Pandemic fuels growth in e-learning as students, adults learn skills online

The internet and the many programs and platforms have come to make up the multi-billion-dollar "e-learning" industry that has exploded over the last 18 months, spurred as many transitioned to learning from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It allowed 15-year-old Stella Owens of Jennings to make jewelry and start her own small business. It's teaching David Onezine, 33, of Lafayette to create his own website. And it's helping teachers and students across Louisiana overcome gaps from unfinished learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's the internet and the many programs and platforms that have come to make up the multi-billion-dollar "e-learning" industry that has exploded over the last 18 months.

Owens used YouTube and Instagram to build ShopStellaRae while stuck at home during the height of the pandemic. Onezine is using templates and drag-and-drop tools on to build his web presence.

Last spring students at Eaton Park Elementary in Abbeville spent 30 to 45 minutes a week on Amplify Reading, an interactive online program that corresponds with the English language arts curriculum many districts in Louisiana use.

And schools in eight parishes are piloting the use of ASSISTments, an online math platform that provides immediate feedback and assessment data to teachers and students. It was developed in 2003 by husband and wife Neil and Cristina Heffernan, who began their careers as middle school math teachers in the 1990s.

Neil Heffernan, now a professor of computer science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, said half a million children are doing classwork and homework on ASSISTments every day, which represents a "tenfold increase" since the start of the pandemic.

'We have to be focused'

After partnering with the Louisiana Department of Education, more than 1,600 teachers in the state are actively using ASSISTments, including students in fifth through eighth grades at Homer Junior High in Claiborne Parish.

School leadership said students are enjoying the format of the platform and its online quizzes, which they take during the extra time they've been given for math this fall.

"Anything that is on the computer they are more engaged with," master teacher Alex Feaster said.

Half of a two-hour daily block allotted for math at this school is for Accelerate, a tutoring program from LDOE that integrates new information with the needed prior knowledge, and ASSISTments is being used to support that.

Principal Courtney Smith said the program supports the Accelerate effort by helping teachers hone in on any unfinished learning from the previous school year and come up with a way to address it.

"It helps us by being very targeted," Smith said. "It pinpoints exactly where they need that extra support. It takes the guesswork out of it.

"With COVID and all the struggles we've had with unfinished learning, we have to be focused, and this makes that easier."

ASSISTments' diagnostics and data are important tools in teachers' toolbelts, but it's what they do with those tools that matter. They meet every Thursday to review and analyze the data.

"It's making the data more readily available for teachers, but they still need to have the knowledge of what to do with it," Smith said. "It's allowing teachers to have tools, but they still have to use their expertise once they have that data to analyze it and decide how to address those gaps."

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According to market research, most U.S. students (57%) were using digital learning tools daily by 2019, which breaks down differently by school levels — 63% of high-schoolers, 64% of middle-schoolers and 45% of elementary students.

'E-learning is the future'

E-learning isn't confined to the school house. The pandemic served as a boost to the already growing industry of non-school programs as well, thanks to more time at home during lockdowns and quarantines.

Forbes reported that Google searches for online courses increased by more than 100% across the world from mid-March to mid-April 2020.

"E-learning is the future," according to Forbes, and that future looks different to different people.

That growth is especially evident in the mobile learning market, or e-learning on mobile devices like phones or tablets. Its market worth rose to $22.4 billion in 2020, nearly three times higher than its worth in 2015 ($7.98 billion), according to a global market report.

And look no further than the goliath YouTube and its 37 million channels. The website reports about 122 million daily active users consume more than a billion hours of video every day, and a 2020 Pew Research Center survey found that 80% of U.S. parents of children under 11 years old claim that their kids watch YouTube.

More than 70% of that watch time takes place on mobile devices.

Revenue figures also show YouTube's growth. The website generated $19.7 billion in revenue in 2020, a 30.4% increase year-on-year (from $15.1 billion in 2019). In just the first quarter of 2021, YouTube generated $6 billion, a 49% increase year-on-year.

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Some looking to learn new skills dive into online courses with programs like MasterClass. Since launching in 2015, it has raised a total of $240 million and grown to offer 85 courses.

Users can get access to all its courses for a $180 annual subscription. Most courses include 10-20 short lectures and run four hours, with celebrity teachers ranging from NBA star Steph Curry to famous chef Gordon Ramsay.

Over the pandemic, some of the most popular courses have been The Art of Negotiation, taught by former FBI negotiator Chris Voss, and a creativity and leadership course by Vogue’s Anna Wintour, according to Forbes.

Others prefer to take the learning process in bite-size pieces with "gamified" programs like Duolingo and Codeacademy, which teach language and coding skills in a video game-like environment.

E-learning continues to evolve, as technology increases and users' attention spans descrease. "Microlearning" is growing, evident in new apps like Blinkist. It condenses information from nonfiction books into 15 minutes of audio, and it currently has 13 million users.

LinkedIn Learning caters to individuals or business teams offering more than 17,100 courses and learning paths "for every step of your career" taught by instructors with real-world experience, according to its website. Popular topics include leadership skills, spreadsheets and visual effects.

Contact children's issues reporter Leigh Guidry at or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Pandemic fuels growth in e-learning as many learn skills online