©  Tim Gouw @punttim

What Does It Take to Respond & Adapt to E-Learning in the Time of COVID-19?

FROM: Sara Lerota – 21. June 2020
© Tim Gouw @punttim

With the unfolding of the COVID-19 crisis, teaching and learning has experienced an accelerated shift to online formats. Some struggle to respond and adapt because of either digital inequality whereby they lack the connections and devices to learn remotely or the complexity of establishing management systems, communication tools, and e-learning platforms. While no preconfigured playbook can guide appropriate responses, others in Bosnia & Herzegovina are quickly adapting and standing to gain ground. This was possible thanks to the facilitation by the MarketMakers project of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

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The past decade has allowed the development of a variety of digital tools. Teachers, students, and families are still dealing with the immediate task of managing online classes and remote learning, in the confinement of their homes. Some, for the very first time. The COVID-19 crisis is reviving and accelerating the need to explore online teaching and learning opportunities.

How are institutions and people adapting to such a change?

In this blog post, we document the experience of the MarketMakers project implemented by Helvetas and Kolektiv. The project has worked with partners to support them navigate the changes, adapt to the complexities, and continue to learn and innovate.

Many are catching up, but adaptation is uneven

‘We have an opportunity to see how quickly the world can change,’ says Enterprise Development Agency (EDA), a partner of the MarketMakers project. Bosnia & Herzegovina has imposed a strict lockdown due to the pandemic. Many activities have shifted online, and people are starting to work and collaborate from home, whenever possible.

However, this adaptation wasn’t possible everywhere: many traditional business sectors and activities are still struggling to find a way to operate in these conditions. IT-related businesses and activities are probably the ones that adapted the quickest. For some, knowledge isn’t yet a mouse-click away. While for others, personal computers and an internet connection, in addition to a variety of software solutions, are essentially what is needed to operate, and the pandemic hasn't directly threatened those so far.

Teaching young people in Bosnia & Herzegovina web development through testing a new financial scheme for deferred payment is one of the IT courses that the MarketMakers project supports. This was an ongoing collaboration by the time the pandemic hit. At first, everyone was frightened. Two classes were postponed for fear of physical contact and spreading the virus. Teachers and students agreed to move online.

The first online class was organized using Zoom. Everyone participated from home and it went very well. The course has been organized like this for weeks now. Screen-sharing has successfully replaced the projector; webcams and microphones are transformed into a teaching room. The investment has cut back the time spent on commuting to the training and it can now be used to practice and participate in additional online courses.

Communication between teachers and students, and among students seems to be more frequent. Classes often last longer than the scheduled hour and a half (video calls are restarted twice – those who use a free version of Zoom know why). In between classes, an instant messaging application is widely used to share insights and ways to solve homework problems. The course continued without any significant problems; it even has additional students who joined a few weeks after the pandemic.

When a crisis offers more opportunities

Popular IT tools are being used in other sectors to overcome current obstacles. Interactions between IT and traditional sectors are creating mutual benefits. These interactions are helping businesses and people be more resilient – thanks to IT solutions, things haven’t completely stopped.

Tourism is one of the sectors hit hard by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. IT solutions support current efforts and future development in the sector. An example is MSG Group from Brčko in Bosnia & Herzegovina that created and offered the simple, but effective, Spotter app. This helps restaurants, bars, coffee shops, hairdressers, and other businesses in the sector during the COVID-19 restrictions, without data gathering or any hidden expenses.

JSGuru is another partner of the MarketMakers project, a leader in developing the regional IT ecosystem. They are currently present in four countries and growing. JSGuru believes that the COVID-19 crisis has brought not only challenges but also opportunities. ‘Traditional educational paths were having issues of adaptation to new trends even before the COVID-19. Right now, we are maybe looking at one of the biggest shifts in education in the last couple of decades,’ says JSGuru.

In other countries, similar things have happened – some of the best universities in the world offered their online courses for free. Companies with commercial products did the same. One of our clients in the e-learning filed, Mobile Guardian, has provided their classroom and filtering products to schools free of charge. This was an excellent opportunity to experiment both on the teaching and learning sides.

In Bosnia & Herzegovina, we are seeing more inquiries from newly founded startups to build their e-learning solutions, such as commercial video courses and acquiring new skills. This was actually a tipping point for many people to change careers out of the necessary or because they had finally had enough time to invest themselves in learning something new. For startups and entrepreneurs, the opportunity lies in the comprehensive solution that's going to address the most important issues like having a lot of people with an unreliable internet connection, lack of equipment, or having an all-in-one, easy to use and immersive tool.

The increasing interest in e-learning is a good sign for the growth of the sector and its contribution to creating more employment opportunities. An example is in the rise of hackathons & ideathons. Bosnia & Herzegovina was a host country for the Covideja2020 ideathon held in April 2020. One of the winning solutions was the Educor app, which enables online formal and non-formal education country-wide with an unlimited number of users and many other benefits.

MarketMakers also supported Elephant Solutions when they got inspired by the COVID-19 crisis to create relevant educational materials related to e-commerce and web-shops and also offer them for free to the local community. This has led to exploring options for creating a continual and self-sustainable non-formal training in the upcoming period. ‘You can always work on yourself. This was what my father used to repeatedly tell me,’ says Miloš, Elephant Solutions co-founder.

There are more and more concrete examples like the Digitalnovrijeme.ba portal created by one of MarketMaker's long-term partners BitAlliance. They offered a set of links and guidance for free educational and self-development related courses, video materials by local and international providers.

Conclusion

The most likely and indeed justified response to the COVID-19 crisis is saving lives and supporting short-term humanitarian efforts. Many ad hoc measures may be required to address the economic fallouts from the pandemic. The challenge often, however, is the lack of attention to a crisis in a more systematic way with a medium to long-term perspective.

As we documented in a recent blog, the MarketMakers project focuses on long-term results. This means that our level of activity from day-to-day remains the same because we are using our time to catalyze solutions that far outlive our project irrespective of current hiring behaviors. This is exactly what we are doing to use the pandemic as an opportunity for long-term results.  

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Sara Lerota is the Strategic Partnerships Executive in MarketMakers project. Sara´s primary focus in MarketMakers are IT and business process outsourcing sectors, and she is exploring partnership and co-investment opportunities which have a strong impact on job creation, skills building and boosting the ecosystem development. She enjoys supporting the growth of the startup & entrepreneurial ecosystem, currently as a startup mentor in Hackquarters accelerator (Istanbul, London) and cLab Ventures (London), a Western Balkans ambassador for Startup Ole (Salamanca, Spain) and continually through many other similar programs. She has, over the years, supported and coached more than 60 local and international IT startups, especially in areas of partnership development and business modelling.