Focus: Online education

The faces of e-ducation

Dec. 3, 2021

In the age of “just-a-click-away,” the immediate gratification of “likes,” and the bombardment of social media, one has to wonder at the consequences on an individual's capacity to concentrate, especially in the learning environment.

Globally, edtech became big business well before the pandemic struck. Its sheer scale is evinced by the fact that as of January 2021, the world had seen 19 edtech “unicorns," or enterprises valued north of USD1 billion. These have collectively raised funding of over USD13.7 billion over a single decade, pushing their collective value to over USD64 billion.

Meanwhile, the advantages of online education, at first glance anyway, are patently obvious. The removal of geographical distance means access without the need for travel, accommodation, or living costs, further democratizing the learning experience. Meanwhile, within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, like online working, edtech represented an immediate solution to the problem of obligatory isolation. However, if online learning—in broad brushstrokes—merits an A+, we could perhaps insert a few qualifying comments in the margins of the report card. In the online era, attention span, not to mention patience, during screen time is roughly eight seconds. The skeptical reader at this point need only recall the eternity of waiting for an app to open. Bear in mind, too, that much of the online learning industry caters to adults, who are, by definition, acutely aware why they are doing it, investing as they are in the future of their careers, a notion that most children find too abstract to comprehend.

Spain's online learning (curve)

Online classes in the Basque city of Vitoria, an early high-transmission hub of COVID-19, ended traditional classes in early March 2020. By March 16, schools nationwide had commenced remote teaching. An unprecedented event, the education system did its best in the uncharted waters of lockdown. In state schools, the word of the moment was Roble, the most widely used online platform, although others were also in use.
A 2020 University of Minnesota study describes active learning as “broad range of teaching strategies which engage students as active participants in their learning during class time with their instructor," requiring students to engage “many sensory, cognitive, emotional, and social processes" to boost learning potential. And with maintaining eye contact a key factor in the above, the limitations of online learning for children, and adults, are further underlined. On this very issue, María Aránzazu de las Heras García, President of Universidad a Distancia de Madrid (UDIMA) told TBY that “in order to guarantee the quality of our educational services, we had to search for latest state-of-the-art video conferencing tools transforming our face-to-face lessons into streaming classes. Among other things, we bought big screens in which the professor could see the students while teaching." UDIMA Spain's pioneering distance university today offers numerous undergraduate and postgraduate degrees to over 7,000 students worldwide.

No time for slacking

With many taking advantage of greater time availability for self-improvement, the pandemic has spurred professional upskilling. Conrado Briceño, the CEO of international educational group IMF Smart Education, notes that “IMF is probably the largest 'university' project in Spain without being a university. Our value proposition is built on professional education, which gives us a level of flexibility, innovation, relevance and speed that is difficult to match." In full partnership with Deloitte, IMF leverages the former's “top-notch experts, professional practices, and best-in-class tech facilities […] The association with Deloitte allows us to offer a learning methodology with a completely practical approach [while] students will be able to access Deloitte's selection processes and internships." Overall, online learning, foisted upon the wider world by COVID-19, ultimately has both its merits and de-merits. Where children's learning is concerned, many parents have in any case long supplemented physical schooling with the advantage of remote one-on-on teaching for regular and extracurricular subjects. And meanwhile, many lessons have now been learnt the hard way about the advantages of shorter, punchier classes, even with the return to brick-and-mortar schooling. And as with schooling, so too with industry and the economy overall, digitalization is, for some, eagerly awaited and, for others, an unavoidable highway to tomorrow's world.