In these weeks of upheaval, one wonders if life will be the same after the dust settles. While only the future will show us what is in store, education and, in particular, distance learning will certainly never be the same.

Traditional Classes Become Distance Learning Courses

As traditional classes in all sectors now become essentially distance learning courses, the education environment is being turned on its head. At ReadSpeaker we see clear evidence of this as it happens. We are observing an unprecedented increase in usage of our text-to-speech tools, which are an integral part of many distance learning systems.

In all areas across education, media, and personal online tools, ReadSpeaker has observed a marked increase in text to speech usage in March 2020 compared to March of 2019:

  • a 32% increase across Textbook Publisher Integrations
  • a 44% increase coming from institutions where ReadSpeaker is integrated into the Learning Management System 
  • LMS data specific to Italy shows a 165% increase, with one specific university showing a 100% spike

As a response, and to meet demand, ReadSpeaker has rapidly increased server capacity and has extended offers of help to institutions and individuals needing audio support.

The Coronavirus Has Caused a Sea Change in Distance Learning and Teaching

The Coronavirus has, in effect, already caused a sea change in distance learning and teaching. Students, parents and teachers alike, of all sorts, from K-12 to continuing education, are being forced to go online. And in doing so they are discovering distance learning technology and tools. Individuals and staff alike are finding both the structure of online distance learning, along with the accompanying tools that were previously unknown or which appeared too ‘complicated’ to use, are actually hugely beneficial. Post COVID-19, blended learning and online distance learning will become much more common and a strategic point for education institutions.

We are witnessing a tipping point in education, where traditional Institutions and classroom based Educators are learning that distance teaching and mobile learning tools don’t replace them. Instead, the distance learning experience allows students to learn in a different way. Educators should expect to find themselves required to use these tools moving forward, as Institutions discover online learning has now become a required piece of the puzzle.

The Education Audience Will Change

The education audience will also change, with unemployment creating a new population of diverse students. Individuals will need to reinvent themselves and will have the availability for higher education. MOOCs are already growing in popularity with web searches drastically increasing since the start of the pandemic. More and more people will be embracing long distance learning, either by attending distance learning colleges, or by simply integrating a distance learning element to classic course to create blended learning environments.

Accessibility and Equal Access Are Key Issues

With this changing environment and population, accessibility and equal access has already become a front line question, and will only become more important as time goes on, becoming a mainstream issue, no longer the domain of just the disabilities department.

What does all of this imply for the future of distance learning and teaching, and what conclusions can be drawn from it?

Just as Zoom has become ubiquitous as a communication tool within the distance learning landscape thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, distance learning structures and tools will now become ubiquitous with education. Learners will expect that  the online learning tools that they have been exposed to throughout this crisis will be incorporated into education courses moving forward. Administrators and institutions will need to ensure they are meeting the changing expectations of a new post Coronavirus world, and the tech-savvy learner.