The e-learning Revolution: COVID-19 Lockdown Leads to Surge in Online English ClassesBy Ernest Hamilton, UniversityHerald Reporter
When the COVID-19 crisis and schools closed down as a preventive measure, students and teachers expected this to last for no more than two weeks, a month at most. Unfortunately, the world would soon find out that this was a healthcare crisis like no other, and that the two initial weeks would turn into a three-month lockdown. The period that followed was filled with uncertainty and anxiety, especially for the education system, which has traditionally relied on face-to-face courses. With classrooms closed, the system had to adapt, and where schools failed to come up with innovative alternatives, it was students themselves who sought change through e-learning. As a result, online learning experienced a 50% surge.
E-learning itself is not a new trend, of course. Before the pandemic, the online learning market was gaining traction, but not at a high enough speed. That all changed with the pandemic, and the number of people who signed up for online lessons grew exponentially. Many subjects reported a surge in demand, but nowhere was the change more noticeable than foreign languages, particularly English. Interestingly, the students weren't all children.
English as a second language is one of the most lucrative e-learning markets.
During the lockdown, people took all sorts of online lessons, from traditional subjects taught in school, such as Math and Physics, to modern subjects like web development or even fun alternatives such as cooking. But English stands out because it represents an ever-growing market and has some of the biggest development opportunities of the e-learning industry.
According to the World Economic Forum, there are over 1.5 billion English speakers globally, but only 400 million use it as a first language. The rest of one billion speak English as a second language, and that's a huge market for e-learning to tap into.
As for the clients, they come from diverse backgrounds and have different needs. They are:
Children who are encouraged by their parents to learn a foreign language from an early age
Students who want to learn English to go to college to an English-speaking country
Professionals who want to learn English for the job opportunities
People of all ages who want to learn a new language for fun
Corporate e-learning is setting new trends.
Although e-learning is usually associated with young students, the user base is much broader than that. In fact, the corporate e-learning market could increase by $38.09 billion by 2024, and English courses are one of the most popular choices in multinational organizations. Since English fluency is required in almost all businesses now, employers provide English training options to their staff, and this trend remained constant even during the lockdown. Apart from the obvious social distancing reasons, corporate e-learning also offers other key benefits:
It's considerably less expensive compared to setting up classroom training
It takes up to 60% less time than traditional learning
It's much more flexible, eliminating the problem of long commuting times
It can boost the company income by up to 42%
Experts estimate that once travel restrictions are lifted, and people will feel more comfortable traveling in the upcoming months, there will be a boom in job availability overseas, and online English lessons will be in even higher demand.
How do people prefer to learn English online?
Apart from accessibility, another key benefit of e-learning is that it's highly customizable to the user's needs. Depending on their personal preferences, learning level, and available devices, two major options stand out:
Language apps are reporting record downloads, and they seem to be the go-to option for people who want to learn English for fun or just get a grasp of the basics. At the end of 2019, the mobile learning market was already worth over $27 billion thanks to the shift to e-learning, that value could exceed $40 billion in 2021.
Online English lessons conducted via conferencing tools such as Skype or Zoom. This format is better organized and more structured than apps and caters especially to users who need personal guidance and one-on-one communication. For example, Skype English lessons are often preferred by students who don't want to limit themselves to writing and grammar and want to develop listening and speaking skills too. Skype lessons are more interactive and replicate the classroom environment as closely as possible.
Popularity of online learning linked to surge in English teaching qualifications
The past six months have been more challenging for English teachers, who, historically, have had a problematic relationship with technology. However, that doesn't mean that being an English teacher is no longer a popular career path. On the contrary, even with schools facing an uncertain future, the number of people who applied for English teaching qualifications has been on the rise after the COVID-19 pandemic. According to an international survey, over 50% of the teachers who have an English teaching qualification or are studying to get it applied during the lockdown.
It's worth pointing out that part of these teachers have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and are seeking alternative sources of income. At the same time, many teachers are skeptical of the safety of their jobs in the post-lockdown era and would rather switch to online classes.
Is online English learning effective?
E-learning has disrupted traditional education in the past few months and, considering the rapid pace at which it's expanding, many advocates of the traditional classroom model are wondering: are online lessons as effective? Despite the lack of face-to-face interaction, it would appear that the answer is yes. According to a study conducted by SH!FT, e-learning retention rates are as high as 60%, compared to just 10% in classrooms. This dramatic difference is owed to the fact that students learn in a more comfortable environment and feel more at ease interacting with the language trainer. So, while we can't envision a future where education takes place only online, the traditional classroom model has much to learn from the latest digital trends and use them to overcome the current crisis.