Is online learning here to stay?

Overnight 22 months ago, 1.6 billion students were forced to study and learn remotely for the ‘foreseeable future’.

For many, online learning has presented countless hurdles, from lack of engagement to technical challenges. Others have been able to flourish, with online learning allowing them to be flexible with their approach. How has education changed in the last 22 months, and what direction is it heading? At CES in Las Vegas, Anant Agarwal, Chief Officer at EdX, an online course provider gave his views on the topic.

Bridging the skills gap

The digital skills gap needs closing, and COVID-19 has highlighted areas where people need to be upskilled. With advances in automation, AI and machine learning, upskilling has been made harder, Anant exclaimed: “People aren’t job ready when they graduate.”

Universities haven’t been able to catch up with the latest in machine learning and AI for example, and online learning is a way to bridge that gap. Anant stated that half the planet needs to be upskilled to match where technology will be in 2030, and online learning can make this possible.

Soft skills

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of soft skills, perhaps even more so than before. Corporations have also realised the value of such skills in how people think and work as a team. Anant justified this claim with data from EdX. In 2015, the platforms top 15 courses taken by enterprises were technology courses. In 2020, four soft skills courses made the list, including inclusive leadership and teamwork, demonstrating how soft skills have become critical.

Shorter programmes – micro credentials

Anant explained that people now have a desire to learn with shorter programs. This desire was sparked during the pandemic, when people had more time to learn a new skill, and companies wanted to leave the pandemic having upskilled to some degree.

The traditional degree takes a one size fits all approach to learning, whereas Anant recognises the demand for shorter, snappier courses where students can earn micro-credentials. For example, there is the option to earn a micro-master’s qualification in three to six months. These micro-credentials will be the steppingstones needed to encourage lifelong learning.

Anant concluded: “People will be building their upskilling journey brick by brick and earning these micro-credentials in the future.”

The future of online learning

When asked what you can do better online than in a classroom, Anant gave three examples of where online learning excels.

The first reason being that all courses on the EdX platform teach using active learning methodology. Courses consist of short videos followed by interactive exercises, proven to improve learning outcomes by 25% according to research by EdX.

Another reason is that online learning allows for space repetition, meaning users can pause and rewind videos as many times as they like. This allows students to learn at their own pace.

Lastly, AI can be applied to learning to make it smarter. Students can take adaptive learning pathways, whereby if they are unable to answer a question, they can ask for a hint.

Anant explained the possibilities of what we can do with technology and learning going forward are endless.

Not a one size fits all approach

Anant believes that online learning is here to stay. COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst for change within education, propelling many students in their learning. Like most things, you can’t please everyone, but the positives of the last 22 months cannot be ignored, with the future of education looks as exciting as ever.