Digital education is the innovative incorporation of modern technology and digital tools to assist the progress of teaching and learning. It is also known as Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), digital learning, or e-learning. Digital education is the way forward to seeking education through the means of technology and digital devices.
Digital transformation of the country is underway and digital evolution of the economy and society is possible only through digital education. The concept of digital learning is not new and has existed in various forms for many years now, but when the COVID-19 pandemic suspended face-to-face teaching its significance increased manifold. Most educational institutions are adopting digital education as a solution while traditional classroom setup takes a back seat for some time due to the currently prevailing pandemic. Digital education is being seen as an alternative to the traditional education process of chalk and talk.
How is the education sector responding to COVID-19?
In response to significant demand, many online learning platforms are offering free access to their services, including platforms like BYJU’S, a Bangalore-based educational technology and online tutoring firm founded in 2011, which is now the world’s most highly valued tech company. Since announcing free live classes on its Think and Learn app, BYJU’s has seen a 200% increase in the number of new students using its product, according to Mrinal Mohit, the company’s Chief Operating Officer.
Tencent classroom, meanwhile, has been used extensively since mid-February after the Chinese government instructed a quarter of a billion full-time students to resume their studies through online platforms. This resulted in the largest “online movement” in the history of education with approximately 730,000, or 81% of K-12 students, attending classes via the Tencent K-12 Online School in Wuhan.
The challenges of online learning
There are, however, challenges to overcome. Some students without reliable internet access and/or technology struggle to participate in digital learning; this gap is seen across countries and between income brackets within countries. For example, whilst 95% of students in Switzerland, Norway, and Austria have a computer to use for their schoolwork, only 34% in Indonesia do, according to OECD data.
In the US, there is a significant gap between those from privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds: whilst virtually all 15-year-olds from a privileged background said they had a computer to work on, nearly 25% of those from disadvantaged backgrounds did not. While some schools and governments have been providing digital equipment to students in need, such as in New South Wales, Australia, many are still concerned that the pandemic will widen the digital divide.
Challenges of implementation
Learning and collaborating in an online environment might not come naturally to teachers and students. In considering policy responses to the school closures, policymakers need to consider ways to:
- Balance digital with screen-free activities. Simply replacing the schooling hours with online lectures and discussions is likely to have a toll on students’ health. Lectures can be shortened (CHN) and combined with non-digital learning activities.
- Keep a pulse on students’ emotional health. The context of the virus and school closures has the potential to be unsettling and disorientating for students. Technological solutions need to find a way to provide connection, interaction, and support whilst learning is happening, particularly in a time of uncertainty.
- Access to devices. Students are more likely to have access to smartphones than to laptops at home, where there might be more students than devices. Governments could lend laptops or provide alternative resources (printed work booklets) (e.g. GBR, JPN).
- Manage access to IT infrastructure. Having all students connected at the same time may be a problem in some places, and access to IT infrastructure should also be monitored to provide good access to all, perhaps within certain time frames.
Online learning is the future and will undoubtedly replace traditional learning. Mobile platforms have given more people access to online learning. In the coming years, there will be more elements in the online learning structure such as virtual reality (VR) to democratize the learning more.
Digital education can encourage today’s youth to engage themselves in the vast sea of knowledge available to them. Even though there are a lot of challenges when it comes to digital learning, digital learning is the new way of imparting education, and it will continue growing and cause a paradigm shift. In the near future, it can be said that digital education is the future of the world and is here to stay.