School closures and educational technology: what are people searching for?

So much has changed about everyday life, for so many people, in recent weeks. As part of the measures introduced this month to try to curtail the spread of Covid-19 as much as possible, school closures have been introduced across the globe. At the time of writing, UNESCO estimates that around 87% of the total enrolled learners – that’s over 1.5 billion learners – are currently affected by school closures.

Consequently, there has been a wave of interest in distance education approaches, which are often associated (but not synonymous) with some form of educational technology. But which topics have been the focus of internet searches? This is something which I wanted to explore a little; it’s potentially useful to know in order to tailor support for the searchers, and also to document part of the massive shift we are seeing in education at the moment.

To do so, I’ve been looking at Google Trends. Below is a chart of the relative levels of interest worldwide, over the past month, for five terms – e-learning, online learning, distance learning, remote learning, and homeschooling (below). A ‘live’ version of the chart can be found here. Note that this list isn’t exhaustive, and I did search for some other terms and variations but didn’t include them here as interest was low or continued at its usual rate (e.g. “distance learning” is included here as it had a noticeable jump in interest, whereas “distance education” did not). However, these were terms which showed a marked spike during the week in which many school closures were announced.

 

I also looked into trends around particular types of educational technology, although this was more challenging as there are so many possibilities to search for. With a bit of trial and error, the following struck me as quite interesting: learning apps, online course, educational resources, mooc, and educational games (below). Again, the live version of the chart can be found here.

There are a few things to note here. First, “educational resources” (which is also a truncation of “open educational resources”) showed a modest peak but then declined, which may suggest that searchers aren’t looking for OER, although these could be really helpful. Second, interest in online courses and moocs doesn’t demonstrate a marked uptick at the time of school closures, but interest is growing gradually; I wonder whether this is related to more adults being at home as ‘lockdowns’ increase. Also, I had tried to include Zoom on the same chart, but couldn’t as it had increased so much in popularity compared to all the others that it distorted the scale too much.

This is only a fairly limited look at the ways in which people are seeking to adapt educational provision in this unprecedented situation, but it is quite interesting to start to think about what people are searching for, and how to try to help. I’ll be thinking more over the coming weeks about the issues for education through my work with The EdTech Hub, and will be sharing things through my blog and the Hub’s website.

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