It allowed 15-year-old Stella Owens from Jennings to make jewelry and start her own small business. It teaches David Onezine, 33, of Lafayette how to create his own website. And it’s helping teachers and students across Louisiana fill gaps in unfinished learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is the Internet and the many programs and platforms that make up the multi-billion dollar “e-learning” industry that has exploded in the last 18 months.
Owens used YouTube and Instagram to build ShopStellaRae while stuck at home during the height of the pandemic. Onezine uses templates and drag-and-drop tools on Wix.com to build its web presence.
Last spring, students at Eaton Park Elementary in Abbeville spent 30 to 45 minutes a week on Amplify Reading, an online, interactive program that aligns with the English-language arts curriculum used in many Louisiana districts.
And schools in eight parishes are testing the use of ASSISTments, an online math platform that provides teachers and students with instant feedback and assessment data. It was developed in 2003 by husband and wife team, Neil and Cristina Heffernan, who began their careers in the 1990s as middle school math teachers.
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, a “tenfold increase” since the pandemic began.
“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 grades five through eight at Homer Junior High in Claiborne Parish.
School officials said students are enjoying the format of the platform and its online quizzes, which they are taking during the extra time they were given for math this fall.
“Anything that’s on the computer engages them more,” said Master Instructor Alex Feaster.
Half of a two-hour daily block allocated to math at this school is for Accelerate, a tutoring program run by LDOE that integrates new information with required prior knowledge, and ASSISTments is used to support this.
Principal Courtney Smith said the program supports Accelerate’s efforts by helping teachers address unfinished learning from the previous school year and find a way to address it.
“It helps us by being very targeted,” Smith said. “It shows 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 that makes that easier.”
ASSISTments diagnostics and data are important tools in teachers’ tool belts, but what they do with those tools matters. They meet every Thursday to review and analyze the data.
“This makes the data more readily available to teachers, but they still need to know what to do with it,” Smith said. “It gives teachers the opportunity to have tools, but they still have to use their expertise once they have that data to analyze it and decide how to fill those gaps.”
More:4 new leaders in the Lafayette Parish School System you should know about
According to market research, most U.S. students (57%) used digital learning tools on a daily basis in 2019, which varies by grade level — 63% of high school students, 64% of middle school students, and 45% of elementary school students.
“E-learning is the future”
E-learning is not limited to the school building. The pandemic has also given a boost to the already growing after-school programs industry, thanks to more time at home during lockdowns and quarantines.
Forbes reported that Google searches for online courses increased more than 100% globally from mid-March to mid-April 2020.
“E-learning is the future,” says Forbes, and that future is different for everyone.
This growth is particularly evident in the market for mobile learning or e-learning on mobile devices such as phones or tablets. According to a global market report, its market value rose to $22.4 billion in 2020, nearly three times that of 2015 ($7.98 billion).
And look no further than the Goliath YouTube with its 37 million channels. The site reports that about 122 million active users watch more than a billion hours of video every day, and a 2020 Pew Research Center survey found that 80% of US parents of children under the age of 11 say their children Watch YouTube.
More than 70% of this watch time is on mobile.
The sales figures also show the growth of YouTube. The site generated $19.7 billion in revenue in 2020, up 30.4% year over year (from $15.1 billion in 2019). In the first quarter of 2021 alone, YouTube generated $6 billion, a 49% increase year over year.
More:‘It’s bad’: Families in Bayou Grand Caillou were left homeless after Hurricane Ida
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 has grown to 85 courses.
Users can access all courses for an annual subscription of $180. Most courses include 10-20 short lectures and last four hours, with celebrity teachers ranging from NBA star Steph Curry to celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.
During the pandemic, according to Forbes, some of the most popular courses were The Art of Negotiation, taught by former FBI negotiator Chris Voss, and a creativity and leadership course by Vogue’s Anna Wintour.
Others prefer to take the learning process in bite-sized chunks with “gamified” programs like Duolingo and Codeacademy, which teach language and programming skills in a video game-like environment.
E-learning continues to evolve as technology increases and user attention spans decrease. Microlearning is growing, as evidenced by new apps like Blinkist. It compresses non-fiction information into 15 minutes of audio and currently has 13 million users.
Aimed at individuals or corporate teams, LinkedIn Learning offers more than 17,100 courses and learning paths “for every step of your career,” according to its website, taught by instructors with real-world experience. Popular topics include leadership skills, spreadsheets, and visual effects.
Contact Leigh Guidry, Children’s Issues Reporter, at Lguidry@theadvertiser.com or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.