In hindsight, The COVID-19 pandemic struck countless industries and daily activities like an extinction-level asteroid. The $94 billion
fitness industry took a $20 billion hit
, and 17%
of U.S. fitness clubs closed permanently. In K-12 education, McKinsey paints a grim picture
of “unfinished learning” across 2020 and 2021, its impact on standardized testing, and the ramifications for students’ future earning potential. Travel spending in the U.S., some of which is also done for personal and professional education, plummeted by 42%
between 2019 and 2020.
Still, month by month and sector by sector, online instruction is solidifying as a long-term adjunct to or replacement for in-person learning. In fitness, Peloton saw its year-over-year Q2 2021 paid digital subscriptions increase by 472 percent
. The flip side of McKinsey’s findings is that reading and math only fell behind by four and five months, respectively, when many schools were closed for well over a year and teachers had to create and deploy online curricula on the fly, from scratch. And while the thrill and depth of world travel can never be replicated through a screen, resources like UNESCO’s World Heritage site virtual tours
and the Google Arts & Culture assembly of over 2,500 museum collections
offer profound opportunities — and that’s before we see such sites ported into the metaverse.
As the world slowly emerges from lockdown and in-person activities resume, it’s clear that online learning will only grow in adoption, utility, and sophistication. The ways in which this trend is already playing out continues to inspire.
In-person learning, activity, and creation have moved online
Remote education is nothing new. For business and academic purposes alike, correspondence courses date back to the 19th century, and TV-based courses were readily available in the20th . However, the current idea of a massive open online course (MOOC) began in earnest with the MIT OpenCourseWare
program, which offers free, open versions of many of the school’s undergraduate- and graduate-level courses. Coursera, Udemy, and edX (spearheaded by Harvard and MIT) are MOOCs with more commercial interests.
These resources and many others existed pre-2020, but the pandemic brought them into the spotlight with new clarity and urgency. Millions of U.S. families already knew that the costs of higher education were outpacing background inflation at breakneck speeds. U.S. News
shows tuition costs roughly tripling over the past 20 years, while consumer price index inflation was only 54% for the same period. Faced with increasingly untenable costs, a need for education credentials more in line with evolving corporate needs than legacy degree models, and the abrupt move to online-only classes, people had to question whether the conventional learning paradigm was still worthwhile.
Some schools got the hint. Some top-name schools, including Princeton University and Williams College, dropped tuition rates for online-only attendees. According to the Harvard Business Review
, an M.B.A. from the University of Illinois can now be had for $22,000, thanks to minimizing human labor with AI and automation. Similarly, a Master’s degree in computer science from the renowned Georgia Tech costs only $7,000. Higher education has been one of the slowest-moving fields to embrace technology innovation and automation, but the writing is on the wall (and whiteboard). As in practically every other industry, whatever can be automated will be, as enforced by market cost dynamics. Schools that embrace this trend will transform and thrive. Schools that resist will likely price themselves out of the market while becoming increasingly obsolete.
Virtual classrooms aren’t only sweeping across colleges. A host of other fields are experiencing similar renovation. A few examples:
The Nikon School
has taught workshops around the world for over a decade. With COVID and the shift to online learning, though, the photography titan has adapted its methods. Students can access regular online courses and webinars via Zoom, have “One to One” sessions with a live instructor, and even have a form of telepresence with “Live Remote Shooting
,” wherein the student can take remote control of the on-location teacher’s equipment.
Sourdough bread was only the beginning. The pandemic left stuck-at-homebodies with the same old appetite and a lot of newfound free time. Social media feeds filled with quick how-to cooking videos, and YouTube channels offered much more where those clips left off. However, top chefs and cooking schools still needed ways to pay their bills, and so high-end cooking instruction moved online. For $5 per month, ckbk provides the licensed content of tens of thousands of curated cookbooks, eliminating the need to ever buy another kitchen-related hardback or magazine. The Chef & the Dish
has been offering private and group online cooking classes with top chefs from Italy to Peru since 2016. Rouxbe
teaches the culinary arts online to individuals, businesses, and schools, complete with professional certification courses, and claims over 600,000 learners globally.
We mentioned Peloton
earlier, but that was only the beginning in fitness. A recent Technavio report shows nearly 27% annual compounded growth in the connected gym equipment market through 2025, signaling that Peloton has plenty of successful competition. Moreover, wherever there were previously specialized yoga, dance, crosstraining, and kickboxing studios before, seemingly 10 online alternatives have appeared in their place. Try the likes of Ballet Beautiful
for cardio and Pilates, and Nike Training Club
for strength and much more. The production quality from these outfits is generally excellent. These are not your momma’s Jazzercise tapes.
It’s no surprise here that art instruction has also made the jump to online courses. Learners of all ages and skills can start with InspyrTV ($5/month) for pre-recorded classes, then progress into live Inspyr
instruction across a wide range of art media. Alternatively, courses can be taken from recognized masters, such as Glenn Vilppu at Vilppu Academy
, but expect the price to match the pedigree. Online art courses may be of particular interest to senior learners, who may still face mobility challenges well after the pandemic is done.
Mass scale virtual learning pushes the internet to its limit
If we take Zoom as a proxy for the virtual conferencing space, the impact of COVID becomes obvious and striking. In December 2019, Zoom was logging 10 million daily meeting participants. In March 2020, that number reached 200 million
. The next month, Zoom surpassed 300 million
. Zoom’s sales in Q4 of 2020 were up 370%
from the same quarter in 2019. While the company’s stock price may have peaked and plummeted, Zoom expects ongoing success, anticipating that hybrid work will be the new norm and employees will increasingly expect to work across both home and corporate offices.
If 2020 was the year the world embraced (albeit reluctantly) virtual conferencing, 2021 was the year Facebook (now Meta) put the world on notice that Zoom was but a precursor to the metaverse and the company’s forthcoming Horizon Workrooms
. Expect Meta to have company. Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco (which owns Webex), has spoken
about how his company is working to create “real 3D virtual meeting experiences,” available in a few years. Judging by Microsoft’s work on Mesh for Teams, a corporate metaverse platform that looks incredible
, Cisco might want to accelerate its timeline.
In 2020, broadband networks often buckled under the sudden shift to suburban bandwidth demands as workers and students engaged in endless virtual meetings, video streaming, and gaming. Even in 2021, roughly half
of U.S. broadband users report having issues with the speed, reliability, or quality, often leading to users feeling compelled to upgrade their internet service. Download speeds in some areas dropped by over 30%
, according to The New York Times. This prompted YouTube to reduce video stream quality globally, and Webex to admit rising failure rates in delivering video.
Clearly, the situation has improved as providers have adapted to changing conditions, but the COVID traffic surge may presage a similar crush as virtual reality and metaverse applications rush into mainstream adoption. We’re going to see more in-person learning, meetings, business operations, media, and entertainment migrate into ever-higher-bandwidth platforms and user expectations. Many application providers and network operators are not prepared for this immersive future.
ISPs continue with traditional approaches to keep the world online
Delivering flawless real-time remote instruction means knowing how to measure, monitor, and optimize internet traffic. Measurement in particular is key, since there’s no way to assess issue causes or calibrate resources without accurate, timely knowledge of live network conditions. ISPs typically measure and manage using the following approaches.
In networking, traffic engineering involves creating an optimized traffic load across all physical paths for data packets. (These paths are generally called virtual circuits, and they are dynamic and reconfigurable.) Real-time measurements inform how traffic engineering goes about switching high-volume traffic, typically with the aim of minimizing resource costs.
As when city planners lay out a new neighborhood, network engineers have to plan the capacity and design of their infrastructure. This involves gauging the types of traffic moving through the network, the capacity of existing devices (switches, routers, etc.), the amount of resource utilization at various network locations, and the amount of traffic likely to flow through the network, both internally and at ingress/egress points. Naturally, capacity planning should be done when deploying new infrastructure, but its methods should also be continually applied to assess changing traffic patterns, the impact of new network devices, and how software changes influence traffic flow.
In networking, latency is the time it takes for a packet to travel from one point to another, from transmitter to receiver. The time it takes for a packet to make the round trip back to the sender is the ping time. Ping times can reveal network trouble spots when there is a significant difference in durations between the packet’s outbound trip and its return, as the paths traveled will likely be different. When ping times sustain above a given threshold, data performance can become noticeably impaired and lose the illusion of being real-time.
Packet loss measurements
Sometimes, packets get lost in transit. Usually, this is because a network infrastructure device becomes inundated and drops packets in order to resume a manageable data load. With protocols such as TCP/IP, dropped packets are automatically re-sent (although this process can result in lower performance). With other packets such as UDP, dropped packets are lost forever, which is probably fine with something like video pixels, but is not fine with something like database cell contents. Basic ping command tests can reveal whether packets are being lost and, if so, how many.
Network jitter occurs when the difference in packet latency times grows too large. Excessive jitter will result in network congestion and, in an attempt to remedy the congestion, routing changes. Anyone who has spent much time in virtual conferences is familiar with the audio and visual artifacts that result from jitter. Engineers typically assess jitter via measuring packet round-trip times, examining the variation between a packet’s transmitting and receiving intervals, and bandwidth testing. Buffering, improved bandwidth management, and upgrading network links can improve jitter.
How to optimize real-time remote instruction, now and in the future
The internet is full of network problems and pitfalls waiting to undermine the performance that fuels online learning. Such issues will only become more onerous as learning applications and environments grow richer. This is why it’s imperative to know exactly what’s happening with network conditions, and be able to either remedy or bypass problem spots in real time.
Some network service providers do a better job than others at real-time measurement and management. Unlike most providers, Subspace built its network from the ground up around these capabilities, with precision
even down to the sub-millisecond. As a result, Subspace can maintain a global “weather map
” of the internet’s real-time traffic conditions. When storms arise, Subspace can manage traffic around them so quickly that users remain unaware of any problems.
Subspace’s weather map is built on the following capabilities:
With these tools, Subspace’s network, which works in parallel with the public internet, offers a range of benefits. By shaping and balancing traffic, Subspace helps prevent the dropped packets that can lead to data loss. Subspace can validate traffic flow without the delays of port mirroring. And not least of all, Subspace can detect data path shifts in real time and modify them if needed to prevent impairment of the user experience.
With the right network underpinning tomorrow’s remote learning, students of all ages and occupations will enjoy clearer, richer, more reliable courses and conferences, thereby improving the quality and flow of their education. To see how Subspace can help your learning platform, click HERE