The global pandemic has dramatically transformed the way that we educate and learn—possibly forever.
Even before the pandemic’s isolation and lockdowns shifted virtual learning into high gear, the adoption of innovative education technology was increasing, with global investment in its development totaling US$18.66 billion in 2019. With adoption accelerating during the past 18 months, the World Economic Forum reports that EdTech investment will increase to US$350 billion by 2025, based on Renub Research’s Online Education Market Study 2019.
The development of these platforms, apps, and software options and their rapid and ongoing evolution allowed learning to continue during the pandemic. Although the learning curve has been steep with obstacles along the way, online learning has delivered several notable benefits for students.
Empirical and anecdotal data suggests that education technology increases access to learning, democratizes knowledge, and increases the breadth and richness of the learning experience.
Approaches to online learning may include virtual tutoring, video conferencing, language apps, and online learning software. Student experiences across these and many other EdTech tools highlight the advantages of online instruction, including the following.
The number of children entering education is growing, albeit incrementally, and that growth is in part thanks to education technology. Matt Jenner, Director of Learning at FutureLearn, reports that in 2007, over half (57 percent) of the world’s countries were providing ten years of formal education; by 2017, the number of countries had increased dramatically to 173–a 303% increase in just one decade. At the same time, the number of nations unable to deliver five years of formal learning has reduced from 47 to 32.
While enrollment rates are at their highest, there are still endemic problems with access to education. Global out-of-school rates remain high, with around 258 million children and youth cut off from schooling and subject to ‘learning poverty’. Substantial barriers to education continue to exist, which means for educators and administrators, the work is not over. Multiple disruptors drive out-of-school rates, including attacks on education, natural disasters and climate change; conflict and violence; child marriage and labor; disabilities; gender inequality; hunger; lack of sanitation, education funding, infrastructure, facilities, resources, and educators; distance and transport challenges; and language barriers.
Basic education is considered a global human right, representing one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Can technology and digital learning meet this critical need?
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director
If the explosion of technological advances associated with global pandemic restrictions has confirmed anything, it’s that technology-enabled digital learning can be a significant part of the future of education, whether as a primary or hybrid approach.
Over 90 percent of nations have introduced remote learning policies in some form. However, at least 463 million students worldwide are unable to access these learning opportunities, contending with a lack of equipment, skill gaps, or limited parental support.
More than 50 percent of the world’s youth and child population are on the wrong side of the digital divide. For example, with a population that is 40 percent youth under 15, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest global out-of-school rates, the lowest literacy rates among the youth, and the widest mobile broadband coverage gap, not to mention significantly below-average Internet penetration and the least affordable mobile data. These are the places in the world with the largest barriers to digital learning.
Worldwide, at least 200 million children live in nations that are poorly prepared to deploy remote learning. According to a recent UNICEF report, among the 31 nations ill-prepared for remote online learning, almost half kept their schools closed through most of the pandemic, leaving 102 million young people without access to education.
What would it take to lower those barriers? The cost of connectivity and mobile devices is declining over time, creating the possibility of bridging this divide in nations where digital access remains a barrier. Regardless of current obstacles, providing the means and opportunity for remote education through technology-enabled digital learning is the best option for promoting equity and providing life-changing education to all.
Addressing this gap requires wide accountability, including among education organizations, governments, and technology companies.
For now, given the obstacles, there is no universal, all-powerful replacement for in-person learning. Even in educational systems where digital access is available and viable, online education may not be suitable or effective for all students in all cases.
Education technology includes versatile, innovative, and learning-enhancing tools, but these resources alone are not boosting engagement, retention, and learning. Expanding access to online devices and connectivity is not enough without increasing digital usage and literacy. As with the physical classroom, the educator still has, by far, the biggest impact on a student’s learning. Technology cannot replace the educator’s role, but it can enhance it. The effectiveness of online learning will only increase as educators become more adept in applying technology and the technologies themselves evolve to assist the educator, especially when they form part of an incremental, blended approach.
When Should You Implement and Scale EdTech?
How can you weigh the value of educational technology? A simple fourthree-step approach is the solution:
This post looked at the last 18 months, both from the opportunities online learning created and the digital divides that still remain. The pandemic created a huge momentum towards online learning, and that momentum will raise millions out of poverty that otherwise would have waited years for technology to advance.
As the world’s leading open source project for virtual classrooms, the BigBlueButton project has been building upon this momentum and lowering the divides. The project offers freely available virtual classroom systems software, a global community of developers constantly improving it for teachers, and a world-wide network of community and commercial support. We want to close that divide and enable more students to build a better life.
BigBlueButton is an education-specific, open-source virtual classroom that is natively integrated by over 75% of the world’s learning management systems including Moodle, Canvas, Sakai, D2L, Jenzabar, and Schoology.
BigBlueButton focuses on empowering teachers to engage remote students for effective online learning. This is a result of collaboration with educators world-wide over the project’s 10+ years of development. Our goal is to enable every student to have a high-quality online learning experience.
BigBlueButton is localized into over 55 languages, supports LTI 1.1., and is commercially supported by companies around the world. For more information on BigBlueButton and how to leverage it for online teaching at your organization, visit https://www.bigbluebutton.org/