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Jul 20, 2020

Is Online Learning Having Its Moment?

COVID-19 ravished many businesses and industries throughout the country, but some came through the pandemic better than when they went into it. Industries like delivery services, professional cleaning, and contactless payments have seen increases in demand during the coronavirus pandemic.

One sector that is also gaining a lot of attention right now is eLearning. Online learning services and platforms have benefited from the increase in people staying home and looking for activities to fill their free time. 

From high school students taking free MIT and Stanford courses on engineering to a furloughed employee learning a new programming language, there has been a surge of people seeking out online learning this year. 

When it comes to online learning, many people still have questions. Is learning through online portals adequate? Will businesses take my online certificate seriously compared to in-person degrees? Will eLearning continue to be popular following the pandemic?

Let’s take a quick look at the current and future of online learning. 

Furloughed Workers Looked to Upskill 

In the first month after the pandemic hit, unemployment numbers soared beyond anything Americans had seen since the Great Depression. Some employees were temporarily furloughed, while others were laid off completely. 

This swift increase in unemployment left millions of people throughout the country stuck at home uncertain about their professional futures. The lack of career certainty and increased free time were significant drivers of eLearning adoption for online learning platforms like Lynda and Udemy.

“Even pre-crisis, we knew that skills were changing with the pace of technology,” Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Becky Frankiewicz write for the Harvard Business Review. “Now is a great time to know what skills will be in demand later on—both soft and hard skills—and invest in future-proofing yourself for the role you are waiting to return to or the role you choose to pursue during furlough.” 

Even employees who have jobs to return to are using this downtime to grow their skills. They may be brushing up their know-how to prepare for a leadership role or considering leaving their companies as soon as the job market stabilizes. 

Students Answered What Teachers Could Not

Online learning wasn’t limited to professionals looking for ways to upskill; many high school and college students found ways to further their education through eLearning portals. Whether they were beefing up college admissions applications or testing the waters with a new skill, students flocked to online learning.

There’s no doubt that teachers did their best during the spring semester with what they had. However, most educators had limited time and resources to plan for migrating the rest of the semester online. Because of the headaches surrounding moving to a virtual classroom, some material was cut—leaving many students feeling like they missed out on the full learning experience.

Online learning served as an option for supplemental education. Students could expand on courses that were limited because of the pandemic and continue learning on their own. On a college level, some students are turning to free online courses to take over the summer while they take a break, better preparing them to enter the classroom when they return in the fall. 

Several online learning platforms have responded to the increase in student demand. At the beginning of June, Coursera announced that college and university students would have free access to the website’s library of 3,800 courses, 150 Guided Projects, 400 Specializations, and 11 Professional Certificates. Coursera is one of the most prominent Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) and this move can help students across the country.   

The MOOC Model Isn’t Perfect

While free online courses might seem like an idyllic solution—especially for households where furloughs have limited spending budgets—they may not be ideal for some learners. First, many students genuinely prefer in-person learning. They enjoy sitting in a classroom, meeting peers, and learning in a physical setting.

Much like remote work, online learning requires a lot of self-accountability and personal restraint, which works well for some—not for others.

Next, MOOC popularity doesn’t necessarily equal value. Online learning sites have been criticized because many students fail to complete their courses, lacking the dedication to complete the work. 

“From the start, MOOCs had abysmal completion rates,” Derek Newton writes at Forbes. “Evidence emerged that a heavy proportion of MOOC attendees already had college degrees or were actually already teaching the subject they were supposed to be studying…MOOCs served the most motivated students, those who likely find a pathway to achievement with or without a MOOC.” 

Without the accountability of actual exams or a manager requiring employees to learn, most students take a few classes and then drop out over time. Some grew bored, while others didn’t want to put in the time and effort it takes to master a subject without any real, immediate reward. While taking a full MIT course online may sound impressive, most people would learn more from a 4-hour tutorial on Lynda. 

Online learning companies might not have figured out all of the “kinks” surrounding their courses and the people who take them. But the surge in demand because of COID-19 may give them the drive and resources to make improvements and address the concerns mentioned above. At the very least, they can help adult learners and young students alike continue their pursuit of knowledge even during a global pandemic. 

About the author

Derek Miller
Derek Miller
Derek Miller is a writer specializing in entrepreneurship, small business, and digital marketing. His work has featured in sites like Entrepreneur, GoDaddy, Score.org, and StartupCamp. He’s currently the CMO of Smack Apparel, the content guru at Great.com, and a marketing consultant for small businesses.

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