We are all wondering what the future of e-learning is in 2020. SkillsFuture Singapore, a statutory board promoting lifelong learning under the Ministry of Education, identified key trends in the “new normal” during the COVID-19 pandemic and published them in “Re-Imagining the Way We Live, Work, and Learn Post-COVID.”
Authored by Guo Xiangcen, Fiona Lim, Low Meishan of the Skills Development Group. The following are some of SkillsFuture Singapore’s findings on the future of e-learning:
The accelerated adoption of technology and innovation has resulted in behavior and consumption changes during this COVID-19 period. Re-imagining how we live, work and learn post-COVID-19 stems from the identification of key trends that have already become pervasive and are now characterized as the new normal.
Even if vaccines are found there will not be a complete reversal to pre-pandemic days. These mainstreamed new normals will impact industry, jobs, and skills development moving forward.
The COVID-19 global pandemic resulted in abrupt school closures in over 180 countries. In Singapore, Home Based Learning was fully implemented faster than any previous EdTech blueprint aimed at integrating technologies into learning or classroom.
Training and Education
The Training and Adult Education sector also mandated all Continuing Education and Training to be conducted via virtual classrooms and other forms of e-learning. All training providers were required to implement the right edtech infrastructure, pedagogical instruction, curriculum, training, and assessment to online and e-learning modes.
In the new normal, the e-learning sector sees opportunity for great growth. SkillsFuture Singapore doesn’t expect all learning and education will just take place online. Hybrid modes will be more likely, and both online-offline learning and education structures will be established for the future of education, learning, and Continuing Education and Training.
Trends and tech adoption
The pandemic resulted in rapid and significant adoption of video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and Cisco Webex.
Online learning software ranging from virtual tutorials to applications that make lessons more interactive (videos, games, quizzes such as Kahoot, Quizlet, Socrative) were also used. With the arrival of COVID-19, video conferencing and online learning tools enabled schools and adult education centers to conduct e-instruction and e-learning. Singapore’s tuition centers and private tutors have also gone online to continue their tutoring businesses.
From SkillsFuture Singapore’s observations, K-12, Institutes of Higher Learning, and training providers have somewhat transitioned to delivering e-learning. For e-learning to be more seamless and effective, education technologies would need to be developed in areas where there are challenges, such as in instruction, learning engagement, pedagogical design, and assessment.
There have been bubbles of innovation across different EdTech provisions leveraging technologies. For more personalized learning, adaptive Artificial Intelligence (AI) learning models are used. Driven by learners’ data, instructors are able to assess a learner’s performance.
Such adaptive learning models are used in the tuition and after-school enrichment programs elsewhere in Asia, such as in China and South Korea. Wearables and IoT (internet of things) sensors can provide insights to the instructor on how well a learner is coping in the learning journey, for more targeted and differentiated instruction, or for learning stress management.
AI can also be used to enrich learner engagement through bots. Chatbots and voice-assistant bots could effectively replace manuals and help learners navigate learning platforms more easily.
Augmented and Virtual Reality
Other ways to engage the learners include the applications of AR/VR and avatars in learning simulations. AI applications are increasingly being used to make recommendations for learning for various online courses and can project learning pathways based on one’s skills or one’s desired careers.
In Singapore and globally, such applications have already been trialed and launched by human resources tech firms such as JobTech or workforce analytics firms like Burning Glass Technologies (BGT) and LinkedIn.
In the areas of Continuing Education and Training provision, there are opportunities for innovation in course models. SkillsFuture Singapore observed that online learning is no longer based on a pay-per-course model. Providers such as LinkedIn Learning, Pluralsight, CodeAcademy, and Degreed are offering subscription-based models or as a value-added feature. For instance, as a paid member of LinkedIn, users get access to other LinkedIn benefits as well as access to the suite of unlimited courses offered by LinkedIn Learning.
Such different business models will continue to fuel demand for e-learning. In fact, several Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) providers have also made available their programs free-of-charge for learners during the COVID-19 pandemic. As e-learning becomes the new normal, SkillsFuture Singapore foresees different B2C and B2B innovations, which would lead to greater access for e-learning.
Future of e-learning 2020 and workforce ecosystem
With COVID-19’s strain on the economy, there will likely be more shedding of jobs and the acceleration of structural unemployment. This has already led to an increased focus on re-skilling brought about by governments. There would also be a significant push of new capabilities of providers to include employment facilitation.
Continuing education and workforce provision are ecosystemic players. These businesses enable a whole value-chain of learning-employment facilitation, serving not just the individuals, but also the industry and the businesses.
There is a coupling together of understanding of the jobs-skills insights and what the industries require, followed by an adaptive curriculum, e-delivery and instruction, facilitation of even e-internships, and then the placement into a role.
Ecosystem players like Generation by McKinsey, Epitome (previously known as CXS international), and Chinese education conglomerates are charting the way forward in such new business models, incorporating e-learning in the midst.
B2B business models will also continue to morph, especially as enterprises gear up for further transformation and post-COVID continuity, and as lifelong learning and reskilling are now being viewed as an economic imperative.
While some forms of workplace learning may require face to face training, EdTech will continue to make e-learning and other hybrid forms of learning possible. The adoption of simulators, AR/VR technologies, IoT sensors, will continue to push the boundaries of e-learning and other blended forms of learning.
It is thus worth understanding what EdTech firms and startups are focusing on in the Continuing Education and Training space. A recent March CB Insights report highlights 11 areas and 50+ EdTech firms offering employment support services such as performance coaching; content and research platforms; creative, craft-based learning in areas like culinary arts, film-making, and acting.
Pivoting Key Jobs, New and Hybrid roles
The current Singapore Skills Framework for Training and Adult Education highlights 13 key job roles, which would continue to be relevant, but would need to incorporate the essence of understanding e-learning and edtech from both a business model and what learners would need.
Job roles such that will continue to be in demand as institutions increasingly embrace e-learning:
- courseware developer
- curriculum lead
- learning consultant/solutionist
- learning facilitator
- learning quality manager
- learning system manager
- learning tech designer
The lifelong learning educational career guidance and employment facilitation professionals will also be emerging roles in the e-learning ecosystem, and they would need to acquire new skills to work with e-employment facilitation, including understanding the job-market and help the Continuing Education and Training learners move into reskilling and career placements via online platforms.
Education analysts and education technologists roles could increasingly see increased demand. With more online learning data and the understanding of online education behaviors, the education analysts would be able to study e-learning behaviors and sciences, further breakthroughs in e-learning pedagogies as well as for e-learning product development. The education technologist integrates and advises on how technologies like AI and AR/VR could be further applied for effective e-learning.
SkillsFuture Singapore foresees that mental health counselors might play a bigger role in the e-learning and education sector overall, with the pandemic causing unprecedented levels of stress to learning. Companies offering virtual mental health care say they are seeing a massive surge in interest. Certainly, mental health care will affect all segments of society, including e-learning professionals as well as for the learners.
Jobs supporting skills development in the short to mid term
Most immediately, leveraging digital tools to conduct e-learning is experimentation and assessing which platform works the best. Basic digital literacy and a curious mind would enable the instructor and facilitator to know how to use digital tools. There would also be many available resources from YouTube tutorials.
In the short to medium-term, the skills required for e-learning professionals must include skills such as e-pedagogical design, e-facilitation, managing e-fatigue, data analysis, communication with stakeholders, and the continual use and incorporation of digital technologies and applications into learning instruction.
With a greater focus on e-learning, education wellness, and counseling skills, as well as lifelong learning career guidance and e-employment facilitation will continue to be the in-demand skills for the education sector.
The e-employment facilitation professionals would also need to know how to prepare the Continuing Education and Training learners for online interviews, coach them on the dos-and-don’ts of online decorum, and most importantly, understand enough about the industry to help the Continuing Education and Training learners and employers bridge the employment gap.
For EdTech businesses and the Training and Adult Education providers, the application of technologies for e-Learning, and understanding what businesses need for continuity and sustainability post-COVID-19 remains crucial. This also includes the understanding and analysis of jobs and skills insights within the different industries or sectors they serve.
Businesses and the workforce are navigating uncertainties and transforming post-COVID. EdTech training businesses and Adult Education providers must continually re-invent themselves to be a solution partner to help businesses and their workforce transform and provide value in talent and skills solutions.
Singapore SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) drives and coordinates the implementation of the national SkillsFuture movement. It promotes a culture of lifelong learning and promotes a quality ecosystem of adult education and training in Singapore. Through a holistic system of national SkillsFuture initiatives, SSG enables Singaporeans to take charge of their learning journey in their pursuit of skills mastery.
SSG also works with key stakeholders to ensure that students and adults have access to high quality and industry-relevant training. This meets the demands of different sectors of the economy for an innovative and productive workforce. For more information, visit www.ssg.gov.sg