2020 State of COVID-19 and Online Education Report

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted our daily lives in terms of how we work, shop, and spend our free time. It’s also dramatically impacted the way we learn. 

Schools country-wide closed their doors to students in the spring of 2020 to prevent further spread of the COVID-19. And with no end to the pandemic in sight, many schools have made the decision to transition from on-campus education to online education for the remainder of the year. But at this point, there’s no guarantee that in-person courses will be able to resume in early 2021. So, it’s no surprise that according to Aceable’s recent survey, which was conducted as part of this report, 72% of respondents agreed that online learning is the future of education

72% of americans say online learning in the future Aceable

It’s not just primary schools, high schools, and colleges that are moving online. With so many of us spending more time at home in 2020, online course options for career training, skills, and hobbies have increased as well. In fact:

  • 35% reported that the effects of COVID-19 have caused them to take an online learning course, 

  • just over 37% are currently taking at least one online course. 

Let’s take a closer look at what this means for the state of education in 2020 and beyond.

Virtual Learning for Higher Education

Most colleges and universities finished the 2019/2020 school year online, allowing students to complete the semester from home under the “stay-at-home” and “safer-at-home” orders issued by state governors. And with the continued spread of COVID-19 throughout the United States, 56% of Americans recently surveyed say all colleges should go exclusively online for the rest of 2020.   

Generally speaking, community colleges have been quick to announce plans to remain mostly virtual through at least the end of 2020. But many four-year universities have been telling students and parents all summer that campuses will be open for the fall semester. From an economic standpoint, this makes sense. Universities rely on on-campus students for a significant portion of their income (through room and board and even annual “campus fees”), while community colleges don’t.  

Universities also rely on much higher tuition rates than community colleges, which could be in jeopardy if they switch to virtual learning. Students expect to pay higher tuition rates for a traditional, on-campus university experience. So universities that announce plans to remain virtual through the end of 2020 are getting push-back from students who expect a discounted tuition rate to reflect the perceived diminished quality of the online experience. "Students often choose institutions as much for on-campus life opportunities as they do academic opportunities. Their leadership is well aware of that, and they understand that’s something students are considering," said Joe May, president of the Dallas County Community College District. Survey results revealed that almost half of respondents (49%) reported being open to taking an online course in higher education. 

There is also a legitimate fear among university students and parents that an outbreak of COVID-19 on campus could result in a closed campus regardless of every effort made to remain open. And with so many people suffering financial uncertainty due to economic losses resulting from the pandemic, the far lower cost of community colleges makes them an attractive alternative to universities in 2020.

How the 2020 Recession Further Impacts Higher Education

With the COVID-19 pandemic launching us into a recession, community colleges should expect to see increases in enrollment during the upcoming recovery years. A recent study found that enrollment tends to increase for community colleges during a recession, likely due to affordability and higher unemployment, which incentivizes members of the workforce to focus on their education until employers resume hiring.

Over the long-term, we will likely see an increase in online education as today’s instructors are adapting their material to the virtual classroom. With children as young as five years old practicing remote learning in 2020, it’s likely that the next generation will be completely comfortable learning via the online format, further increasing the likelihood of online education growth over the long-term. It’s no wonder that 85% of survey respondents agree that online learning will remain popular beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.     

Virtual Learning for Career Training

Online learning is also growing in the field of career training. Fifty-two percent of survey respondents said that, if they were taking a career training/certification course, they would be open to taking the course online. Furthermore, according to Training Magazine’s 2018 Training Industry Report, 82% of organizations conduct some of their compliance training online, while 28% conduct fully online compliance training.

Many respected professions have been utilizing virtual career training for decades. Take real estate for example.Online real estate schoolshave found a way to provide quality training virtually for industry experts, including real estate agents, brokers, and appraisers. The tech industry has naturally been another proponent of virtual career training, providing online courses to professionals working in digital mediums.    

Americans taking online course due to Covid-19 AceableAnd in the midst of the 2020 pandemic, Google announced plans to launch Google Career Certificates, which is designed to provide training for in-demand, well-paid career paths. These certificates could be earned in just six months, entirely online, and for a fraction of the cost of a college degree. Initial offerings include options for data analysis, project management, and UX design.

According to Aceable analyst Laura Adams, “Having the ability to complete training, career development, and certifications online gives students the ultimate convenience. Remote students have the freedom to learn in ways and on schedules that work best for them and their families. Being able to meet work and personal commitments while still completing the required or desired education could make the difference for parents with young children at home or those caring for ill or aging family members.”

With increasing career opportunities in tech and multiple industries seeing the advantage of affordable, efficient online training, virtual learning for career training is only expected to increase in the future.

Virtual Learning for Skills and Hobbies

Another area in which virtual learning is growing is skills and hobbies. Consider the following survey feedback:

  • 56% of respondents would be open to taking a hobby-related course online,

  • 52% of respondents would be open to taking a language-learning course online,

  • and 32% of respondents would be open to taking a driver’s ed/defensive driving course online.

The theory portion of any skill or hobby can be taught virtually in the same way that students can learn via textbook. But what about the practice portion? Can the practice of a skill or hobby be taught effectively online? 

With video tutorials allowing students to follow along at home, everything from knitting to woodwork to Taekwondo can now be learned virtually. One of the greatest advantages of online learning compared to classroom learning is self-pacing. With self-paced courses, quick learners don’t need to wait for the rest of the class to catch up before advancing through the material. And slower learners can take their time, watching video tutorials as many as needed, to fully absorb the material. 

Several states are now allowing online driver’s education courses as an option for students who are unable to take their courses in-person. And all-purpose online course platforms, like Udemy and Teachable, have popped up over the last several years to match skilled experts with e-learners in a wide range of skills and hobbies. 

Adams notes, “Getting personal and business finance education online is a terrific way to uplevel your knowledge and skills. Few high schools or colleges require students to complete personal finance courses. So no matter what information you need to become a better money manager for yourself or your business, there are programs on various learning platforms to fill in knowledge gaps. Since the pandemic began, I’ve seen an uptick of interest in courses that I’ve published on Udemy about managing debt and credit.”

Key Takeaways

Even pre-pandemic, online learning was on the rise. Many students appreciate the greater flexibility in learning (being able to work on their own schedules and from any location), and many schools appreciate the lower overhead costs afforded by online courses compared to on-campus courses. COVID-19 has simply given society an added push in the direction of expanding online learning options and proven that online learning is the future of education.

While four-year universities are comparatively hesitant to accept a move to online learning due to the interruption to their financial business models, community colleges, career trainers, and skill/hobby instructors are all embracing the change, offering more virtual learning opportunities than ever before.  

The survey for Aceable’s 2020 State of COVID-19 and Online Education Report was conducted online using Survey Monkey. The national sample of 1,043 adults spans across U.S. geographic regions and income levels and was weighted to reflect the gender distribution and the age distribution across the 18-44 and 45+ age brackets in U.S. census data.