In China, when 50 million students and 600,000 teachers recently returned to class, they did so virtually.
With schools in the world’s most populous nation closed amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, educators used the live-streaming feature on Alibaba Group’s DingTalk app to hold lessons online.
As universities, schools and businesses in the United States, China and around the world shut in hopes of halting COVID-19 outbreaks, the conversation about online learning has changed from whether or not these practices work to how quickly we can implement them.
The onus is now on ed-tech companies to produce viable platforms for participants. As students are funneled into online programs, it is this first experience that will win or lose them as future users of online education. Companies working in this space must remain agile and create positive experiences for customers.
The same chaos that the virus is causing in countless industries is also putting the focus on the online world, as everyone from graduate students on down to my 3-year-old daughter begins online education.
The urgency for companies in a wide range of industries, from retail to food service, to have an online presence has compounded since the virus struck — and the same is true for educators. As a result of prolonged lockdowns, schools are determining how to carry on while minimizing risks to students, faculty and staff.
Even after a lockdown is lifted, people are likely to remain reluctant to gather until the risk is greatly reduced, meaning online education platforms will provide an alternative not only as schools close across America, but possibly into the future as well.
Ed-tech provides a way for companies to train employees without having to bring staff into the office. Students at nearly every level of education will turn to ed-tech as their schools shut down and seek to offer them online alternatives.
In addition, individuals who anticipate layoffs in the wake of being unable to work in the office will look for online programs to enhance their résumés and gain new skills. Some companies are particularly vulnerable to lengthy closures and will likely not survive beyond the outbreak.
Indeed, great innovation often emerges in challenging times.
The huge demand now for first-rate online experiences — as schools and businesses try new approaches and seek novel solutions — will lead to the creation of companies with the potential to become world leaders in online education.
This story about COVID-19 and educational technology was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for Hechinger’s newsletter.