What is the Future of Online Education?
Online learning can solve some of education's deep-rooted problems, but it also presents new issues.
For the past several years, I’ve been completely immersed in the world of online education.
What started as a search for the easiest way to earn my CPA license quickly became a lucrative entrepreneurial pursuit. As I obsessively researched the best web-based options for future accountants, lawyers, financial analysts, and engineers, I’ve become something of a thought leader in this space.
But in spite of that, I was completely blindsided by the economic ramifications of the Covid-19 global pandemic— same as everyone else. I’m fortunate to have a fantastic team behind me to keep our business running through all the confusion, but I still have several questions about the future of this industry.
How has Covid-19 affected the way we teach each other?
What are the new challenges educators face, and what can be done to address them?
Are there any opportunities for creative entrepreneurs in this industry?
Here are some interesting things I discovered while trying to answer these questions.
Online learning vs. in-person classes
Schools were first closed in the United States due to Covid-19 on March 16. At first, this was meant to be a short-term close— but over the next few days, many states decided to keep schools closed for the remainder of the academic year. At the time I’m writing this (about ten months later), 41 states are still ordered to close their schools, seven states are recommended to close their schools, and two states have expired closures. (Source)
Everything from pre-school to post-grad was essentially forced to close their physical locations. And unless they wanted to send their students on a year-long summer break, they had to transition into online spaces. Unfortunately, this was a tough transition that caused many headaches— both figuratively in the case of test scores, and literally with regards to Zoom fatigue.
Despite this, it looks likely that many institutions who’ve gone through these changes will make them permanent. If they don’t use them to replace in-person classes entirely, some have been inspired to focus heavily on their online offerings in the near future.
Unfortunately, it appears that many educators who are making this switch care more about reducing costs and less about improving the quality of their students’ education. According to one survey of over 80,000 students, only 11% of high schoolers and 15% of college students felt that their online classes were as effective as physical classroom sessions.
This is a big problem, but what can be done to fix it?
Updating our education
Our modern education system was largely defined by the Industrial Revolution. But after a roughly 300-year period that saw monumental advancements in art, science, medicine, and politics, relatively little has changed about this old-fashioned system.
But when you consider that literacy, standardized test scores, and college enrollment have been trending downward, even before the pandemic, I think that suggests we can do more to improve it than simply getting more smartboards and Chromebooks.
Now that we’re in the midst of what many experts are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it looks like a great time to give our education system a much-needed facelift. For the past few years, scientific journals and think tanks have discussed what changes need to be made in order to prepare the youth for a rapidly-changing workplace.
What are some ways to accomplish this? Many online learning platforms are building more immersive study environments with better-designed software and cutting-edge hardware like VR. Additionally, higher education and test prep companies are now implementing adaptive learning technology— a form of machine learning that can have significant benefits for students. I’ve seen this tech used in online certification prep courses and can tell you that the results are impressive.
So we’ve identified a problem and some ways to fix it. Now it’s time to consider the business opportunities that can come out of this:
Education and entrepreneurship
Education is big business. As the world changes and technology continues developing, it becomes increasingly important to stay informed. In my opinion, the one silver lining to come out of Covid-19 is the widespread realization that changes can and must be made to our education system— especially college.
Skyrocketing costs that cause crippling student loan debt is a gargantuan issue that has only gotten worse over time. Fortunately, both big business and small startups are doing what they can to reduce costs without affecting the quality of their learning materials. Consequently, there’s going to be substantial demand for people experienced in designing software or hardware that can improve the online education experience.
Zoom is a fantastic example of this in action; their ability to keep businesses and schools connected during the lockdown has paid back dividends. This doesn’t mean you can achieve similar success by imitating Zoom, but I do think there’s considerable potential in products or services to treat Zoom fatigue.
Ultimately, the best move to make if you’re an entrepreneur interested in online education is to try it for yourself— start learning things online. Data science is a growing field with abundant applications to the industry, including adaptive learning tech. You’ll also get some perspective into the modern online education experience, which can help you identify opportunities for improvement and communicate them to potential customers.
But if you’re not interested in statistics, learning anything online is a great idea. I’ve seen firsthand how online education can help young people become accountants, lawyers, financial analysts, real estate agents, and securities traders; I’m confident that it can help you become a better entrepreneur.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor