Among the many challenges brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak, the education sector has been shaken up in particular by the shut-down of schools and universities, prompting a surge in the use of online learning tools. In the same way that working from home has become a new reality for many, remote education may also become the norm.
Technology has taken over and redefined nearly every aspect of our lives, and education is no exception. The discussion around online learning and the growth of education technologies has been taking place for a few years, and this novel virus has offered an opportunity for institutions to reinvent themselves by fully embracing the tools that make online learning possible.
Among all the online potential, university shutdowns have brought notable losses: personal connections, events, networking experiences, and the whole social experience of studying at a higher education institution have been modified or sacrificed in these times of necessary adaptation. Nevertheless, the unprecedented situation may bring in broader changes in the way education works; students who could not otherwise afford or would not have the time for classroom-based degree could benefit. A more widespread online teaching practice may represent a golden opportunity, after all. Indeed, experts are saying that institutions which do not adopt technology tools will be left behind.
During enforced quarantines and periods of self-isolation, the internet has proven to be the best weapon, providing vital information and means of communication. The internet has infinite resources accessible from all around the globe regardless of language and time zone. Also, many of today’s students are ‘digital natives’, having grown up with technology. So, why shouldn’t education be included in this mix?
Online learning has already been growing steadily over the years: the learning platform Coursera, which offers thousands of online courses — many free — has over 30 million users. Coursera is a leading provider of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), which typically comprise video lessons, reading assignments, assessments and discussion forums.
Right now, as universities and schools are forced to interrupt activities, institutional change has become necessary. Over the past weeks, video-conferencing platforms like Zoom and Skype have seen an increase in users, alongside the many other tools available that help round out the online learning experience.
The software Proctorio is a Google Chrome extension that monitors students taking exams online. Other tools include Instructure’s Canvas, where teachers can engage students in an active, modern learning experience that impacts achievement, and Google Classroom, which helps students and teachers organise assignments, boost collaboration, and foster better communication.
As ever, the growth of online education has its own challenges: funding for software must be found and adequate training rolled out, not to mention the constant technical maintenance and high levels of media literacy required of both students and educators. These challenges should be taken seriously and risen to if education is committed to making this leap into the online world.
VR in Education
The virtual reality (VR) market in the education sector is expected to grow by USD 6.34 billion during 2020–2024, according to the latest market research report by Technavio.
North America is the leader in the VR market for education, followed by Europe. North America is also predicted to register the highest growth due to stronger emphasis in the use of VR and the surge of affordable VR tools in the region. “The advent of 360-degree cameras and the increasing emphasis on foveated rendering will further boost market growth during the forecast period,” said a senior analyst at Technavio.
Social VR tools can help enhance the studying experience and go some way to fulfil the social aspect of being at school. It offers a viable alternative to connect with other students and immerse in an environment with more sensorial stimuli.
Google Tour Creator is one of the available tools to build 360° projections from a personal computer. All it takes is for users to upload panoramic photos, or find one on Google Street view, and highlight points of interest for their viewers.
Not only can classes be hosted in VR, but conferences and social gatherings too. This could bring many benefits such as removal of attendance limits, lower costs to participants, options to record and replay sessions, as well as reduced travel and associated carbon impact.
Such an experiment is already in place: The HTC Vive Ecosystem Conference (VEC), which is usually held in Shenzhen, China, was streamed via VR this year.
“Whilst there is no monetary value to this agreement, we believe that it marks the first time an official physical industry event is fully replaced by VR. It also provides us with an excellent opportunity to showcase the exciting capabilities of our ENGAGE platform to a truly global technology-led audience,” said David Whelan, CEO of VR Education, in a statement.
We are sure to see more developments unfolding in the sector in the near future, and many innovative tools are coming onto the market offering new solutions.
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