COVID and E-Learning
Author: Lenore Hawkins, Chief Macro Strategist at Tematica Research, partners of our digital infrastructure ETF.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many
profound shifts that were already taking place in the global economy, many of
which resulted in a behavior adjustment and relied very heavily on the digital
infrastructure. Examples of such shifts include brick & mortar moving
towards online shopping and business travel being replaced by virtual meetings.
Another sector that was forced to evolve nearly overnight, placing additional
strain on digital infrastructures, has been education.
As waves of the COVID-19 contagion spread
globally, many governments chose to lock down their economies to such a degree
that even schools were forced to move into the virtual world, which meant that students
from pre-K to post-grad were catapulted onto online learning platforms and
teachers had to essentially re-write nearly overnight their curricula and more
incredibly, their teaching methods. By the end of March of 2020, an
estimated 1.4 billion students, or roughly 80% of students worldwide, were
kept out of their educational brick and mortar institutions. Early last year,
the Chinese government instructed 250 million full-time students to resume
their studies through online platforms, creating the largest platform shift in
the history of education and an unprecedented spike in capacity demands on the
nation’s digital infrastructure.
These changes will last beyond the
pandemic. In early February, an article
in the Wall Street Journal  discussed how parents are losing faith in their
closed public schools and are looking for alternatives. The pandemic
accelerated the loss of jobs in many parts of the economy as more and more
companies replace labor with automation wherever possible. All those jobs that
are never coming back mean that large portions of the workforce need to develop
new skills. Distance learnings and Edtech can help fill this need to retool in
a way historical forms of reskilling have been unable to, and the demand for
continuing or career transformational education is unlikely to wane.
As the pace of technological innovation
accelerates, the traditional types of higher education will no longer suffice
as individuals are finding the need for education throughout their careers. In
a rapidly changing world in which education is becoming a lifelong need, access
will need to be on-demand, generating the need for additional capacity from the
nation’s digital infrastructure.
pandemic may have forced rapid adjustments, it has simply been an acceleration
of the changes already occurring. According to the Metaari whitepaper on 2019
Global Learning Technology Investment Patterns, in 2018, $16.3 billion was
invested in learning technologies worldwide, and in 2019 that number rose to
$18.7 billion. In those two years, the total amount invested in EdTech companies exceeded that for the
entire twenty-year period between 1998 and 2017, a profound acceleration even
before the impact of the pandemic.
The investments being made in the coming
years are expected to be immense. According to Metaari’s Worldwide
2020-2025 Advanced Learning Technology Market,  the growth rate for Advanced
Learning Technology worldwide is 22.8%, with revenues expected to more than
triple to $129.7 billion by 2025, with a heavy concentration in North America,
Asia Pacific, and Western Europe. North America is expected to see the most
rapid growth, with advanced learning revenues increasing from $15 billion in
2020 to $33.7 billion by 2025. According to a recent
study by Fortune Business Insights, the global EdTech and Smart Classroom
Market size was $74.33 billion in 2019 and expect to reach $251.78 billion by
2027, a CAGR of 16.6%. The vast majority of that investment will be dependent
on the capacity of the world’s digital infrastructure.
The pandemic has forced educators and
educational institutions to get creative and has accelerated the pace of
identifying what works and what doesn’t work, and just like with Zoom Video
Communications (ZM), what was once foreign and uncomfortable is becoming
normal. This opens the door for vast improvements in education in the future.
Imagine students all over the world having access
to lessons taught by the most inspiring teachers and to the tutors that
best fit their individual needs. Rather than already overworked teachers having
to try and identify what learning style best suits each student, where lie
their strengths and weaknesses, technology can provide students, teachers, and
parents with regular, objective feedback and support. Students can become more
self-directed, learning more at a pace that suits them rather than educators pacing
the class at roughly the median level so that some in the class are decidedly
underwhelmed while others are completely overwhelmed. This technology will
again depend on the capacity and robustness of the digital infrastructure.
While we have the technology, the digital
divide between those students who have access to devices and minimum connectivity
and those who don’t is critical and varies widely by nation. This divide is
something that will need to be addressed in the coming years for nations to fully
leverage the potential for EdTech to vastly improve the productive capacity of
their future labor force, thus accelerating their economic growth potential.
According to OECD data, only 34% of students in Indonesia have access to a
computer for their schoolwork, while 95% of students in Norway, Switzerland,
and Austria do. Here in the US, the new administration is looking to address
that divide. This means providing students with not only connected devices
but also with sufficient bandwidth to function in the distance learning
environment, which means additional investment in digital infrastructures.
The bottom line is that education is
evolving at an unprecedented pace both for traditional students and for a
workforce that will increasingly need education to be an ongoing part of many
careers. This will only serve to place further demands on the world’s digital
infrastructure, and given the enormous impact quality education has on the
potential growth rate of a nation’s economy, meeting those infrastructure
demands will be a top priority.
Learn more about our digital infrastructure ETF and the promise of 5G here.
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