The 21-day lockdown in force across the country to contain the spread of coronavirus has provided many with more time at their disposal. On the one hand, people have been using it to rekindle relationships and bond with their families, while on the other, the demand for online educational courses has been rising.
According to one news report, the internet traffic at Coursera, an online learning platform based out of the United States of America, has increased by at least four times since the outbreak of coronavirus. Many countries have implemented strict lockdown measures to prevent unnecessary movement of people in public places in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. With companies providing their employees the option to work from their homes, the time that is usually spent commuting to the workplace is being put to use by some learning enthusiasts.
Online education platforms like Coursera, Udemy, EdX, Great Learning, etc. have seized this opportunity to open up more courses for consumption by their users, free of cost. They are also being approached by educational institutions seeking their platforms to offer courses to students since schools and colleges in many parts of the world have now shut due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Techies and marketing professionals are among those who are using the lockdown time to learn new topics online.
Speaking to TNM, Harish Krishnan, 35, says that the lockdown has provided him with a great opportunity to âupskillâ and âfill the gapsâ in his knowledge. âI have been learning Data Analysis from Coursera and Udemy. Data is a gold mine and these courses teach me how to use it in the best possible way,â he says.
Youngsters are also using this time to focus on picking up a new language. "I love learning new languages and I have always wanted a course on Japanese, Korean, or Chinese since I find the script very interesting. So I have taken up the Korean course now," says 28-year-old Siva Shakti, a PhD student from Kerala. She hopes it would come in handy if she needs to apply for postdoctoral position in Korea down the line.
What drives the boom?
Two primary factors appear to motivate the new-found love for online learning: availability of time and the fear of losing jobs in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
âEmployed professionals have this apprehension of the futureâ are there going to be layoffs? Will their jobs be secure? So they want to upskill themselves to stay relevant in case of a potential loss of their jobs,â explains Hari Krishnan Nair, the co-founder of Great Learning, an online education platform. He adds that as per trends visible on his website, courses related to data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and digital marketing are most sought-after by users.
While colleges are usually snail-paced to adapt to the fast-evolving needs of the job market, it falls on job-seekers to make themselves suited to the industryâs demands.
Conventional classrooms also adapt
Since COVID-19 unexpectedly put a temporary end to the teaching happening through traditional classrooms, many courses have been forced to adapt to an online avatar.
Uma Krishna, a Chartered Accountant and educator based out of Madurai, is one such example. From teaching students in a classroom, she has now switched to Skype to conduct her classes uninterrupted. The fact that students these days have laptops or smartphones with them has helped her adapt easily to the online mode.
âInitially I was finding it difficult to teach them without being able to see them. I can see only one student at a time. But page sharing has helped them follow what I teach and since they are on call, they respond to my questions too. Hence it is comfortable,â she explains. Uma uses a pen tablet to work out accountancy calculations on One Drive.
For Harish Krishnan, the fact that online courses are convenient in terms of pace and time have drawn him in, apart from the benefit of a filtered discussion.
Will the boom last?
âAbsolutely,â believes Harish, adding that online is the way to go. However, he acknowledges the need for human beings to be connected to each other in person and to interact with each other to survive. âThis I have understood in the last one week where I have been cut off from the world. We are tuned to interact and mingle. We cannot be an island. So it has to be a gentle mix,â he points out.
There is also the need to address the disparity in the country due to the wide gap in the social and economic conditions of people when it comes to taking higher education online. If we need to ensure the availability of quality education universally, then embracing technology is our best bet, says Hari Krishnan Nair.
âWe have been trying to solve this problem of different quality of education across the country. The reason why a lot of graduates are unemployable is due to this disparity. The internet helps us eradicate this disparity and ensure all of them get the same education,â he says. Adding that many higher education institutions have approached his company to host their courses online due to COVID-19, Hari explains that many institutions had the notion that online learning is superficial. âI think online learning itself has evolved a long way in the last 7- 8 years. it is not just videos, there is a lot more to it,â he says.
Uma, meanwhile, plans to continue taking advantage of Skype to teach classes in the coming days.
âAfter the lockdown, I shall resume regular classes in the morning,â she says. Uma adds that her plans to conduct evening classes for students, which last up to 9 pm, was not encouraged by girl students since many have curfews at home. âNow I am planning to continue the second session online and have the morning class face to face,â she says.