A computer screen: the new classroom of the modern age?

The outbreak of COVID-19 affected all sections of society since the first case recorded in China in late 2019. People were asked to quarantine themselves in their homes to prevent the spread of this virus. Despite its negative effect on other sectors, the pandemic was a boon for a few viz online shopping sites and also a rapid increase was seen in e-learning as compared to the traditional classroom method of education.

Even before COVID-19, there was already a high growth and adoption in education technology, with investments in e-learning apps reaching a value of $18.66 billion in 2019 and the overall market for online education is projected to reach $350 billion by 2025. The pandemic however challenged the education system across the world and forced educators to shift to an online mode of teaching overnight. Many academic institutions that were earlier reluctant to change their traditional approach were left with no alternative option but to shift entirely to e–learning. Whether it was language learning apps, virtual tutors, tools for video conferencing or online learning software, all had a significant surge in its usage since the pandemic hit.

While some believe that the unplanned move to online learning – with no training and little preparation – will result in a poor user experience, others believe that a new hybrid model of education will emerge, with significant benefits. There have already been successful transitions amongst many universities. The Imperial College, London started offering a course on the science of coronavirus, which is now the most enrolled class launched in 2020 on the site coursera. The e-learning method offers teachers an efficient way to deliver lessons to students. Videos, PDFs, podcasts, can be used as a part of lesson plan. By extending the lesson beyond traditional textbooks to include online resources, teachers are becoming more efficient educators. The online learning system, with its range of options, can be personalized in many ways. Some students are visual learners, while some prefer to learn through audio. Similarly, some students thrive in the classroom, and others are solo learners. It is the best way to create a perfect learning environment suited to the needs of each student.

There are, however, challenges to overcome. Some students without reliable internet access and/or technology struggle to participate in digital learning; this gap is seen across countries and between income brackets within countries. While internet penetration has grown in leaps and bounds over the past few years, still in smaller cities, a consistent connection with decent speed is a problem. Without a consistent internet connection for students or teachers, there can be a lack of continuity in learning. This is detrimental to the education process. Online learning also requires teachers to have a good understanding of digital forms of learning. However, this is not the case. Very often, teachers have a very basic understanding of technology. To combat this, it is important for schools to invest in training teachers with the latest technology updates so that they can conduct their classes seamlessly.

Parents and students are also concerned about the health hazards of spending hours staring at a screen. This increase in screen time is one of the biggest disadvantages of online learning taking a toll on students ‘eyesight. Sometimes students also develop bad posture and other physical problems due to staying hunched in front of a screen.

Major world events are often an inflection point for rapid innovation – a clear example is the rise of e-commerce post the SARS pandemic (2002-2004). While we have yet to see whether this will apply to e-learning post-COVID-19, it is one of the few sectors where investment hasn’t dried up. What has been made clear through by this pandemic is the importance of disseminating knowledge across borders, companies, and all sections of society. If online learning technology can play a role here, it is incumbent upon all of us to explore its full potential. From chalks and blackboards to smart boards to laptops -the education sector has jumped the boundaries of a school wall…the journey has just begun.