The global Covid-19 pandemic has shown that adaptation is the key to maintaining communication in a rapidly changing world. Where travel has been restricted, Zoom calls have become the standard. Where lockdowns have been imposed, home deliveries have increased. And as home schooling has been required, educational technology platforms have flourished.
One such example of this is uLesson, a Nigerian edtech start-up that was recently reported by TechCrunch to have received an additional $7.5m of funding. The platform’s growth has been facilitated by the onset of the pandemic, local lockdowns, and the subsequent uptake of smart devices in homes across Africa. This trend has helped to create a readymade e-learning network, through which the company has wasted no time in delivering its content.
The uLesson distribution model also uses SD cards as a low bandwidth way to deliver its content across Africa. This is an important component in reaching people in areas where internet infrastructure is weak and technology uptake is low, because it offers a more traditional option in the battle to bring education to children in the time of the pandemic.
In the UK, we see similar options in play. The BBC announced on January 11th that it would be airing five hours of lockdown learning content on television every weekday. Since home learning was introduced in the UK, a debate has struck-up in the country about the disadvantages this poses to children from lower income backgrounds, who may have less access to home computers and smart devices. By bringing its programming directly to traditional TV sets, the BBC is able to leverage this more traditional (and low bandwidth) medium to complement its existing online education programmes.
More broadly, we find that it is the reapplication – rather than the reinvention – of communications technologies, that the coronavirus pandemic has necessitated. The first mainstream video conferencing technology for example, was introduced by AT&T in the US in 1970. Zoom was founded in 2011 by a former Cisco engineer, and now sits in people’s living rooms as their main portal to the outside world.
What these trends highlight, is that Covid-19 has had a significant impact on our day-to-day human interactions. However, while it’s tempting to see these changes as being the result of sudden technological advancement, it’s actually the application of existing communications networks that has shifted. Looking beyond the pandemic, to a world that should begin to open up again this year, the interesting trend to follow will be to what extent we return to physical spaces, versus retaining some of the new inbound distribution norms that have been created.