Coronavirus is Sparking a Virtual Learning Boom

As the world frantically responds to the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it’s known in medical circles, virtual learning is experiencing a sudden boom. As countries impose travel bans and quarantines in an effort to control the deadly coronavirus, schools and students around the world have turned to virtual schools and e-learning platforms so they may continue their education.

The Education Disruption

The coronavirus epidemic has generated global headlines regarding its potential adverse effect on the world’s economy, while its effect on the education industry has received minimal attention. Brick-and-mortar schools around the world have closed and suspended classes, which has left students and their families scrambling to find alternative education opportunities. In China, the epicenter of the coronavirus, its estimated that 180 million students are homebound and unable to attend traditional schools.

This epidemic is also wreaking havoc on traditional brick-and-mortar colleges and universities throughout the world, as many of these institutions are dependent on Chinese students. American universities with satellite campuses in China have moved rapidly to ramp up their online classes in a frantic effort to offset the mandatory closing of their China campuses. Clay Shirky, vice provost for educational technologies at New York University (NYU), offered the following regarding the incredibly disruptive impact of the coronavirus: “It’s been highly stressful, but at the same time, the clarity of the crisis has brought us together.”

The suspension of classes by traditional brick-and-mortar schools and learning centers could have a devastating financial impact on the education industry. Plummeting student enrollment coupled with high fixed costs such as teacher salaries and rents have industry experts wondering if a wave of bankruptcies is just around the corner.

The Resulting Surge in Online Learning

While traditional brick-and-mortar schools and learning institutions are getting hammered by the spread of the coronavirus disease, virtual schools and online learning platforms are experiencing the exact opposite. Student enrollments are surging, as are revenues and enterprise values. Jiao Wei, an analyst at Shanghai-based research firm 86 Research, says: “This is like a natural marketing campaign for these companies. Parents who didn’t know much about online education can now see how it works and how classes are being streamed online.”

In China, where millions of students have been forced to go online to continue their education, the country’s providers of online learning platforms have benefited in a big way. According to a Forbes article dated February 27, 2020, China’s three “education billionaires” have seen their combined net worth increase by approximately $3.2 billion since the outbreak of this virus. This article goes on to state that an estimated 22% of China’s K-12 students will be utilizing online learning platforms in 2020, up from 17% in 2019.

The coronavirus epidemic has forced traditional schools and learning institutions to reevaluate their business models, especially those in the higher learning industry. As previously mentioned, many of these colleges and universities are heavily dependent on tuition income generated from Chinese students. Having now experienced the significant adverse effects of the coronavirus, these higher learning institutions are now looking at online learning as a legitimate strategy to minimize their future dependency on tuition income related to traditional face-to-face learning.

Online Learning Is Not Just A Crisis Response Tool

Online learning has repeatedly proven its worth in times of global disruption, whether such disruption is caused by war, a health epidemic, or a natural disaster. In fact, global disruptions and crises have been a contributing factor in the growth of online learning. However, its becoming increasingly clear that online learning is a much more valuable tool than something to be utilized only during a time of crisis.

The world as it exists today is one of convenience and rapidly increasing technology. The ability for students to learn anytime and from anywhere is a major factor in the growth of online learning. Significant advances in technology, whether it be the internet, computer hardware, and/or digital content, has made it possible for today’s student to create their own personalized online learning program. Online learning also caters to today’s student-athlete, whose intense focus on training at an elite level requires a convenient and flexible education schedule. There’s also the eco-friendly advantage of online learning, as the reduction in both travel and printed content benefits the environment.

In short, online learning has gone mainstream. In today’s world, which places a premium on time, convenience, and effectiveness, online learning has proven itself to be not only a valuable tool in times of crisis, but also an extremely viable alternative to traditional learning.