Children and college students aren’t the only ones taking advantage of online learning opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working adults have been getting smarter through virtual courses as well. According to educational technology provider Encoura, by the end of March 2020, online learning service Coursera “reported a 370% increase across all courses and subjects from March 2019.” Udacity and edX are similar education sites.
One reason behind this increase is that working adults have more time on their hands due to layoffs, cutbacks in working hours, and the elimination of long commutes due to work from home (WFH) requirements. Other reasons include those not associated with conditions brought on by the pandemic. For instance, remote learning has improved in recent years, with greater convenience and developments in online instruction and technology.
Some professionals, such as software developers who provide IT outsourcing services, can particularly benefit from online learning. Whether for professional development, a hobby, or just for fun, working adults are using online learning opportunities to make the best of the current situation. Here, we take a look at several of the elements contributing to this trend.
While there is still much room for improvement in the technology used for online learning, the tools have come a long way and software developers like BairesDev can help customize additional applications.
Educators can hold online classes supported by the ability to share electronic materials, monitor student understanding, and facilitate dialog. For example, Zoom offers ways for participants to virtually raise their hands or to break into smaller groups for easier communication.
Teachers can also set up online forums to allow students to continue discussions between class meeting times. Because they don’t have to take place in real-time — that is, each student can participate when they have a few minutes — such forums are convenient for adult learners with other obligations, such as children or jobs, competing for their attention.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states, “Online learning…allows learners to choose a time, rhythm and place compatible with work and family responsibilities.”
Not only that, but modern technology can help students learn. “Machine learning algorithms use pattern recognition which can personalize the content for each individual. For example, when a student repeatedly struggles with a concept…the platform can adjust the e-learning content,” explains Forbes contributor Ilker Koksal.
Improved Teaching Methods
Because of the pandemic, instructors who weren’t already up to speed on best practices for virtual learning have had to quickly adapt their teaching style to an online environment. Here are a few of the primary adjustments they’ve made:
- Ensuring digital materials like slide presentations are visible on any size device.
- Recording lectures rather than streaming them live to enable absent students the opportunity to view them after the formal class time.
- Taking advantage of open access resources to supplement their own material.
- Providing interactive activities during class time to keep students engaged.
- Providing virtual office hours to enable struggling students to ask questions.
- Soliciting questions and directing discussions.
The following video describes several ways in which the teacher and the technology can work together to improve learning for students:
Coursera offers massive open online courses, otherwise known as MOOCs. These courses, which initially attracted hundreds of thousands of students, started being offered around a decade ago but found challenges when learners struggled with the online format.
But now they’re making a comeback. “The online ventures adapted through trial and error,” states the New York Times, “gathering lessons that could provide a road map for schools districts and universities pushed online.” Some programs offer “nano degrees,” which take four to six months to complete and cost, on average, $1,200.
In addition to Coursera, adult learners can access many other sources to find classes on topics they want to study. As uncomfortable as it is in many ways, the pandemic is giving people a chance to update their professional and personal skills.
For example, Koksal writes, “Top tier universities are…democratizing the learning by making courses available online. Stanford University and Harvard University give access to online courses under categories of computer science, engineering, mathematics, business, art, and personal development.”
Change in Perceptions
A Harvard Business Review article poses the question, “Do students really need a four-year residential experience?” The question itself implies that, in some cases, the answer could be no. At the very least, some aspects of the traditional “college experience” can be traded in for virtual versions. For example, the article states, “lectures that require little personalization or human interaction can be recorded as multimedia presentations.”
Such shifts may be more relevant to college-bound young adults than to working adults. However, changes to the traditional college experience will impact how higher learning is delivered across the board. Hybrid models that include both virtual and face-to-face components may be more convenient and affordable for older adults.
Educational Kick in the Pants
While many of these changes have been forced by the pandemic, they may well be long overdue. The cost of higher education has become prohibitive for many people and those who do afford it and graduate with a degree may find themselves unable to pay back loans due to a lack of jobs available in their field.
Online learning addresses both of these issues by making education more affordable and creating opportunities for adults to pick up job skills that are in demand. Online learning can be less costly than traditional educational options, given the lower costs of the courses themselves, the fact that many course materials are available free online, and the lack of travel expenses, such as gas and parking fees.
In a recent article, Justin Da Rosa of Battery Ventures predicts that the current shifts in online learning “will be significantly more affordable, more accessible, more scalable, and more closely aligned to skills employers need.”
Preparing for the Next Normal
As we all adjust to the new normal, some are preparing for the next normal by making the most of unexpected free time to pursue educational opportunities. Working adults have many options for advancing their professional or personal skills without risking their health by attending in-person classes. Online learning offers the benefits of being socially distant, less expensive than traditional education options, and convenient for those juggling various obligations.