Parents are going to be feeling the squeeze this week as schools and universities close to combat Covid-19. During this difficult time no other ‘industry’ will be forced to innovate and adapt as much as the education sector. The immediate need is great: students need to pass their exams, gain qualifications, and maintain their learning curve. There is real concern that virtual learning will stunt academic progress and students’ social lives. Understandably this is causing a great deal of distress among parents, students, and educators. Yet it could be a blessing in disguise as the sector is in need of innovation, and it’s likely that Covid-19 will accelerate the development of the education system so that generations to come will benefit from the response to this crisis.

The problem with the current education system

The issues with the existing system are plentiful, and worth revisiting. For one, the student debt crisis highlights the need for radical change. The level of debt that young people take on for a degree – in the US especially – is increasingly disproportional to the returns afforded by a degree. Simply put, higher education should propel young people forward, not hold them back. Affordability is key, and digitally-led remote solutions can help offset this problem. Further, the need for education is different today than it was half a century ago. Sir Ken Robinson’s seminal Ted Talk explains how the current system was developed to cater for the needs of the industrial revolution. We’re in the midst of the digital revolution and the needs for education are increasingly unique to the modern context. As an example, learning to code is not a finite journey. It’s an ongoing pursuit, and people need to be trained and retrained over and again to adapt to the ever-evolving developments in technology. The old system doesn’t cater for such needs. Much like factory-lines, you are spat out at the end and not expected to come back unless you’re ‘faulty’. Indeed, leading tech companies such as Google, IBM and Apple announced in 2018 that they won’t be making degrees a requirement for hiring – a sign of change if ever there was one.

Virtual learning: a rapidly developing space

Given the wider cultural and societal forces at play, virtual learning is not new and has been developing for some time. In 2012 the New York Times announced ‘the year of the MOOC’, or massive open online courses. Coursera.org, one of the new online players – who announced it would be free for all universities during the Coronavirus crisis – has been gaining popularity for some time; particularly for global audiences looking to access higher-level education, or students looking to ‘top-up’ their learning. Similarly, at school level, most options have been complementary to the core education system. The popular Khan Academy has been working to become a more official part of the education system but it is still seen as a supporting resource rather than a singular option.

There are resources that do offer standalone education in a modern context. Google Learning offers free tuition to help people with subjects such as digital marketing. Samsung’s ‘not for school’ aims to provide education that focuses on creativity and entrepreneurship for modern industry such as holistic wellbeing or podcasting. Even our own wider industry has an increasingly popular offer through Marketing Week’s mini-MBA with Mark Ritson, which offers virtual MBA-level learning at an accessible price. These demonstrate that there is an appetite for learning experiences that are targeted to modern needs.

Impact of Coronavirus, a global testing centre, and the future of learning

To be sure, virtual learning was already on the rise, but the Coronavirus is putting these resources to the test like never before. School children are going to be relying on them to complete their exams and gain qualifications, and teachers will have to learn how to use online tools to see the academic year through. Parents will need to leverage these resources as they juggle being a teacher, entertainer, employee and parent all at once. Fortunately, organisations are innovating as we speak – Google and YouTube have just launched their teach from home service, especially assembled for this unique time. More are sure to follow.

While this is a difficult time for educators and students, it is also a unique opportunity to explore and understand how people use these online resources to develop better learning experiences that are more in-line with the digital age. What is in front of us is a global testing centre that allows us to understand what online learning tools and resources work or don’t work, in what context, and why. We should make the most of the turn of events and try to ensure future generations can benefit from what we learn today to better the education system of tomorrow.

For all the parents out there, below is a list of virtual learning resources we came across. And a meme to enjoy.

Khan Academy https://www.khanacademy.org

Especially good for maths and computing for all ages but other subjects at Secondary level. Note this uses the U.S. grade system but it’s mostly common material.

BBC Learning http://www.bbc.co.uk/learning/coursesearch/

This site is old and no longer updated and yet there’s so much still available, from language learning to BBC Bitesize for revision. No TV licence required except for content on BBC iPlayer.

 Futurelearn https://www.futurelearn.com

Free to access 100s of courses, only pay to upgrade if you need a certificate in your name (own account from age 14+ but younger learners can use a parent account).

Seneca https://www.senecalearning.com

For those revising at GCSE or A level. Tons of free revision content. Paid access to higher level material.

Openlearn https://www.open.edu/openlearn/

Free taster courses aimed at those considering Open University but everyone can access it. Adult level, but some e.g. nature and environment courses could well be of interest to young people.

 Blockly https://blockly.games

Learn computer programming skills – fun and free.

 Scratch https://scratch.mit.edu/explore/projects/games/

Creative computer programming

 Ted Ed https://ed.ted.com

All sorts of engaging educational videos

National Geographic Kids https://www.natgeokids.com/uk/

Activities and quizzes for younger kids. 

Duolingo https://www.duolingo.com

Learn languages for free. Web or app.

Mystery Science https://mysteryscience.com

Free science lessons 

The Kids Should See This https://thekidshouldseethis.com

Wide range of cool educational videos

Crash Course https://thecrashcourse.com

Bitesize YouTube videos on most subjects 

Crash Course Kids https://m.youtube.com/user/crashcoursekids

As above for a younger audience

Crest Awards https://www.crestawards.org

Science awards you can complete from home.

iDEA Awards https://idea.org.uk

Digital enterprise award scheme you can complete online.

Paw Print Badges https://www.pawprintbadges.co.uk

Free challenge packs and other downloads. Many activities can be completed indoors. Badges cost but are optional.

 Tinkercad https://www.tinkercad.com

All kinds of making.

Prodigy Maths https://www.prodigygame.com

Is in U.S. grades, but good for UK Primary age.

 Cbeebies Radio https://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/radio

Listening activities for the younger ones.

Nature Detectives https://naturedetectives.woodlandtrust.org.uk/naturedetectives/

A lot of these can be done in a garden, or if you can get to a remote forest location!

British Council https://www.britishcouncil.org/school-resources/find

Resources for English language learning

Oxford Owl for Home https://www.oxfordowl.co.uk/for-home/

Lots of free resources for Primary age

Big History Project https://www.bighistoryproject.com/home

Aimed at Secondary age. Multi disciplinary activities.

Geography Games https://world-geography-games.com/world.html

Geography gaming!

Blue Peter Badges https://www.bbc.co.uk/cbbc/joinin/about-blue-peter-badges

If you have a stamp and a nearby post box.

The Artful Parent https://www.facebook.com/artfulparent/

Good, free art activities

Red Ted Art https://www.redtedart.com

Easy arts and crafts for little ones

The Imagination Tree https://theimaginationtree.com

Creative art and craft activities for the very youngest.

Toy Theater https://toytheater.com/

Educational online games

DK Find Out https://www.dkfindout.com/uk/?fbclid=IwAR2wJdpSJSeITf4do6aPhff8A3tAktnmpaxqZbkgudD49l71ep8-sjXmrac

Activities and quizzes

Twinkl https://www.twinkl.co.uk

This is more for printouts, and usually at a fee, but they are offering a month of free access to parents in the event of school closures.