In response to the Covid-19 crisis, many EdTech companies and online learning platforms are temporarily offering their services for free and adapting their offerings to meet the current demand for digital learning tools and materials. One such company is the Danish startup CanopyLab – the EdTech startup is offering a 6-month free trial of their learning software to all educational institutions globally. Over the last three weeks they have accepted applications from more than 900 educational institutions, representing more than 1.2 million students.
Founded in 2015, CanopyLab offers an AI-powered social e-learning platform for developing competencies through individualised and adaptive learning experiences. It is designed with an integrated social network structure to enhance collaborative learning and built on strong Nordic learning principles. Additionally, the startup has focussed on the global learning community for youth, through their LAB-A learning platform with thought provoking content. Young people are able to take free courses, exchange ideas, gain new knowledge and practice competencies offered by 60 + pioneering NGOs in controversial and often neglected topics such as sexuality, sexual & reproductive rights, climate action, health, and the SDGs.
Covid-19 accelerates a new model for education
The trend towards adaptive learning has been amplified by the crisis. As hundreds of millions of kids and youths come online simultaneously, it becomes clear that students are at different levels in their education and that they learn differently. The one-size-fits all learning model is broken, and adaptive learning is part of the answer to that. As such, CanopyLab’s investments in AI have really paid off. They have almost entirely automated the process of creating a digital course. As long as you have your materials ready, it takes just minutes to make a course, which is useful in a situation where everyone has to teach, digitize, and learn tips and tricks about online pedagogy at the same time. Time is limited and reducing friction is more important than ever.
Digital learning: a passing trend or permanent solution?
With schools closed and students required to learn from home, lockdowns across Europe have caused major disruptions in education, from preschool all the way through to university. As schools cast around for means to ensure pupils do not fall behind on curriculums and exams, and parents scramble to fulfil roles as both breadwinners and impromptu teachers, the EdTech sector is being cast into the spotlight. However, it is not only distressed teachers and parents looking towards the EdTech sector for solutions. Without daily commutes and fewer social obligations, many of us have suddenly found ourselves with extra time on our hands, leading to higher demand for adult online learning materials.
According to research from Goldman Sachs, the current increase in the uptake of EdTech as a result of the global pandemic will not be a temporary passing. Rather, the crisis is accelerating an existing trend, into a megatrend. Whilst there has been a slow down in corporate learning, which CanopyLab founder, Sahra-Josephine Hjorth, expects will pick up again soon, big platforms like Coursera and Duolingo report an uptake of around 15 % in new users. Sahra-Josephine shared that the teachers the company works with have been asked to prepare both summer school and the fall semester online, even though schools are likely to reopen earlier than that. Of course there will be blended learning elements, but digital learning is here to stay.
On the digital divide and access to education
CanopyLab has seen a dramatic increase from 100,000 to 1.2 million users on the platform, and they expect the platform may reach 2 million users by the end of April. Sahra-Joesphine believes the company is in a unique position to add value to the global EdTech market. While most EdTech startups have been focusing on providing assistance in domestic markets, CanopyLab has always been very passionate about emerging markets and people who do not currently have access to digital learning.
“In a crisis it is natural for us to think locally. To protect those closest to us. But if those of us with a surplus of resources all think locally, a lot of people are going to be left behind”
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the CanopyLab platform was already used in 80+ countries, and 90% of the startup’s new traffic is from South America. Education systems are having to adapt quickly under current circumstances, highlighting the vital role that physical infrastructure and a preexisting digital learning ecosystems plays in the provision of emergency digital education. Unfortunately, COVID-19 results in even more inequality because many schools around the world are not equipped to offer digital learning yet. And of course there is the issue of lacking Internet access.
“I am not worried about the state of learning in Denmark. We’ll be fine in the long run. I am worried about all the other places that didn’t have big players in place before COVID-19. Those that have to build digital learning ecosystems from nothing overnight”
Nevertheless, some emerging economies are showing signs of innovative thinking and promising development. When Sahra-Josephine visits Peru she is inspired by the pace of digitisation – innovation centres are being built on campuses and the country has strong ambitions for the state of digital transformation by 2025. They critically reflect on the role of a campus and what the core offering of an academic institution is. In the meantime, there are things we can all do to help emerging economies and contribute towards closing the digital divide:
- We have launched a global ambassador program for youth who help spread the word about the school’s ability to digitize free of charge with us. Around 100 people are volunteering online right now through that program.
- If you are a member of an NGO, this is really the time to digitize your content, your potential audience has never been bigger and people actually need your help. Especially content related to mental health, health and sustainability/ocean is trending.
- You can also sign up and take free courses in the LAB. There are both courses you can take personally and courses you can use with your students if you are a teacher.
Read more about CanopyLab here.