COVID-19 has changed the way we live. It’s affected how we communicate, how we spend time with our loved ones, how we work and how we travel.
It’s also encouraged us to seek out new opportunities.
When the pandemic struck six months ago, few people working or studying in traditional, face-to-face education had time to plan and prepare.
Almost overnight, entire courses moved online, leaving many teachers with little choice but to embrace new technology for the first time.
Six months later, we have time to take stock and reflect on this 'new normal' in education.
Is it here to stay?
Is online teaching the future of education?
Let’s break down this question by focusing on 5 key points.
- How has COVID19 impacted online learning?
- The challenges facing teachers.
- How can we improve online teaching?
- The role big tech could play in the future.
- Why blended learning is the best way forward.
How has COVID19 impacted online learning?
Before the pandemic, online learning was already a significant growth industry with worldwide investments in educational technology (ed-tech), hitting $18.66 billion in 2019.
This led forecasters to confidently predict that the online market would reach an incredible $350 billion within five years.
We can reassess that figure now.
The past few months have seen an even greater increase in individuals and education providers spending money on language apps, video conferencing tools like Zoom, online professional development courses and virtual tutoring.
We know that one key reason for this increase in demand is the uncertainty facing traditional, ‘bricks & mortar’ institutions.
This shift is no surprise since higher education is crazy expensive, with tuition fees alone often exceeding $20,000 per year.
Think about it: if you were a student looking to enroll this fall, why would you and especially your parents, want to spend all that money on a face-to-face experience that might be disrupted or even canceled?
Parents and students are looking at cost-effective alternatives that will allow them to continue studies in safer environments.
Online learning providers are more affordable, offer greater flexibility and often include discounts and special offers for both students and teachers.
And if you’re interested in pursuing a career in teaching, well now is the time to find out if it’s a good fit for you.
The knock-on effect of more students opting for online study is the creation of more online teaching jobs.
In fact, we’ve seen a 25 percent increase in online teaching jobs in recent months as people gravitate away from traditional employment and into digital industries, which have been mostly unaffected by the pandemic, or seen rapid growth.
The challenges facing teachers.
Developing lessons for online classes that are interactive, goal orientated, and fun is a common challenge for all online teachers.
Fortunately, there are plenty of useful tips and suggestions to help develop more meaningful learning experiences.
But if we look toward the future of online education, a more complex problem for teachers is the digital divide that puts some students at a disadvantage.
In 2019, more than 30 percent of American families didn’t have home access to the internet, and this figure could increase during the pandemic.
For students living in rural areas, from a lower-income family, remote learning poses a fresh set of challenges.
How can they participate if they don’t have a stable internet connection at home? How can they print homework without a printer? And what if they don’t have a laptop or a desktop computer to access?
Economic inequality is forcing some educators to take an old-school approach by using the paper-pen principle as a way of staying connected with students who are simply unable to access the technology.
The paper-pen principle encourages students to handwrite their assignments, submit them at secure locations on school premises, and collect new assignments to take home with them.
It works as a stop-gap, but as a long term strategy, it just creates more work for teachers who are already trying to support parents who may not possess the skills to homeschool their children and are often working more than one job.
How can we improve online teaching?
One way we can improve the online experience is to make it more accessible for everyone, regardless of location and income.
In rural areas, internet access is often more costly because it’s harder for internet service providers (ISPs) to lay the cables that allow us to connect to the internet.
Rural areas are also not a priority for ISPs because there are fewer people to sell broadband to, which means they make less profit.
But this is changing.
In the States, the FCC Connect America program has allocated almost $1.5 billion to tackle the problem of lower connectivity rates in rural areas, which will allow ISPs to spend more money on developing improved infrastructure.
If more of us can connect to the internet, it makes sense that in time more of us will be able to experience all the benefits of 5G technology.
We’re all excited about 5G and what it means for digital education because it can allow learning to integrate seamlessly with our daily lives, effectively becoming a lifestyle choice.
As technology continues to develop, we’ll move further away from some of the limitations placed on us by traditional classroom environments.
During the early stages of the pandemic, one of the issues facing teachers revolved around using content designed for face-to-face teaching as a tool for remote learning.
Simply converting lecture materials into video format doesn’t really work because it’s not engaging, it’s hard to develop interactive content, and students can’t respond quickly.
To get around this, teachers turn to interactive video providers like FeedbackFruits, which offers various functions to help develop more meaningful lessons and prepare for the upcoming school year. Bonus, it’s also free for teachers.
Last year, more than 65 percent of teachers used ed-tech daily, and as online education becomes more vital, we’re sure that interactive video will offer even better functionality and become a crucial tool for most teachers.
The role big tech could play in the future.
What if no one wants to attend classes because they are fearful for their safety? Why would you want to move far from home when the future is so uncertain?
Many schools are going to have to upgrade both their hardware and software to cope with the extra demand for online education. Big tech is in the perfect position to help with this expansion by providing all the technical know-how needed.
This means you could be teaching hybrid-courses at schools that are fully endorsed by some of the world’s biggest names.
But It’s going to take time for traditional schools to catch up.
In the meantime, we’re going to see teachers looking to upskill and become more computer literate by enrolling in online courses with proven providers who can improve their job prospects.
Why blended learning is the best way forward.
Blended learning is a combination of online and offline teaching, and it’s going to become increasingly popular as schools adjust to gradual reopenings throughout the remainder of 2020.
One of the many benefits of blended learning is that it allows for greater flexibility.
This means if you find yourself in a situation where you suddenly have to cancel your face-to-face classes, access to a learning management system (LMS) like Edmodo can be a real game-changer.
Plus, if you’re able to set up your course to watch the lesson and read through their assignments outside of class time, it frees you up to teach more stimulating lessons.
A blended approach is empowering.
It enables students to take advantage of the structure and support found in face-to-face environments while also enjoying the freedom to show some initiative outside of the classroom.
Our world feels very uncertain right now, but one thing we can pretty much guarantee is that the market for online education is going to continue to grow and thrive, regardless of the pandemic.
As we transition away from older industries and embrace digital technologies, the most stable jobs going forward will be those that lend themselves to the vast potential of the online world - and that includes teaching.
If you’re thinking about a career change into online teaching, or if you’re a teacher looking to improve your virtual classroom, Teach Away’s online teaching course covers all the essentials of online education.