The role of online classes

At the start of lockdown, many class providers made the switch directly to online classes and were able to smoothly transfer existing customers over to Zoom or other online video platforms. Parents were grateful for the continuity of their routines, and the opportunity to do something for their kids that entertained and enriched, at a time when there was little else to do!

However, the demand for online classes has changed substantially as lockdown has eased. Zoom fatigue began to set in, as the warm summer weather took us all exploring outdoors. The public is keen for in-person classes to return now, though class providers still face significant challenges in how to do this safely. So is there a long-term future for online classes? And if so, what form will this take?

Online classes are here to stay

Innovations in online provision earlier this year helped to address a previously unmet need. Happity, the UK’s leading baby & toddler classes platform, surveyed parents on their experience of online classes in late-May.

A surprisingly high number of parents wished to continue with online classes in the long-term, with a number of reasons why they felt there was a continuing role, even if there was a fully lifted lockdown and return to normality. This included parents who lived in places where there was less availability of classes generally, as well as those with mobility or health issues affecting themselves or their children.

For a number of parents, particularly those with younger children, the convenience of being able to access content online immediately without the travelling distance, was also attractive.

Nevertheless, there are likely to be covid-related reasons for parents to turn to online provision and create demand for these classes in the short to medium term. There is still the possibility of local lockdowns, or quarantine or isolation periods for individuals. And whilst class providers are still grappling with guidelines, and unable to return to many schools, there is limited availability of in-person classes.

For class providers who otherwise intend to run in-person only, they may also lean on online delivery as a back-up plan, using it as a way to keep customers on board during temporary periods where in-person classes may not be possible.

Which online format is the ‘right’ format?

Online provision can take a number of forms, and during lockdown we saw a great deal of experimentation in terms of both delivery formats and business model.

Live-stream, or pre-record? Interactive video or one-way broadcast? Free or paid? One-off fee or subscription? The possibilities are endless!

What class providers chose to deliver was in many ways dependent on personal circumstances, as well as the type of class. Some sessions clearly lend themselves better to being live and interactive, whereas others may be best delivered as pre-recorded guided sessions or courses. And whilst different families have differing needs, some craving live interaction, and others wanting the convenience of on-demand, there is simply no single ‘right’ silver-bullet answer on this.

What is clear however, is that those intending to offer a long-term online service do need to adapt significantly from in-person classes. Online content is borderless, with unlimited potential audiences – but also, unlimited competition. They will need to consider how to provide genuine value to their target market, and find ways to differentiate and stand out from other screen-based services – especially where there’s vast quantities of (mostly free) pre-recorded content available.

Nevertheless, we are likely to continue seeing a variety of models in the market for now, with the majority of class providers using online live interactive sessions as a way to complement their in-person classes, and maintain their services in an ever-changing world.

Author: Sara Tateno, Happity.co.uk

Happity is the UK’s leading platform dedicated to baby & toddler classes, reaching over 200,000 new parents last year. Continually innovating to support the sector, Happity helped hundreds of class providers transition to online classes within days of lockdown. They now offer booking and marketing services for both online and in-person classes.

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