“Good morning, everyone. We’ll be starting our Biology class in 5 minutes. Please unmute yourselves to answer the roll call.”
My mother teaches Biology to higher secondary school students. Every day, she successfully connects with them from the safety of her home and shares all the academic material online. Seeing her now, you could never imagine that she taught her students in a traditional classroom – with whiteboards and textbooks – until a couple of months ago.
The COVID 19 pandemic has restricted our mobility and drastically altered our daily lives. Within a couple of months, the entire world embraced the magic of staying indoors and discovered the possibilities that came with it. One such possibility was digital or online learning.
Who thought that a worldwide medical emergency could result in mass adoption of digital learning? Whether it is teachers, students, professionals, schools, universities, or multinational companies – today, many of them turn to their screens for learning. While the eLearning industry has presented solutions (and is coming up with more) to support our learning requirements, it will be interesting to see if this change persists after the pandemic. In this article, I’ll be touching on various aspects of eLearning, including the current situation across the world, different eLearning platforms that promote online learning, and challenges that still need to be addressed.
The Digital Push
Market gurus predict that the global eLearning sector will witness a growth of up to $336.98 billion by 2026. Even before the pandemic, 52% of students in the US (K to 12) were using online learning tools. Many teachers have been encouraging their students to use these tools since they help with academic research, make learning more engaging, and create a flexible learning environment where students can learn at their own pace.
For higher education, too, students have been opting for online distance courses to their graduate and post-graduate degrees. Today, about 110 million students are enrolled in various MOOC programs. A massive open online course (MOOC) is a course that allows unlimited participants and can be openly accessed via the web. A popular MOOC platform – Coursera – is used by 45 million learners across the world. Given its global consumer base, Coursera makes its content accessible in more than 45 languages through translations, subtitles, voice-overs, etc.
The corporate sector discovered the advantages of online training almost a decade ago. With employers giving considerable importance to an organisation’s learning and development (L&D) budget, about 90% of global corporations utilise digital tools for training their employees. This shift has helped them cut down on the travelling costs and the overall time that employees spend on the training. For instance, the American chemical giant Dow Chemicals managed to reduce its employee training costs from $95 to $11 per employee by adopting online corporate training tools.
While eLearning has seen significant positive growth for the past few years, the pandemic gave it a push. Now, many eLearning platforms are entering the market to get a share of the ever-increasing global consumer base.
The Shift From Whiteboards to Screens
When governments across the world announced lockdowns in different countries, students and their parents were scrambling for ways to continue learning. While schools in the US, the UK, China, Japan, etc., had already added various digital tools into their curriculum, many students in India were faced with a new challenge of adapting to these platforms. Fortunately, there were many eLearning platforms in the market that aim to help students learn in an engaging online classroom environment.
Vedantu, a Bengaluru-based interactive online tutoring platform, witnessed a growth of 330% in its users after the pandemic. Many students use Vedantu to study for competitive exams, including JEE (Joint Entrance Examination) for engineering courses and NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) for medical courses. About 548 Vedantu users were able to crack this time’s JEE advance, and 46 users were able to crack the NEET exam. Vedantu uses an in-built Whiteboard Audio Video Environment (WAVE) technology to provide engaging live sessions for students across the country.
What started as a YouTube channel in 2010 is now a popular eLearning platform and app in India called Unacademy. Based in Bengaluru, Unacademy’s user base includes students and professionals preparing for different state and national level exams in India, including senior secondary (SSC) and higher secondary (HSC) exams, UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) exams, state-level exams for medical and engineering courses, and exams like IELTS (International English Language Testing System) for foreign studies.
BYJU’s, one of the tops players of India’s online learning market, added 25 million new users to its platform post-pandemic.
Other Indian ed-tech platforms like Toppr and upGrad are also vying for a share of the new Indian user base that’s willing to go digital.
American-based online learning tools, too, stepped up to fill the learning gap between schools and students. For instance, Salman Khan – the founder at Khan Academy – stated while talking to a CNBC reporter that just after the pandemic was declared they saw a three times increase in the number of minutes spent by users on their platform.
Khan Academy is an American non-profit educational organisation that provides online tools to help students, teachers, parents, schools, and universities around the world.
Linguistic Barriers in Online Learning
While online learning has arrived as a blessing for students and other learners, sadly, not everyone has access to it. As per a 2016 report, only 17% of students in India attend English-medium schools. A majority of students attend school in their native languages. Since the pandemic, these students have been facing difficulties in coping with digital tools. eLearning companies understand the need for helping such students access their platforms. Vedantu is available in English and Hindi – the two popularly spoken languages in the country. In the future, their team plans to offer the platform and content in other regional languages, too.
On the other hand, Unacademy has courses in multiple regional languages like Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, Malayalam, Gujarati, Odia, Kannada, Telugu, and Bhojpuri (besides English and Hindi). The grasping and understanding power of the learners tends to be higher when the educators teach in their native language. In the near future, Unacademy plans on localising their app for other languages – right now, it’s available in English.
Code.org – a non-profit that aims to help schools and students from all over the world access computer science education – is the champion of multilingual online learning.
Similarly, a California-based children’s coding app, codeSpark, was looking to integrate their app with the Scandinavian education system. They then collaborated with Translate By Humans to translate their app and content from English to Swedish.
Taking Learning to Remote Areas
Online learning depends on the availability of devices and internet connectivity. National Center for Education Statistics’ report says that 6% of American students from the ages of 3 to 18 had no internet access. Similarly, despite being the second largest online market in the world, 50% of India’s population doesn’t have internet access. In many households, there are just one or two devices that are shared by all family members.
As Vedantu’s 55% user base lives in Tier 2, Tier 3, and other cities, the platform needs to reach small towns and remote areas of India. Recently, they donated 150 smartphones for the students of a government school in Telangana as part of their Dan Utsav (Joy of Giving). The initiative aims to make quality education accessible in rural parts during the pandemic.
Add to this the fact that its WAVE technology enables students to access the platform in low internet bandwidth areas.
In the present scenario, digital learning or eLearning solutions offer an efficient alternative to traditional classrooms. While there some challenges that are yet to be resolved, market gurus are keeping a close watch on the eLearning industry to see if the current platforms and apps are sustainable enough for the next couple of decades.