Online Learning During COVID-19: Growing Opportunities and Benefits for Self Improvement

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Robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence lead to the continuous replacement of human labor and losing jobs. The COVID-19 pandemic shifts the focus of companies’ development towards doing business online. Moreover, the pandemic has forced social isolation and led to unprecedented unemployment.

In this regard, what can a person do to remain in high demand in a changing world? What are the advantages and disadvantages of online learning and how to use them effectively for personal and professional development? How to use available learning solutions in the era of unlimited access to conflicting information from multiple sources on the Internet?

We will try to answer all these questions in this article.

A Brief History of Online Learning

The era of massive open online courses (MOOCs), which appeared in the open-access with lectures from the world’s top universities, dates back to 2011. Free educational materials from well-known professors, including Nobel laureates, became available to users with access to a computer and the Internet.

The fact was that despite such valuable and previously unavailable courses, the percentage of those who completed a particular online course was extremely low. According to a study conducted in 2013, around 90% of enrolled students have not completed courses. That was the main negative argument in debates about MOOCs’ perspectives.

Then, an interesting study was done by researchers out of Harvard, MIT, and China’s Tsinghua University in 2013. This study revealed that students who took an MIT physics class online and those who attended the traditional classroom showed relatively equal learning results.

Trends In Microlearning

Access to online courses has increased dramatically. On the heels of online courses from leading universities, an endless stream of micro-courses on various topics has begun.

A reasonable question arose again. What are the benefits of a micro-course that lasts only a few minutes?

There was no doubt that micro-courses can’t close the gap in obtaining the fundamental knowledge, sufficient for effective learning, and acquiring expertise. But this form of online learning came in handy for the corporate sector, where it turned out to be extremely important for acquiring the missing skills gap within a specific project.

Specialized Online Learning Programs

Despite the abundance of available online courses, users weren’t able to independently structure the curriculum for narrow specializations and particular projects based on available online courses.

The resulting vacuum has created new online platforms offering programs and specializations. For the first time, users could gain specialized knowledge from practitioners and industry experts.

Online specializations such as Data Science, Cloud Computing, Autonomous Vehicles, and many others have appeared. Thus, users who completed a particular online program had the opportunity to find a job in the company that participated in the creation of this specialization.

The New Reality of Working Remotely

There is another significant trend that affects the landscape of the required knowledge in the current reality. The COVID-19 pandemic made remote work from home the new normal.

In today’s environment, the need to work remotely is constantly increasing, which leads businesses to optimize costs by hiring remote employees from countries with a lower salary.

As a result, there is a growing competition between remote employees who have an equal set of skills, but different salary expectations.

Undoubtedly, preference will be given to those equally skilled employees whose salary expectations are lower.

The Need to Develop Soft Skills

Despite the existing solutions in online learning, another problem has emerged. Information became available to a large pool of people who, while acquiring it, get the same set of skills and knowledge. It leads to equalizing chances for people to get a competitive position in successful companies.

The accelerating process of automation and the use of artificial intelligence lead to job losses. As a result, the pool of equally educated people grows, and the competition between them for jobs is getting higher. In a world of constant change, companies need constant innovation in order to sustain their position in the market place. The innovation process requires employees to be a part of the company’s creative process.

We can be sure that among all things being equal, the choice of employer falls on the more creative job seeker. This inevitably leads us to the conclusion that employees with creative skills start playing an important role in companies. Employees who can promote and implement innovation and creativity will allow the company to remain innovative and competitive in the market place.

For this, it is not enough to obtain a specialization based only on hard skills. The development of soft skills is required.

The Most Important Job Skills For the Future

Understanding the existing challenges, an obvious question is how to effectively use the available online learning solutions for learning in a tough competitive environment.

If we believe that our most important asset is our knowledge, then an important role starts playing the rapid acquisition of the necessary and sufficient knowledge for its flexible application in practice.

The following elements of online learning play an important role in this case:

  • Skill mapping – a way to figure out what to learn now and in the future;
  • Soft skills – a combination of social skills, communication skills, emotional intelligence;
  • Project-based learning – a method that takes a learning-by-doing approach within a specific project;
  • Microlearning – an approach focuses on learning to solve one problem or answering one question at a time.
  • Concept learning – the study of theories or concepts as a separate unit of knowledge.

In the context of soft skills, the following areas will play an important role in the future:

  • Creativity
  • Innovation
  • Growth mindset
  • Emotional Intelligence

Lifelong Learning, Motivation, and Happiness

Everything written above is mostly about productivity in the learning process. Unfortunately, there is nothing mentioned about motivation.

Gamification in existing online learning platforms allows motivating its users to learn through various forms of competition and reward. Learning through playing digital games increases motivation and engagement to learn, making the learning process more interesting.

But nothing is more motivating than search for truth.

Once philosophers in search of the origins of happiness came to the assumption that the amount of knowledge equals the amount of happiness. Unfortunately, knowledge does not lead directly to happiness.

However, there are two essential components that are missing in the modern process of online learning and learning in general. It should be not only the effective acquisition of knowledge but also a motivation for lifelong learning. It becomes especially important to understand how to create motivation for learning throughout a person’s life when the internal and constant impulses are needed.

Perhaps, disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, which caused the disappearance of many jobs, will help to create a new generation of educational solutions that will lead people not only to knowledge but also to happiness.

About author

Vlad Buchnev has over 10 years of experience in finance, online learning, the nonprofit sector, and digital startup projects.

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