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.
While the 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.
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