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A typical formula for news stories presently is “Covid will change x, y and z.” You see it splashed across the front pages of industry papers, rolling on TV news chyrons, and even buried in academic periodicals.
Of course, it’s entirely true. It will be quite some time before the world can unpack just how much the global pandemic changed the fundamentals of business, interpersonal relationships and everyday practices. Most experts understand that it will happen.
But one shift is immediately apparent: the way Canadians approach education. In the pandemic’s early days, provincial governments across the country consciously decided to gravitate their schools toward online platforms, hoping to reduce the in-person spread of COVID-19. The results of that experiment appear to be manifesting in both predictable and unprecedented ways.
Let’s take a closer look.
According to The World Economic Forum, 1.2 billion students across 186 countries left the physical classroom over the course of the pandemic. There are – by the best estimates – around 1.9 billion school-aged children in the world, which means roughly one-third saw a seismic shift in learning over the past year and a half. Here in Canada, that share is much higher.
But online learning isn’t new. It has been around for decades. What’s new is the attention it has garnered because of the pandemic. According to that same World Economic Forum overview, e-learning was worth $18.66 billion US in 2019. Experts expect its value to skyrocket to $350 billion by 2025.
Has COVID heralded a sea change in the way people approach education? Has it normalized a mode of learning already poised to take hold? And why are parents gravitating toward online schools as an alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar institutions?
The Rise of Online Learning
While COVID stoked the flames for change, there had to be a spark first. The fact is, more students have gravitated toward online learning in recent years because of its intrinsic benefits: self-pacing, flexibility and convenience.
When students take an online high school course through an accredited e-School, they can complete material at their own pace. A student does not have to match the pace of a classroom of peers, some of whom may be further along or behind in their learning. They follow an individualized learning path. For students who struggle to keep up, or those who feel unchallenged, the online model makes perfect sense.
Online learning is also flexible, a characteristic both parents and students admire. Since there are no set school hours or school days, students can fit their studies in amid a schedule of extracurriculars, sports and work.
Finally, convenience is a selling point. Students don’t have to commute to school, nor do they necessarily need costly book bags, utensils and a closet lined with looks for each school day. Some students find that de-emphasizing the social aspects of education helps them focus on their studies. Without bullying and peer pressure to worry about, they can spend more mental energy learning for their future.
To summarize, COVID appears to have heralded a sea change in Canadian education – out of the classroom, toward online learning. However, although the pandemic might have facilitated the shift, the intrinsic benefits of online learning precipitated it.