“Envisioning the Future of Online Education in Vietnam”, a conference that took place at Hoa Sen University (HCMC) on January 21st, brought together some of the education sector’s luminaries: YiChen Feng - investor representative from Lumos Capital Group (USA); Associate Professor Nguyen Ngoc Vu - Vice Principal of Hoa Sen University; Ngo Thuy Ngoc Tu - Founder and Chairman of the Board of YOLA; Truong Le Quynh Tuong and Do Van Nhan, representatives from online learning platform ClassIn; as well as lecturers, technology experts and other industry leaders.
ClassIn’s Quynh Tuong, a moderator, started by asking the audience to consider the role today’s teachers will play in building the future envisioned by EdTech developers.
According to Professor Nguyen Ngoc Vu, many in the industry are worried that technological advances will make their jobs obsolete. Yet Nhan Do, an experienced EdTech insider, assured the audience that such a scenario is highly unlikely.
In fact, he said, the role and aim of technology is to support, not replace humans. To see how current trends might play out in Vietnam, he invited the audience to look at the more mature EdTech markets where despite huge investment in the sector (globally, 60% currently goes to China, the rest to India), technology hasn’t diminished the role of teachers.
Who are the world’s EdTech unicorns?
YiChen Feng of Lumos Capital Group and ClassIn’s Nhan Do looked at the dotcom years when students in the developed world started using the Internet as a source of knowledge. Between 2010-2020, as online teaching went mainstream, the industry witnessed the emergence of EdTech unicorns. In the near future, they reckon, AI and machine learning will become a fixture in the online learning environment. Nhan also sees EdTech’s potential in helping fill the gaps in the traditional education model: accessibility, affordability, and scalability.
Nowadays, EdTech unicorns can be found mostly in China, North America and India. While all three are at the forefront of the EdTech revolution, the differences in their approach couldn't be more striking.
YiChen said that in the US, investors are mainly focused on content platforms, whereas in China and India it’s live tutoring (live-streamed lectures with immediate feedback) that is seen as the next big thing in education.
Vietnam’s EdTech sector is less dynamic in comparison. Although capital has been flowing towards traditional institutions, the process that started in 2007 has been slow to progress.
Post-covid, continued YiChen, Vietnam’s EdTech development is likely to continue along the B2B lines to help institutions build quality products: platform solutions, Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Student Management Systems (ERP). Then B2C models will follow with live tutoring and content sharing solutions.
Nhan noted that judging by the trajectory of EdTech’s growth in Vietnam, there is a lot of potential for the revolutionary products to emerge that will benefit learners the most.
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Is the online experience really that unenjoyable?
As countries went into lockdown last April, students and teachers were left with little choice but to switch to online learning. Unfortunately, the transition was far from seamless. Unimpressed with the quality of digital education, users took their frustration out on the online learning apps by giving them 1-star ratings.
Nhan sees several reasons for such negative reactions. First, it all happened too fast. Existing online lessons were not specifically designed for the online environment. To make matters worse, free video conferencing platforms are a bad substitute for the real classroom experience. As a result, students were quickly overwhelmed and/or bored with all the unnecessary content that teachers were sharing partly to compensate for the inadequacies of the available tools.
Nhan believes that this is where ClassIn can help. The team spent two years researching the traditional classroom experience before coming up with a platform designed specifically for educational purposes.
Apart from the video conferencing function, ClassIn provides a wide range of highly interactive tools such as attendance checking, assignments, exams, pair/group work, etc. that mimic how traditional classrooms function, which also helps maximize student talking time and teacher observing time.
He also said that ultimately the future success of e-learning platforms as a long-term strategy largely depends on an institution's leadership.
Lessons to be learned from the pioneers
Professor Vu agrees. Since 2014, Hoa Sen University has been pursuing a vision to become a “smart university” and has been using blended learning methods while investing in facilities and an e-learning platform that can run seamlessly on PCs and mobile devices.
At the end of 2019, ClassIn’s platform had 500.000 monthly visits. By February 2020, at the start of the pandemic, this number rocketed to 2 million and peaked at 6 million in April. And from June 2020 up to now, the number of visits per month has remained stable at 2 million. He stated that the pandemic was actually the much-needed push that helped change students’ mindset and their attitude towards online learning.
He also stressed the importance of ironing out the remaining wrinkles: poor digital literacy of both teachers and students; unstable internet connection; and patchy feature synchronization. Students’ self-discipline and classroom management also leave much to be desired.
Ngoc Tu of YOLA (Your Online Learning Assistant) admitted that YOLA has faced many challenges since its founding in 2009. The company’s first attempts to offer online courses in the Southern regions were not as successful as hoped as "online shopping back then wasn't a thing, let alone online learning”.
Between 2011 and 2016, YOLA doubled down on expanding their English centers and improving the students’ learning experience. So when schools were ordered to start teaching remotely during the lockdown, it took YOLA only 24 hours to move online and start providing virtual classes to about 3,000 students. The goal of 100% digitization was achieved.
Since then, in partnership with ClassIn, YOLA has been successfully delivering online classes to learners in secondary and high school as well as to older students.
The only way for EdTech is up
Nhan is sceptical about the shift to a 100% virtual education in the near future, but thinks the “Online-Merge-Offline” (OMO) approach combining online and offline aspects is very likely to take root.
Nhan predicts that 2021-2022 will see EdTech’s shift to focusing on student’s experience – a trend likely to reach Vietnam by 2025. Given the students’ preference for mobile phones and tablets, the “mobile first” design is going to be prioritized.
Professor Vu gave an example of his son, an elementary schooler, who has taken to this new environment like a duck to water. Apart from getting information from the internet, his son is collaborating with other students on school projects on social media, and these group chats were created by the students without being instructed to do so. Meanwhile, his role as a parent is to fact check and supervise. He hopes to see more teachers assume a similar role.
He also separated online learners into three groups: visual learners, observers, and experimenters. Knowing each group’s learning style helps teachers to structure lessons better and to include more interactive activities.
Tu shared that YOLA’s team has put in a great deal of effort into analyzing learning patterns of different age groups so that their online courses can reach every corner of the country. They learned that 5-7 year-olds have far shorter attention spans than those in secondary and high school. Also, online classroom environments seem to be more suited to introverts than extroverts.
Finally, she concluded that a collection of well-designed lessons and activities that can accommodate all types of learners, whether online or offline, would guarantee a smooth transition to digital learning.
In the future, teachers will become facilitators encouraging students to take charge of their own learning path. That is the ultimate goal of the student-centered education system.
This English edition is adapted by L A M.