Online Learning Turns Crisis Into Opportunity

This woman is learning online as she enjoys a pot of tea in the comfort of her home, December 15, 2017 (Photo by Nenad Stojkovic) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis for Maximpact

RALEIGH, North Carolina, March 17, 2020 ( News) – “With colleges and universities making the difficult decision to move to online learning in the wake of the global pandemic, we join the community in a shared commitment to help provide students access to the immediate resources they need to adapt to a new way of learning,” says Kent Freeman, president of VitalSource, a Raleigh-based innovator in the digital course materials market.

VitalSource has joined more than 100 major publishers around the world to help ensure students affected by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic will have free access to quality digital learning materials through the rest of the Spring 2020 semester.

Beginning March 16 through May 25, access to an expansive catalog of eTexts will be available for free to students at semester-calendar institutions who have been impacted by recent campus closures.

Students log in to the VitalSource Bookshelf app using their school email address and can then view course materials from participating publishers, such as Oxford University Press, Elsevier, McGraw-Hill, Wiley Global Education, Macmillan, and University of Chicago Press. A full list of publishers is online here.

“At VitalSource, we know successful digital learning means that every learner can access the materials they need to succeed – anytime, anywhere,” said Freeman. “Through this initiative, we are adhering to that promise and helping to support students, faculty, and postsecondary institutions under these extraordinary circumstances.”

Students who need assistance accessing free eTexts can get help by clicking here.

Online learning was already booming before the coronavirus emerged in December in Wuhan, China. Now declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, the illness has forced colleges and universities around the world to shut their doors to avoid spreading the virus and by so doing has ushered in a whole new world of online learning.

At least 200 universities and colleges across the United States have canceled or postponed in-person classes, according to a list monitored by Georgetown University senior scholar Bryan Alexander.

Higher education experts call the situation “unprecedented” as the number of U.S. cases of the virus approaches 2,000. Many more are expected.

Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) told “The Hill” newspaper, “There are just so many aspects of this current situation that are unprecedented,” that she cannot “fully predict the long-term implications.”

Pasquerella said the universities and colleges must consider the implications when deciding to go online, such as how they will adjust for underserved students who do not have access to the necessary digital resources and how to train its faculty to conduct online courses. Some schools might not have enough resources to move everything online, she said.

Ilan Stavans, a professor of humanities and Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College, told “The Hill” that the closures have caused “emotional turmoil,” including “anger, disappointment, depression” and “a sense of mourning and grief” for students and faculty.

Stavans, who teaches through an interactive classroom, said many professors are struggling with how to use online classroom platforms and how to adapt normal class practices like students raising hands or separating into groups into the digital format.

“When we return, we’ll be different teachers,” he said.

Many Countries Close Their Schools

Across the world, universities, colleges and lower schools have been closed as experts advise schools present a high risk of group infection. University campuses  are considered particularly susceptible to contagion.

Since late January, China has closed universities, primary and secondary schools, secondary vocational schools, kindergartens, and nurseries, as attempts to contain the virus have intensified.

Zhejiang University (ZJU), spanning seven sites in east China’s Zhejiang province, has moved its teaching online. Due to its smart campus, teacher training in online delivery and digital learning platforms, more than 5,000 courses were on offer just two weeks into the transition.

The course hub “Learning at ZJU” attracted 570,000 visits, and “DingTalk ZJU”, a live streaming app co-developed by Alibaba, recorded a total audience of 300,000. Meanwhile, around 2,500 graduate students at the university are expected to defend their theses in spring. Now they can apply for an online oral defence in order to graduate as planned.

In early March, Zhejiang University announced the one-stop “Research at ZJU” platform allowing scientists and students to collaborate online despite the disruption caused by the epidemic.

As China continues to battle the virus, universities across the country have followed public health guidance to shutter campuses.

In Italy, one of the countries worst hit by the coronavirus outside of China, the government announced March 4 that it will temporarily close all the nation’s schools and universities.

Japan Japan’s Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda on February 28 requested all students to remain indoors and not to attend schools that have been closed to contain COVID-19.

Several Australian schools and a university have temporarily closed after COVID-19 was detected in students and staff. The Southern Cross University closed two of its campuses on March 11 after an international staff member who had been visiting from overseas tested positive.

Qatar announced the suspension of activities in all schools and universities starting March 10 amid concerns over the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the official Qatar News Agency reported.

Although Britain has been reluctant to close schools, at the London School of Economics, all teaching activity for undergraduate and postgraduate students will be delivered online from Monday, March 23 for the remainder of the 2019/2020 academic year.

The e-Learning Market Expands

As early as 2016, the World Economic Forum concluded that online learning is the future of education.

In 2016, the e-learning market was worth a staggering $166.5 billion. Its growing financial value is matched only by the swelling numbers of students choosing to follow an online course.

In the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Survey of 25,000 young people from across the world, 77.84 percent of respondents reported having taken online courses in the past.

Online education takes two major forms. The first is for-credit courses where students take online classes offered by home or other higher education learning institutions for credit. Some well-known cases include the MIT OpenCourseWare and the Harvard Online learning.

The second form of online education consists of professional training and certification preparation. Such online learning is usually targeted at professionals or students seeking training or preparing for certification exams. Popular courses include training in foreign languages, accounting and nursing.

In the Global Shapers Survey, close to half (47.79 percent) of respondents said they would be willing to pursue certification for certain skills, including online certification, once they have started their working careers. This again demonstrates the large potential and market for online education.

Universities need to adapt to this new environment by advocating for human-machine symbiosis, teacher-student interaction, life-long learning and ubiquitous learning, according to the World Economic Forum.

The online learning global innovation landscape is being reshaped quickly. Open innovation is taking place online through synergies regardless of time constraints or geographical boundaries.

The e-learning market is estimated to rise from US$190 billion in 2018 to US$300 billion by 2025, according to a March 2019 Global Market Insights, Inc. report. The rise in the demand for cost-effective training and learning techniques in corporate and academic sectors will drive the market growth over the coming years, the report projects. Request for a sample of this research report here.

Growing applications of technology in academic institutes is a major factor propelling the eLearning market, the Global Market Insights report concludes. In 2018, academic sector is accounted for over 50 percent of the global industry share and the online literacy rate is “growing rapidly.”

Now, school closures due to the virus are pushing that growth in online learning into the forefront of education, and many students are embracing it.

Nicholas Allsop, who works for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence managing their foundation and corporate giving, took an online course at Harvard Business School called Managing Your Career Development. He loved learning online, saying, “My favorite part of the program was the ability to get a global perspective on the case studies live, as if we were all in a classroom in Harvard, all while in the comfort of our own homes.”

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