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Universities and colleges head online amid Coronavirus pandemic

Gauthier Van Malderen, CEO of Perlego
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300% increase in higher education and further education institutions looking to move to learning online in one week alone 

For most people, the events of recent weeks is something they will not have witnessed before. With many countries in lockdown and cases stacking up, it’s fair to say that PM Boris Johnson was right when he described Coronavirus as the “worst public health crisis for a generation”.

And things don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Experts fear that the UK is just one to two weeks away from an epidemic comparable to Italy. It’s believed that the amount of cases will quickly spiral and that the UK could be put into lockdown. As the situation worsens and the UK enters the “delay phase”, there’s an increasing likelihood of the government closing down schools, colleges and universities.

Educators are naturally worried about this. They are concerned about the possibility of students contracting this disease and want to take all necessary steps to protect them. However, at the same time, they know that potential closures could have a detrimental impact on learning and end-of-year grades. Therefore, they are seeking approaches that protect students from the virus but also allow them to learn as usual.

It would seem that online learning is one of those approaches. Just like the rest of the world, a number of UK educational institutions are reverting to online learning as the number of Coronavirus cases grows globally. At Perlego, we’ve seen a 300% increase in approaches from higher education and further education institutions looking to move to learning online in the last week alone.

I genuinely believe that edtech will prove vital in the months ahead. For example, if lectures are cancelled, educators can host virtual lessons over video conferencing tools such as Zoom and Skype. And, of course, they’re able to communicate with students via email and instant messaging platforms.

Educators are definitely aware that technology can help as Coronavirus disrupts day-to-day operations. Over the past month, we’ve held conversations with a number of educational organisations that are concerned about the outbreak and how to deal with it. For a lot of them, they’ve never had to implement provisions for a pandemic. And that means universities must take new approaches to learning.

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“This is the first time we’ve had to deal with something like this, and to be quite honest this is a whole new learning curve for many of us. We are having to experiment and explore different ways to support our students as they start to learn remotely,” said one university leader.

Although educators are aware that online content can help students to learn while self-isolating, some are worried that they don’t currently have the resources for this and need support. Another university told us: “We (Deans and Vice Chancellors) are concerned that current infrastructure within our institutions will not support our students enough in order to study remotely and we are unsure what we can do about it.”

Meanwhile, someone else admitted: “Access to our digital resources only accommodates a fraction of the student population and we are concerned what this will do to the overall student attainment as we approach the end of the year.”

During these difficult times, conventional ways of learning are off the cards. Many students have found themselves in a situation where they’re unable to progress with their learning as lectures have been cancelled and libraries closed. That’s certainly alarming.

But this is where technology can help, allowing everyone to access resources that enable them to learn from anywhere and at any time. My view is that edtech will prove key as educational organisations respond to the Coronavirus pandemic and look to put students first. What’s more, educational organisations can use this period of seeming chaos to trial such solutions and see if they’ll work for them in the long-term.

Gauthier Van Malderen, CEO of Perlego

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