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MAR 19, 2020

How COVID-19 Is Digitizing Education in the Blink of an Eye

By Melissa McIvor
Unsplash/Sharon McCutcheon

These last few weeks, we’ve all witnessed how Mother Nature can bring the global population (and economy) to its knees frighteningly fast. Schools closed, events were canceled, theme parks shut down…then flights were slashed, borders were shut, and curfews came into play.

Parents found themselves at home with their kids 24/7.

University students no longer had access to classrooms or on-campus resources.

Companies began insisting employees work from home.

But humans are adaptable and, what’s more, love learning. Thanks to the digital age, innovations in all forms of education are springing up during the COVID-19 shutdowns.

Quarantine Days Are Not Snow Days

At the beginning of March, 99% of Japanese public elementary schools were shut down. After China, where the outbreak originated, Japan was the first country to take such measures, and while it may have seemed extraordinary in the moment, other countries across the globe fell in line like dominoes.

In fact, here’s how things look as of March 18, 2020:


Stuck at home for the foreseeable future with their kids, parents quickly leveraged social networks to share resources online, and companies picked up on the new trend fast.

Scholastic launched its Learn at Home website with “cross-curricular journeys” for kids. The New York City Department of Education, compensating for rapidly accelerating stages of lockdown, has a 10-day curriculum set up online for grades Pre-K through 12.

Of course, there’s more to life than book learning. Virtual field trips are allowing kids (and cabin fever-afflicted adults) to explore zoos, aquariums, museums, famous historical sites…even Mars (via NASA) and the Matterhorn (thanks to Google Earth VR). Some are hand-held walkthroughs, others live webcam stories. Many have been live for years, but are only now getting integrated into homeschooling curricula thanks to parents’ eagerness to keep kids both entertained and challenged.

Adults Are (Bored) People, Too

The online learning trend is by no means limited to children.

Universities, including GLOBIS, were quick to move classes online—a change that had been in the early stages of integration for many institutions until the virus threat. With no choice and little time to plan, instructors found (and continue to find) themselves diving headlong into digital alternatives, and students are proving how adaptable they can be.

“What has been most amazing about this,” says Darren Menabney, Business Presentation lecturer at GLOBIS, “is how quickly our students have adapted, and how much they loved it!”

Darren Menabney, lecturer at GLOBIS University, expresses amazement and delight at the success of the shift to online learning.

Even beyond universities, there’s plenty of demand for intellectual stimulation.

Coursera, the popular online learning platform, has used its “Coursera for Campus” extension to make learning free for campuses impacted by the virus. GLOBIS Unlimited, which offers online business microlearning, made its service available for free to corporate users, and has now opened the offer to individual learners through April 7. Other internet solution providers, including software developers, have started sharing previously locked software or slashed prices to speed up access to online environments for universities and individuals alike.

We All Need Arts & Leisure

A rounded education is key.

Virtual tours of museums, from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum to the Vatican, are just the start to bringing art into the home. The Metropolitan Opera—perhaps one of the last institutions you’d think would go digital for the sheer impact of the live experience—is streaming a free performance from its catalogue daily until its doors reopen. The Paris Opera has just announced similar plans to bring some of its top performances online for free. That’s hours of cultural entertainment in a single show!

Broadway stars and pop singers are streaming from their living rooms. Some are even on a schedule so people know when to tune in, such as Katharine McPhee and David Foster, who have promised to go live on Instagram at 5:30pm PT every day.

On the less traditional side of entertainment, a new Google Chrome extension called Netflix Party pairs group chat with synchronized streaming so people can watch Netflix offerings together from multiple locations. Teachers, parents, and other study bugs can take advantage of options like this to build communities around documentaries and other educational programs.

In short, there’s no reason these days of social distancing must be faced in solitude. We’re already tunneling to each other through innovative digital networks. And who knows? We all might just learn a thing or two before coronavirus passes.