As of July 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the closure of schools and colleges in 143 countries, affecting more than 1.18 billion students.
Lockdown of schools, colleges and universities has disrupted learning and academic assessments, forcing the institutes to look for alternative ways and means to maintain learning continuity. However, these alternate quick fixes are just interim solutions. The new normal during and post COVID will demand adoption and deployment of virtual learning methods that are faster, easier and accessible to every student without the need to be physical present for inquiries, enrollments, classroom trainings, assignments and assessments. Along with immersive learning experience, it will also mandate future-ready student and staff, and a digital framework that helps strategic outcomes across services and operations.
The pandemic-induced challenges
The global education crisis due to the pandemic has impacted the student community and the education industry in an unprecedented manner. Along with the closure of many educational institutes, the industry is dealing with immediate challenges like:
- Drop/withdrawals in student enrollments from international or distant locations - Students who returned to their hometown during COVID-19 may not return; many may withdraw their enrollment and demand refunds.
- Panic and spike in student and faculty queries is building pressure on administrators, enrollment leaders and counselors on the frontlines.
- Teaching is moving online on an untested and unprecedented scale to enable learning continuity with time and cost pressure.
- Drop in Cash flow: Universities are losing on cash inflow through parking fees, cafeteria and dining outlet sales, and other ancillary revenues. Additionally, there is loss of income due to refunds, and drop in hostel enrollments.
- Additional expenses are incurred for cleaning/sanitizing the premises, investment in technology and resources to support online teaching, and provision of student support and hardship funding
- Lack of readiness to segregate content that can and cannot be hosted online
How to navigate disruption
The situation demands a relook at the education sector, and makes adoption and deployment of innovative ways to deliver right outcomes essential.
To navigate the disruption, the industry needs to
- Shift from thinking digital to being digital: Evaluate current systems’ abilities to enable multifaceted digital learning approach that addresses both short and long term goals while adjusting the risks.
- Educators/ students must adopt digital transformation by learning to access smartphones, tablets, and computers to encourage online lectures and smart classes
- Curate existing education content, align with the curriculum and plan on how to make it accessible
- Video Broadcasting Tools- Includes virtual learning like recording, live video, audio, live Q&A chat via mobile app or website
- Asynchronous Learning Programs- Allows learners to complete courses without the compulsion of being present at a particular time or place
- Real-time Social Media Channels- Accelerate the speed to deliver information through social media channels and embrace the ‘learn anytime, anywhere’ tradition, which has been evasive in many aspects
- Embrace online enrollment/interviews: Make the entire process of online student interviews, onboarding and payments the norm
- Enable student and faculty helpdesk to respond to queries arising due to pandemic shutdown to help avoid student attrition and enable continued learning
- Partner/invest in educational app development for easy learning and staying connected- Deploy advanced cloud-based Learning Management Systems and Content Hosting Platforms to ensure students can easily access learning content, schedules, updates , assessments and assignment from anywhere, anytime
To improve stakeholder experience, increase efficiency and offer courses in demand, the industry should leverage analytics along with digital Interventions like Natural Language Processing, Artificial Intelligence, Reasoning and Machine Learning for enabling data-driven decisions.
AI chat bots, self-service enablement and Cognitive OCR will help address student and faculty queries, and provide assistance in online enrollment and documentation.
The need for digitalization
Just like other industries, Education has changed overnight due to the Coronavirus-driven lockdown. The new normal will not just be about operating in an environment that secures the health of students; it will be a mix of online and in-person classes that act as a support system to students.
This will require driving digitalization across 2 main areas:
- Services - To enable seamless digital communication between students and faculty, the education industry must look at new education products while enhancing and converting existing products into digital. At the same time, they would need to migrate offline content/lectures on to digital platforms.
- Operations - Activities like students' enrollment, registration for programs and courses, examinations/assessments, quality assurance and evaluation including supporting services like study planning, facility management, teacher allocation, scheduling, etc. can be transformed through adoption of technologies like:
- Chat bots for student/faculty service will reduce the load of phone lines and also assist those who are unable to chat on the phone.
- Blockchain to store student data such as personal data and learning performance
- Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality for qualitative and immersive learning experience
- Big Data to study performance and abilities of each individual student and help analyze programs and serve as a base for machine learning and AI
- AI and Machine Learning to answer students’ queries and provide them with a clear explanation and step-by-step guide
- Social Media Engagement platforms to address queries and deliver information to students across the globe within minimum time. This will enhance the speed to deliver information and also improve student and faculty experience.
Any transformation or change is a challenge. It is not easy to move away from comfortable approaches and adopt new and unknown methods. But the new normal post COVID makes digital transformation a necessity. It will not only help education continuity and accessibility, but also empower students with the ability to learn anywhere and anytime without compromising on the quality of learning under any adverse situation.