The novel Coronavirus epidemic in Asia looks to fuel the online education and training industry in a way that will likely – and hopefully – live out the health crisis itself. Across Asia, national governments, educational institutions and corporate organisations are making quick yet calculated moves to maintain business continuity, while securing their citizens’, students’ and employees’ health.

The online education and training market in Asia has been an interesting one to follow over the past few years. While the region arguably holds the most future potential, there has been significant inertia in adopting more digitally-enabled teaching and training methods - both in schools and workplaces. Much of the inertia has seemed to be due to barriers built and reinforced by old ways of thinking. Fundamentally, online education at the level it’s today is still something rather new and novel, and perceptions change slowly.

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However, the current health epidemic might make the shift necessary and tear down those barriers of old habits. Governments across the region have ordered schools to close down to safeguard their students. This has had education leaders scrambling to accelerate online learning adoption and capabilities, as we can’t just stop educating our students either. While much of the corona outbreak has been currently contained in China, Southeast Asia has not stayed idle either. Plans are being made to sustain a prolonged period of distance learning.

In the corporate space, the effect is perhaps even more imminent. While most organisations in Greater China have put aside large face-to-face gatherings, including conventional classroom training, there are also other factors in play. Several countries have enacted travel bans affecting people traveling to or with travel history in at-risk countries and regions. Individual companies have gone even further to ban travel to the whole region. This has grounded many corporate trainers in regional and global organisations already, and will continue to do so.

While online learning is certainly not a silver bullet for corporate training, at the time being, it has become a necessity – and often the only option. Interestingly, the accelerated adoption is also driven by different considerations and – in many cases – also different departments than usual. For countless organisations operating in Greater China and Asia, training has now become an issue of operational continuity. Therefore, instead of the HR & L&D departments conventionally spearheading the training initiatives, it’s the operations and risk management leaders that are stepping up. Global and international organizations are taking steps to ensure that business continuity is guaranteed in the case of further outbreaks even outside China.

Spike in demand

We ourselves, and several vendors and service providers in the online corporate learning space that we’ve been in touch, with have seen significant demand spikes in the last few weeks. The CEO of a partner company recently put it in perspective: “more enquiries from companies with business in China in the past two weeks than in the past two years combined.” Judging by the urgency of many of these requests, it seems that some organisations have been caught offguard by the situation.

While this health epidemic and the sudden spike in demand won’t hopefully last too long, it seems that we might have come to a page-turning moment. It doesn’t seem at all implausible that this wave of digital learning adoption will finally reach the critical mass needed for the global discussion to shift from “whether to go digital” to “why should we not do digital.”

About the author:  Lauri Sulanto is a workplace learning strategist, education enthusiast and an entrepreneur on two continents. He is also the director of the Hong-Kong-based Learning Crafters.

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