor, giving back to help the next generation of entrepreneurs. Feel free to reach out on LinkedIn.

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