Education Amidst the Pandemic: The Role of Cloud-Based Learning Platforms in Continuing Learning and Instruction
Learning how technology can be used in education is not a new endeavor. In fact, global edtech investments reached $18.66 billion in 2019 alone, and experts predicted the overall market for online education to reach $350 billion by 2025.
Digital communication and cloud-based learning platforms have been around even before the health crisis. With that said, the global edtech market is still in its early stages. So when the pandemic struck the whole world in 2020, educational institutions from all over the world had to transition to the online space faster than they anticipated.
In only a few months, the pandemic upended the way people learn and teach, especially with the implementation of social distancing requirements. Students all of a sudden could no longer attend in-person lectures and gather in classrooms.
Furthermore, stay-at-home orders also meant schools had to be shut down and instructors had to rely heavily on remote learning platforms to continue delivering education to learners. As a result, education abruptly became based on digital communication and online platforms for millions of students.
Given these scenarios, the pandemic rapidly spawned and diversified the uses of technology in education. Some popular solutions that helped keep students learning even in the middle of a global crisis include virtual tutoring, mobile applications, video conferencing tools, and virtual computer labs.
The benefits of cloud computing in education amidst school closures and stay-at-home measures
As the pandemic compelled learning institutions to suddenly switch to distance learning, having cloud-based learning platforms in education turned from a nice-to-have project to a priority. Since students and teachers have limited to no access to physical campus resources, cloud computing is among the solutions colleges and universities implemented to give their learners and educators access to computer programs that used to run exclusively on more advanced machines.
This abrupt and widespread adoption of cloud-based learning platforms in education brought about significant challenges for its users. Some students without their own devices or reliable internet access struggle to participate in remote learning. This accessibility gap can be seen between income brackets within countries.
For example, students coming from a household with high socioeconomic status (SES) tend to have more access to digital learning materials and engage in regular educational activities more than their peers from low SES households.
Aside from this, teachers and educators themselves are also struggling with the abrupt shift. After all, their community needs to train themselves on how technology can be used in education first so that they can help their students do the same when classes start. Their familiarity and efficiency in using cloud-based learning platforms can greatly impact the quality of instruction they can impart.
With that said, this unprecedented shift to online learning resources also introduced many advantages for its users amidst COVID-19:
1. Continued education despite school closures.
One of the most significant benefits of cloud computing and web browser-based platforms is that they helped reduce the disruption of education in many higher education institutions. Even when students cannot attend their classes on-site due to university closures, cloud-based learning platforms and other web-based learning resources enabled them to connect with their instructors and complete their learning programs wherever they are.
2. Reduced reliance on high-spec hardware.
Cloud-based learning platforms do not require costly end-user devices. Rather, they can be operated well even on less expensive hardware, which is the kind usually readily available to both students and teachers. With this, schools that handed Chromebooks to their students during the pandemic can get the most out of their investment by letting learners use the devices as learning resources and virtual computer lab devices.
In the end, this allows all learners and instructors to access their learning materials remotely, no matter what internet-connected device they are using.
3. Fewer upfront costs for learning institutions.
In connection with the previous item, cloud-based learning platforms such as virtual computer labs also reduced the need for colleges and universities to purchase high-cost hardware and software licenses. Moreover, virtual lab solutions such as CloudSwyft allow higher education institutions to easily scale their learning platforms according to their actual enrollments, ensuring that they are only paying for the services they actually use.
Cloud-based learning platforms are usually customizable and flexible, and they enable learning institutions to maximize their cloud-based assets while delivering an accessible learning experience to their students.
4. Up-to-the-minute learning materials.
Another notable impact of cloud computing in teaching and learning is that it allowed educators to update their learning materials and lesson plans in real-time. All they need to do is coordinate with their cloud-based learning platform provider to make sure their program and instructional materials are up-to-date. With this, students get to learn using the latest and the best resources.
5. More learning opportunities for learners affected by the pandemic.
Students need at least a device with an adequate internet connection to access cloud-based learning resources. With this, they can easily acquire the skills and qualifications they need from prestigious universities to transition into their desired careers at no additional costs.
Online learning environments also enable students to use advanced software programs whenever they want. Before the pandemic, this has been a big advantage for those who cannot use on-site computer laboratories outside class hours due to their jobs or other commitments. Today, with the pandemic closing down whole campuses all over the world, this feature came to benefit every student.
All in all, web-based learning environments help make higher education more accessible to all learners regardless of their location, financial situation, or other circumstances brought about by the pandemic.
These are just some of the many challenges and benefits that learning institutions must recognize and address to be able to utilize cloud-based learning platforms more effectively, even after the pandemic has been resolved.
Using cloud-based computer labs to sustain practical instruction
One important innovation that helped support high-quality instruction during these unprecedented times are cloud-based computer labs.
Also called virtual computer labs, this innovative technology hosts a learning platform on the cloud to make it accessible to its users via web browsers. It gives both students and teachers the ability to use software programs as if the applications were running on their own devices, eliminating the need to access physical computer labs on-site. If you want to read more about how the need for cloud-based computer labs emerged outside of the context of the pandemic, you can check out this blog.
Virtual computer labs improve students’ access to robust software applications such as AutoCAD, Adobe Creative Cloud, and Microsoft Azure Console, for example. They also help provide a reliable and standardized learning environment to all students, regardless of the differences in their devices. So whether learners have a laptop, tablet, or Chromebook, they can have the access to virtual computer labs to complete practical tests, acquire job-essential skills and prepare for life after school.
Using virtual computer labs beyond the pandemic
Since vaccination programs are in full swing in different parts of the world, campuses will likely open their doors to their learners one after another. However, this does not mean that the whole system will transition back to its previous setup and abandon web-based learning platforms altogether.
Now that so many students and educators have been using online platforms to communicate, learn, and teach, it’s likely that they will demand for more cloud-based learning platforms and distance learning options even after the world returns to normal.
Online learning environments and cloud-based computer labs are indeed helpful during the pandemic. However, it’s worth noting that the benefits they bring can continue to be of help to both learners and instructors in the future. After all, cloud computing is convenient, easy to access, and affordable for both parties.
With the pandemic effectively demonstrating the countless benefits of using cloud-based learning platforms and virtual computer labs (although in an abrupt and overwhelming process), educational institutions now have the task of diving deeper into the uses of cloud computing in education. They must learn to further explore the possibilities that come with it to continue to deliver convenient, accessible, and ultramodern learning processes for all.
How to adapt and transition to using cloud-based learning platforms
As mentioned in the earlier parts of this blog, the pandemic not only hastened the move from in-person instruction to online learning but also made such a transition crucial for colleges and universities. Unfortunately, adopting cloud-based learning platforms seems like a daunting endeavor to higher education institutions, especially to those with lean IT teams.
If you are interested in implementing web-based technologies such as virtual computer labs in your institution, it helps to consider this move as a series of steps rather than a one-time event. On that note, here’s a brief overview of the actions you can take to start using cloud-based learning platforms and, ultimately, create accessible learning for all your students.
1. Develop a detailed roadmap.
Again, keep in mind that a move to the cloud is a series of improvements rather than a single event. This means that you don’t have to accomplish all your long-term goals at the same time.
On that note, it’s best to start your journey to the cloud by plotting every step of your cloud-based learning platform implementation. If you aren’t sure how to begin, you can start by listing down what you want to accomplish. Identify the IT infrastructure, assets, applications, and other processes you need to be able to consider your virtual computer lab implementation a success.
Doing these will help you identify and establish your key performance indicators (KPIs) for this project which, in turn, will help you make the transition more efficient.
2. Identify the applications you need.
The next step you’ll need to take is to identify the applications you need to host on the cloud. Different disciplines require different software applications, and you won’t need every single program that your cloud service provider offers.
With this, think about the programs your students need to continue their education. Do you have existing licenses for these applications? What return on investment can you expect by providing student access to these programs through your cloud-based platform this time around?
Answering questions like these guides you in getting only the cloud hosting services you need, removing unnecessary ones in your transition, and maximizing your investment.
3. Find the right cloud provider to partner with.
Now that you have a clear idea of what you need and what you want to achieve, the next thing you’ll need to do is identify a cloud service provider who can support your web-based learning platform requirements. However, finding the right one may be a challenge, and you’ll need to be meticulous in your search.
To help you out, here are some key factors to look for when screening potential providers:
- The tools they have available to facilitate the process
- Their level of experience in delivering cloud-based learning platforms
- Their experience in working with learning institutions with similar course offerings or specialties
- Their flexibility in scaling learning environments according to your enrollments or requirements
Integrating a cloud-based learning platform into your curriculum can be tricky, but having a professional service provider like CloudSwyft by your side can help you minimize transition chaos and make the process as smooth as possible.
4. Build your virtual computer lab or web-based learning environment.
Once you have your transition plan mapped out with your service provider, it’s time to build your cloud-based learning platform and integrate it into your curriculum.
The biggest challenge in this stage is that you need to introduce your cloud-based learning environment or virtual computer lab with the least disruption and over the shortest time possible. Fortunately, an experienced service provider should be able to help you not only build your learning platform according to your requirements but also easily integrate it into your existing systems. In the end, you can ensure a smooth and uninterrupted education for your students.
5. Perform regular maintenance as you move forward.
Once your virtual computer labs or other cloud-based learning platforms are in place, all that’s left to do is ensure they are optimized, secure, and up-to-date moving forward. Observing its performance and watching out for issues is crucial in delivering undisturbed learning experiences to your students.
Ensuring your online learning environments are operating without a problem helps your learners adjust to the new technology, alleviate their worries or difficulties in using such platforms and, ultimately, provide them with the education they need at their convenience.
Learn to implement virtual computer labs in your university to prepare for the world after COVID-19
The move from in-person to remote learning is nothing new. It’s been around even before the pandemic started. However, the pandemic declared in 2020 prompted students to learn from their own homes and even use their own devices.
Campuses may have been closed, but cloud computing helped them continue their classes and programs amidst the COVID-19 health crisis. Furthermore, cloud-based learning platforms helped higher education institutions reach students who had been affected by the pandemic, both directly or indirectly. But as colleges and universities continue to incorporate cloud services into their curriculums and course offerings, finding the right service provider becomes more crucial.
If you are yet to find a virtual lab solutions provider for your specific requirements, CloudSwyft is here for you. We are one of the leading providers learning institutions trust when it comes to implementing cloud-based learning platforms such as virtual computer labs. We have the technical expertise and industry experience to help you deliver your curriculum and get the most out of your online learning environments.
Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us or request a demo if you’re looking to adopt cloud-based learning platforms in education. Our experts will be more than happy to help you find the right solution for your institution’s needs and budget.