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Digital Learning and COVID-19

By Rob Gibson

 
 

Private Equity’s interest in the education sector is based on its non-cyclical nature, generally stable cash flows and significant opportunity for growth. In return, Private Equity offers the education sector opportunities for expansion and innovation.

The sector is undergoing substantial disruption due to the impact of COVID-19 restrictions. How does this impact technology investment for education organisations?

Covid-19 has drastically changed the education sector

 

The most obvious change is that now around 75% of teaching is online, which previously was closer to around 10%. This requires students and educators to learn and adapt to new methods and tools before the learning itself can start.

Historically the education sector has been very slow to change, but now it’s being disrupted and forced to change. We now need to find new methods of delivering lessons online with teamwork and practical lessons proving to be the most challenging and not least because of the dreaded Zoom fatigue. Teaching strategies and techniques must be developed to fit a new delivery model.

Digital Poverty exists where some people do not have access to the tools that they might need, and this has shown to be a much greater problem than originally anticipated. It is definitely a barrier to learning.

What does remote learning look like now?

 

Remote teaching often involves holding classes via video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts. However, these present their own challenges to the education sector.

Students will often turn their cameras off or find it hard to ask questions. Therefore, it becomes much harder for the educator to know how engaged they are, if they’re progressing or struggling.

Some educational institutions are trying to mitigate against this by offering blended learning. This allows for teachers to meet small groups of students in person and may be essential for courses which require practical or physical assessments. However, this may also require teachers or lecturers to devote more of their individual time to delivering lessons.

Upholding high standards in a digital world

 

Due to the significant structural change in which teaching and assessments are now delivered, this also calls into question the credibility of qualifications. If exams are held online at home, how can we be certain that students won’t cheat? Or if final assessments are based purely on coursework and predicted grades, will this give some an unfair advantage?

This is one of the fundamental questions in the education sector right now and I think it is really important that attainment standards are maintained. It seems, right now, that one answer might lie in finding new and innovative ways of assessing people. We could look to technology, for example PWC recently released a facial recognition tool which can detect if the person behind the screen is really who they say they are. We still need to ensure they are on their own and don’t have access to other materials that may not be allowed as part of that particular assessment. However, perhaps a less invasive measure is to find new methods of formative and summative assessments, as well as continually adapting and adopting new approaches as we learn from each year.

The cybersecurity risks of going online

 

Cyber criminals will always look to take advantage of vulnerable organisations online. As many universities and schools hold a large volume of personal data, this puts them at a high risk of a cyber-attack. A recent example of this is the Blackbaud hack[1] where over 20 universities and charities were victims of a cyber-attack in July 2020. This requires educational institutions to manage a difficult balancing act. Universities as learning establishments want to encourage an open atmosphere, which involves an element of trust. However, the risks of cyber threats must be taken very seriously as the damage can be financially and reputationally devastating.

The future of education and learning

 

It is inevitable that new platforms to deliver courses online will start emerging. Before lockdown, many had never heard of Zoom before, but now it’s a household name and the big players like Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Apple no doubt want a slice of the pie.

However, with innovation there is always a degree of complexity as we may require users to adapt to a raft of different platforms and applications. As such, it is vital that we are inclusive and cater for people with different needs and requirements, which includes supporting those who are facing Digital Poverty. This could be a pivotal moment for the education sector to undergo a much-needed transformation and promote new, diverse and inclusive methods of teaching.

 
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