By Andreea Andrei, Marketing and Business Administration Executive at The Cloud Computing and SaaS Awards

This article is part of an A to Z series by Cloud and SaaS Awards, continuing with E for E-Learning

E-learning is about teaching and learning processes that are carried out through the Internet, characterized by a physical separation between teachers and students, but with the predominance of both synchronous and asynchronous communication, through which a continuous didactic online interaction is carried out.

Over the last 24 months, the Covid19 pandemic transformed the way we live, work and study. E-learning has also been shaped over the last 24 months and digital technologies are used more and more to support teaching delivery.

The COVID-19 virus has rapidly spread on a global level, where the population found itself in a pandemic that gave a new shape to the world we knew. Closing frontiers and avoiding social interactions as preventive methods to stop the pandemic has affected the academic sector in a way that will be discussed in the following sections, deciphering the benefits it has brought.

Learning platforms explained

The definition of platforms presents it as a connection between individuals and firms that have a common purpose or share a common resource. This can be easily linked to the academic industry by looking at the definition of bringing individuals (students) and organizations (schools, universities) together to innovate and interact. The interaction between parts has been shaped differently after the start of the pandemic.

  • The assets, labour and activities performed by the platform was made within the physical buildings (teaching spaces, campuses, libraries, etc.). However, the shift to digital platforms used by the users of the organization – Teams, Zoom, and other collaboration and communication tools significantly increased in the past 24 months.
  • The sides of the academic platforms are the groups of individuals that have access to the platform, mostly being the staff, students, researchers, other academic institutions, etc.
  • The interfaces are a way of exchanging information between the platform and each member of the sides. The interfaces of any platform, including the academic organization have a core and periphery. The face-to-face communication in the commonly known language (in this case, English), the classrooms, timetables, module outlines, informal communication, such as coffee breaks and other concepts included in teaching and learning of this nature constitute the core interface of university, which are in fact interdependent. The periphery interface, also evolving around teaching and learning, refer to third parties and other materials that offer complementary dissemination of knowledge through emails, video meetings, etc. (formal communication), but also WhatsApp group chats, and other informal ways of communication.

The impact of COVID-19 on learning platforms

The impact of COVID-19 spread across multiple sectors, including academic sector, being a platform that has suffered changes while remaining stable in other ways. A heavily spreading virus that transmits through saliva, touch, etc. inhibited the academic platform as it will be presented below.

If it is being looked at the assets, labour and activity, they remained the same – the buildings, the teaching spaces, the digital platforms as Teams, Zoom, etc. were still present.

Nonetheless, it is important to understand that the pandemic did alter the level of usage of physical assets, such as the buildings, which were used less, as the organizations remained closed for a period of time and many individuals were unable to physically be on campus to use the buildings. This has lead to a significant rise of the digital platforms, and grew the importance of having a capacitated e-learning environment.

The digital platforms highly increased their usage, being essential for the members of the platform in order to still keep the exchange and connection mentioned in the previous section. Nonetheless, within sides, there have not been any changes, teaching staff and students remaining the same, even having exchange students (although still online).

Teaching delivery after COVID-19

In order to clearly understand the impact of the pandemic, looking at the core interface mentioned above is a must. Classrooms and common spaces have not been as present in the past 24 months.

This has deep implications as the interaction between students and staff switched from face-to-face communication to exclusively online. Learning processes were entirely digitalized, seminars instead of webinars, presentations and group projects were exclusively based upon digital platforms. Lastly, knowledge transmission, such as informal communication, coffee breaks, etc. were heavily reduced, as the interaction and social aspect amongst students was interrupted.

The design and delivery of the teaching was within the digital interface only, as the lecture rooms and teaching spaces were completely replaced by digital screens. The side effects of it include predominantly formal communication between members, different module delivery in order to keep students engaged via screen and adapting to new forms of communication (e.g. instead of face-to-face, communicating via Zoom chat only).

These changes affected the main sides of the platform: academic staff and students:

  • The staff had to quickly understand and adapt to this new digital-only interface, assuming the extra-cost of scanning the environment of their classrooms, teacher-student experience altered, as well as online interaction.
  • The students have been affected in similar ways: engage in an online environment only, switch to a formal level of communication only, lack of social interactions and tacit knowledge.

The aftermath of COVID-19 in academic institutions

An interesting view of posthuman capitalism, where offline and online world are intertwined is shown in the expression of an academic staff member, calling it “dancing with data. This is further supported by the digital structure claiming to connect individuals and organizations in ways not possible otherwise, creating thus the “onlife” concept – blurring the limits of the online and offline life.

All these aspects make it paramount for e-learning to continue developing and adopting more and more advanced technology in order to fulfill the academic needs of a contemporary world. The aftermath of COVID-19 demonstrated how the pandemic represented an opportunity for academic institutions to adequately embrace and take advantage of e-learning.

The future of e-learning

This aftermath also lays the ground for the metaverse – which could be the future of teaching delivery methods; its explosion and future being analysed by researchers. This soon expected-to-be reality is due to the explosion of the technology development, which is believed to touch upon the academic platform as well as other sectors, such as workspaces.

It is believed that this rapid explosion and development was influenced by the unexpected pandemic, rushing the merge of online and offline as a consequence of maintaining social distance. As seen above, the changes within the interfaces were contributing to such development, the ecosystems being prepared for a future where physical workspace will be fully supplemented by the virtual world.

Experts analysed the positive outcomes of the metaverse on an environmental, financial and social level, concluding that will overall benefit learning platforms, adding up even more to the high possibilities of such future.

  • The environmental benefits are due to reduce day-to-day travel to the workspace; thus, reduced transportation and pollution, eliminating geographic barriers and being able to perform large-scale meetings more frequently and easily.
  • Social benefits are produced by equilibrating study opportunities for students living in different countries, giving them equality of chances.
  • Lastly, the financial benefits are evident by reducing costs of transportation, travel, and time.

The technology wave is rapidly growing and the last 24 months have demonstrated on a global level how learning will eventually switch to what is believed a completely e-learning environment.

COVID-19 has been the determinator of moving forward in the online world, and has shown a rapid evolution and what could be considered a successful one, reshaping multiple aspects of the common daily life.

Recently, the shortlisted candidates of this year's SaaS Awards have been released, and we are proud with the innovative solutions we have seen from the shortlistees of these categories.

Shortlisted for Best SaaS Product for E-Learning 

Shortlisted for Best SaaS Product for Communication, Collaboration or Conferencing 

You can see the full shortlist here.