In a previous article, I mentioned how students struggled with remote learning when it was not thoughtfully designed and student-oriented. After witnessing a turbulent and unique year of online learning, I recently began to reflect on the differences between face-to-face learning in physical classrooms and synchronous learning in an interactive online environment. Analyzing surveys and collecting feedback from education providers, I noticed that online learning has positively reshaped education by bringing flexibility to students and teachers, and adding both pedagogical and commercial value to school systems and commercial providers.
Online education is outperforming its traditional classroom counterpart
Evidence of student preference for the online classroom is mounting. According to a study conducted by Wiley, 79% of college students who have experienced both in-person and virtual classrooms felt their online experience is as good or better than attending courses on campus. That even included 41% who felt it was a superior experience. Kaplan Test Prep conducted a Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey among high school students that showed a consistent six to eight point preference for its Live Online Programs versus their in-person counterparts.
There is also evidence to suggest that online education can yield better learning outcomes, especially when it is scientifically designed, competency-based, and student-centered. Gallup has compared the outcomes of Western Governors University (WGU) graduates with those from other institutions and found WGU’s fully online program stacked up better than traditional face-to-face programs. The full-time employment rate of WGU’s graduates is 21% points higher than the national average. 77% of WGU alumni were also found to be thriving in overall life quality, compared to 56% nationally. At law schools, the average first-time pass rate for online learners taking California’s First Year Student Law Exam (FYSLE) was 34.8%, more than twice of 17.1% for the traditional on-the-ground law schools in the state.
Online education brings flexibility and removes many constraints
One of the main reasons students turn to online courses is the flexibility and convenience. Not bound by location or a specific schedule, students gain control over their own pace of learning since they can access quality content anywhere, at any time. Enrolled in online courses, working professionals save commute time and can balance their work and study, as there is less likelihood of outside scheduling conflicts. Multiple school districts also reported that K12 students have gained more sleep time when they stayed at home learning remotely during the pandemic, resulting in improved health conditions and concentration during class. Since online lessons can be recorded, those students who missed previous sessions can simply play back the lesson and catch up at their own pace.
Online learning not only breaks down the barriers of time and space for students, but also educators and schools. Embracing remote instructions, educators can choose to work in regions with a lower cost of living, which makes schools easier to retain quality teachers with a limited budget. Online education also makes it easier to provide true one-on-one time with individual students. Many teachers use asynchronous sessions and break-out rooms to engage the whole class, while hosting a private and uninterrupted session with individual students in need. This ability to keep the larger class engaged while working with other students one-on-one is often more challenging in-person. Online classes also have the potential to make participation less intimidating for some students, according to a journal article from California State University – San Bernardino.
With expanding broadband access and more digital devices distributed to students, online education can be a great supplement to in-person while improving educational equity and accessibility. Through the internet, EdTech companies can distribute high-quality learning content to rural areas or understaffed schools and connect students with experienced educators, who could be a scarce resource locally. I’ve already seen tutoring providers like The Princeton Review partnering with schools and offering online test prep programs for students and professional development for teachers to create a college-going culture. In an effort to make higher education more affordable, colleges are also partnering with massive open online course (MOOC) and online program management (OPM) providers to offer online learning, addressing the mounting student debts in the United States.
Online learning provides commercial value to education providers
Online education enhances the user experience with its flexibility. Students can book after-school tutoring sessions that work with their own schedule and receive real-time guidance and feedback on-demand. Language learners can be exposed to different cultures by interacting with global peers online and experience an immersive learning environment when connected with native speakers from foreign countries. These online offerings can boost customer retention and satisfaction, opening up opportunities for business growth.
The online model is also a nimble and scalable way to operate an education business. Without the need to manage brick-and-mortar learning centers, providers save the overhead of rental costs and further improve their gross margin. The saved money can either be reinvested in R&D, improving the user experience, or leveraged to drive down the price, making education more affordable and business more competitive. As online educational content can be easily distributed, market players can test the water in unexploited markets and rapidly expand the business to other regions without capital-intensive up-front investment.
Outlier.org, a startup offering intro-level college courses online, has disrupted the traditional higher education with its affordability and flexibility intrinsic to digital learning experiences. With a total funding of $46 million from top tier VCs like Google Ventures and GSV, Outlier.org allows students to access some of the best instructors, on-demand, at the cost of $400 per course, 80% less than the average cost of in-person college courses. Besides making higher education more equitable and accessible, Outlier.org also brings an immersive and interactive digital learning experience to students as they can interact remotely with peers from different regions and receiving guidance from multiple instructors per class. It is inspiring to see Outlier.org successfully leveraged cohort-based offerings to engage online students and addressed the challenges of in-person learning while creating a thriving business.
The best way to launch an effective online learning platform
With the flexibility and commercial benefits of online education, I believe we have already reached a tipping point to implement online programs and maximize learning outcomes and business success.
As the Education Lead at Agora, I am proud to see Agora supporting many leading global education providers. Our expertise in real-time communication helps to launch interactive live classes with high quality, low latency video and audio. During the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, we teamed up with New Oriental and transitioned one million students to a stable, interruption-free online classroom. Our SDKs and APIs have allowed EdTech companies to build custom, branded online learning platforms that work even in the most challenging network conditions.
To support education providers with different development capabilities, Agora has also recently launched Flexible Classroom, a low-code solution that shortens time to market. Please visit our Flexible Classroom page to learn more or talk to us so we can help you assemble a robust and feature-rich virtual classroom.