As school after school shuts down in the face of the Covid-19 crisis (in now more than 140 countries), online learning opportunities have been elevated from a bonus extracurricular facility to a critical lifeline for education.
The opportunities digital technologies offer go well beyond a stop-gap solution during the crisis. Digital technology allows us to find entirely new answers to what people learn, how people learn, where people learn and when they learn. Technology can enable teachers and students to access specialised materials well beyond textbooks, in multiple formats and in ways that can bridge time and space. Alongside great teachers, intelligent online learning systems do not only teach us science; they can simultaneously observe how we study, how we learn science, the kind of tasks and thinking that interest us, and the kind of problems we find boring or difficult.
The systems can then adapt the learning experience to suit our personal learning style with far greater granularity and precision than any traditional classroom setting possibly can. Similarly, virtual laboratories give us the opportunity to design, conduct and learn from experiments, rather than just learning about them.
That being said, the Covid-19 crisis strikes at a point when most of the education systems covered by the OECD’s latest round of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) are not ready for the world of digital learning opportunities. Below are some sobering numbers. The data were collected as part of the global PISA assessment in 2018, and are based on representative samples from 79 education systems involving over 600,000 15-year-olds. Unless otherwise noted, numbers refer to the average across the 36 OECD countries. Data not provided in this note are accessible through the PISA database