E-learning: A Great Option in the Time of COVID-19 and Beyond

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The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has closed down schools around the world. There’s an estimated 1.2 billion students that are now without access to in-person class instruction, thus raising the need for e-learning to unprecedented highs.

E-learning, also known as online or distance learning, involves receiving education through audio, video, pictures, text, etc…generally through an online, interactive platform. Prior to COVID-19, the e-learning industry was already growing and expected to be a $350 billion industry by 2025, with major growth in China, India, Thailand, and the Philippines.

In this blog, we’ll go over some of the effects COVID-19 has had on e-learning, some of the benefits and challenges e-learning presents, and the future of e-Learning.

[Average read time: 3 minutes]

photography of school room

photo by Feliphe Schiarolli

How COVID-19 Has Affected E-Learning

COVID-19 has had a major impact on the e-learning industry, particularly in the growth direction. The largest “online movement” in the history of education happened in Wuhan, China during their lockdown earlier this year, with approximately 730,000 students (about 81% K-12 students) moving their classes online.

Companies are investing more than ever in developing their e-learning products to be more robust to meet this growing demand. Tech companies like ByteDance are offering video conferencing, collaborative project editing, and more for educators in China.

Some school districts are also teaming up with local broadcast channels to help deliver educational content online and through TV.  For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District has paired up with PBS SoCal/KCET to offer a variety of educational broadcasts as well as online curriculum specific to each age group.  In the U.K., BBC Bitesize have launched courses for children online and even have celebrity guest lecturers like the well-known documentary voice-over narrator Sir David Attenborough.

These developments–ever advancing e-learning software, education and broadcast partnerships, and celebrity teachers–show how the pandemic has opened up new approaches to e-learning.


photo by Nick Morrison

Benefits of E-Learning

There has been research into how effective e-learning is with one study estimating that learning retention from e-learning can be as high as 60% compared to only 10% in the classroom. One theory is speed: for e-learning, students can learn at their own pace. Therefore students that need more time on a particular topic can go back and review it, while students that learn at a faster pace can move onto new material without having to slow down for others.

E-learning modules for kids have been shown to be successful when they involve educational games–one game could be a spelling game in which spelling a word correctly keeps a ghost from running into your avatar. By “game-ifying” education through e-learning, children are engaged in the learning while also having fun.

With e-learning, instead of just listening to a teacher speaking, students can learn from animation, games, movie clips, interactive graphs, and many other different mediums. Through this, e-learning can appeal to a wide audience of students each with their own unique learning preferences.

Through the help of machine learning, certain e-learning programs can personalize their content and how it is presented based on how the student interacts with the material. Flashcard programs like Anki can detect how long you take to flip a flashcard and students can train the program for when cards of varying difficulty reappear.

Given the many benefits, it may seem that e-learning–even post-COVID-19–would be the better choice than the in-person classroom setting. However there are still a few challenges.

silver imac on brown wooden table

photo by Mika Baumeister

Challenges to Overcome

Having a computer is essential to e-learning and is a luxury that not everyone has. According to the OECD, 95% of students in Austria, Norway, and Switzerland have access to a computer for school while in Indonesia only 34% do. Also, in order to receive the full e-learning experience for lessons with audio/video and an interactive interface, one would need broadband internet access. Here in the U.S., approximately 18% of families lack broadband internet access, particularly low-income families and families of color.

This is known as the Tech-Ed gap: as more education is moved online, educational inequality worsens, especially for low-income students. Cities in the U.S. are trying to reduce the Tech-Ed gap: New York City’s Department of Education is distributing iPads on a rolling basis to students that do not have a computer. In Charleston, South Carolina, wifi-enabled buses are deployed to low-income neighborhoods to provide students with internet access.

Access to education in one’s native language is also a challenge. Countries like India, Malaysia, and Indonesia have students that speak many different languages and come from diverse backgrounds. E-learning courses may have to be localized for a particular language which can delay or–in the case where e-learning courses are not localized–prevent access to students that are native speakers of specific languages.

photo by NeONBRAND

E-learning: Looking Forward

As countries gradually move out of quarantine, it’s likely that we’ll see e-learning remain as an integral part of the education system. A hybrid approach, a mix of in-class instruction with at-home e-learning, may become the educational norm.

The benefits of e-learning such as learning retention, saved time and money, and personalized instruction has been pushing education systems around the world in that direction, with COVID-19 giving an extra push.

There are still many challenges that e-learning has to meet such as the Tech-Ed gap and access in multiple languages. Hopefully institutions taking advantage of e-Learning will be able to meet some of these challenges by providing computers, internet, and multilingual e-learning.

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Click to download JBI Studio’s e-Learning, Audio & Video Localization Quote Checklist.