EdTechX on COVID-19: The [Great] Disruptor of Education and Work

Team EdTechX
May 21, 2020 · 7 min read

On 12 & 13 May, the inaugural EdTechX Online Summit hosted discussion on COVID-19 and it’s disruption in education and work, driving the acceleration of virtual learning, training and remote work. The online summit enabled over 18,000 connections, almost 3,000 virtual meetings and 65 on-demand sessions featuring 114 global speakers.

Benjamin Vedrenne Cloquet opened the keynote address by describing the COVID-19 outbreak as a ‘Cerebus-like’ crisis, affecting health, the economy and psychology.

The crisis is also telling us that we are going into a new economic order. For centuries, a characteristic of dominant economies has been the ability to export their own crisis to the rest of the world and often come out stronger. This was the case during the previous financial crises in the US in 1929, 1987 and most recently 2008. A decade later, the US-China Trade War marked a new balance between the two superpowers. Today, we see a global economic crisis triggered by China alone, which perhaps signals a new era of leadership from China. It is predicted that China will not experience a GDP reduction as a result of COVID-19.

History tells us that pandemics affect populations for years as opposed to months and while the optimists argue we are better prepared now to deal with such a pandemic, pessimists would say that our open, borderless, fluid society is dream-like conditions for the virus to spread. COVID-19 has also caused human activity to stop almost entirely. 81% of the global workforce is now working from home. With the addition of strict social distancing and the threat of an invisible enemy, high anxiety and stress is generated across the population. Experts predict a second burnout due to mental health, stress and burnout — affecting the workforce post COVID-19 crisis.

However, this has also created the perfect conditions for the great digital leap in education and work. Bloomberg highlights that “this could be the biggest, sustained, mass experiment in online education since the internet was founded in the 1980s”.

In China alone, 1.52bn learners were affected by schools closing. The pandemic was treated as a national emergency and created a national taskforce early on called the ‘National Online Cloud Classroom’.They instructed large telecom companies and internet providers to provide enough capacity to support 50 million students simultaneously. This was also supported by curated EdTech apps and software solutions. Live broadcast classrooms on TV were used to reach rural China. This is an example of where EdTech went mass market in a very short, but also efficient time. As a result, all education stocks in China with a digital delivery component saw an increase in price by 25% during the COVID-19 crisis.

Google Classrooms saw a 400% increase in usage, +60% for BJU and Duolingo and +44% for Pearson. However, most of this growth is driven by non paid adoption. Many companies reacted generously by providing their EdTech solutions for free, however, may have missed the opportunity to prove they can monetize their scale. How ‘sticky’ this adoption remains to be seen and will depend on the product. It can be predicted that learning management systems, in-classroom tools, digital content and assessment will stick while video conferencing will see less ‘stickiness’. All will be net winners versus a previous COVID-19 world.

Within the workplace, the rise of zoom was just the tip of the iceberg. It is now reserved in history as the fastest digital service ever to reach 200m users. It reached the milestone in 3 months, six times quicker than Fortnite (100m users in 18 months) and overtook Instagram which reached 100m users in 24 months. Slack has also seen a 20% increase in daily messages sent on the platform and a week on week growth by 3.7x in March.

However, disruption in the workplace will be much deeper than the mass usage of video conferencing and collaboration apps. COVID-19 has made the future of work the ‘New Normal’. These changes will not only be driven by employers but also by consumers, who want to avoid human interaction and so encourage automation. Immediately post the lockdown, we will see a ‘Next Normal’ for the workforce which can be split into four categories. Firstly, some employers will never go back to the office again and will require solutions for remote support, productivity and connectivity. These workers will maintain remote work with increasing flexibility. Secondly, there are those who will see a mix on digital and onsite shifts, with a defined plan for staged returns based on the local context. Thirdly there will be workers who will learn to operate in staggered shifts. They are returning to work however, with increased work flexibility. Finally, there is the ‘Other’ category. This represents a large portion of middle management in companies. It can be anticipated that there will be large scale lay-offs but also the opportunity for large scale re-training and up-skilling, alternatively, there will be an increase in learning sabbaticals.

Charles McIntyre explains that in both business and education, there has been a rush for video to replace face to face contact. Yet this is only part of the short term cycle. The long term change that we will see is based on the behavioural change and willingness to adopt new solutions. These solutions will aim to enhance and not replicate the face to face learning experience.

Video provides less engagement and empathy and so bespoke content and adaptive learning and engagements solutions will the long term answer to learning efficacy. The clear winners in this space are online programme management systems, AI, and health care training whereas those who may lose out are solutions like student mobility and relocation services.

After the last financial crisis, more advanced economies cut spending to help repay debt, which meant prolonged agony for all as economies tried to recover. What we need now is focus investment to enhance technology and deliver improved productivity.

The role of students and their spend would play a part in this. The Average global GDP per capita has almost doubled since the 1990s. People have now chosen to invest in education. This is evident as the increased share of household income is spent on education. 25% of household expenditure is in education in Vietnam, 33% in Cote D’Ivoire, 50% in Nepal and 50% in Uganda. Whilst in high income the spend is less than 5%.

The challenge now is to enable affected households to still benefit from improved education despite economic circumstances. This is where the supply side of EdTech will benefit, with a greater reach in distance learning, improved efficacy and lower costs. This is particularly relevant for Africa and Asia who will deliver approximately 85% of the new entrants into education. Making EdTech work effectively will have a vast impact on the world’s youth of the future.

To make this happen we need investment. Over the last 10 years, funding has increased 10 fold and reached $5.4bn in 2019. 85% of education investment goes into EdTech and more than 50% of this was invested in the Asia Pacific. This is only a small fraction of the 1.5 trillion private equity capital. By 2025 it is predicted that the market size will reach $416bn in EdTech and will be the fastest growing segment, increasing by 2.5 over 5 years.

What we are seeing now is a digital transition in education and work. When digital becomes mainstream, live and experiential experiences become premium. This can be seen in eSports and music. Education and work will not be the exception. A survey of those who worked remotely published that 40% reported loneliness and missing the interaction with colleagues. COVID-19 is showing us this also. This is a sign of much greater disruption in 2020, where digital capitalism has become mainstream.

For a limited time, watch the opening insights keynote on the EdTechX website. Access all 60+ on demand keynotes, panel discussions and Your Questions Answered sessions within the EdTechX Online platform here >

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