How has COVID changed the education sector?

Written by Samantha Rutter, CEO of Open Study College

Traditionally education is based upon the premise of being face-to-face but with all the possibilities of online learning, particularly given the current uncertain climate, distance learning and online education is becoming more mainstream and is proving to be just as effective.

COVID-19 has meant that schools, universities and colleges have been shut worldwide for long periods of time causing interrupted study and as a result, education has changed dramatically, namely with the rise of remote learning on digital platforms. According to UNESCO 1.6 billion children in 195 countries worldwide could not use their classrooms at various points during the pandemic.

In addition, redundancies have also increased due to the impact that the pandemic has had on a number of usually ‘buzzing’ industries such as hospitality and leisure. The Office for National Statistics reported that redundancies have reached a record high as 314,000 people have lost their jobs since July. This has had a knock-on effect of people wanting to retrain or upskill in order to secure future employment and career opportunities.

Whilst education has not come to a complete standstill during the pandemic it has certainly adapted by moving online.

At Open Study College we have seen a 25% increase in the number of students studying this year as well as a 30% rise in web traffic. These figures are fuelled by a number of factors including the development of new and higher level courses (now over 650) and reaching new audiences through our marketing strategy, but also, since the pandemic there has been an increase in people using their unexpected time at home to be productive and consider their future goals. As a result, earlier this year we announced a series of new staff appointments to further strengthen our team and to help us manage the increased appetite for distance learning and allow us to push on with our ambitious growth plans, both in the UK and overseas.

With the rise of people using digital channels to communicate and learn, not just for work but with their friends and family, we have also seen a shift in students selecting online study over our course pack options. In comparison to 2019, there’s been a 58% increase in people choosing to study fully online.

There has been little change in our most sought after courses including A levels, accounting and childcare however, we have seen a rise in people considering courses that could create a second or part-time job such as beauty and nail courses and counselling – these are the types of courses that are often a stepping stone for people who want to change careers.

During the pandemic we’ve been inundated with enquiries from people looking to find out more how they can retrain in a totally different industry after theirs was impacted so severely. Once we began talking to people we learnt more about the worry that came with retraining and the fears surrounding how they would take care of their families, and as a family owned and run business that really struck a chord with us. So alongside our flexible payment options, we developed a community initiative called The Big Help Out, to offer direct support to those who have been impacted by providing a career kick-start programme, full and part-funded scholarships, free CV support as well as free equipment such as laptops to help people get back into work. This is an ongoing campaign to try and help those who need the support to get back on their feet.

With the dramatic shift away from classrooms and lecture halls and urge for increased job security, we believe the demand for distance learning will continue beyond the pandemic, particularly as we become even more accustomed to digital solutions and more of a work-life balance fitting studies around existing jobs, childcare and home life. I also expect that we will continue to see people reflecting on their careers and goals and using the events of this year as an opportunity to develop themselves for their futures. At Open Study College we are continuing to take the insights we have learnt from COVID-19 to develop our offering further through the innovation of our digital services.