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Friday, October 18, 2013

The Revolution Of Online Learning


The advent of the internet and online learning has affected almost every aspect of our lives – from the way we work and communicate to our perception of politics and activism. Education is not exempt from the incredible changes that are taking place. As we speak, online education is replacing physical universities at a rapid pace.

English: Online Learning
English: Online Learning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Earlier this year, the largest university system in the world - the California State University system - announced a pilot for $150 lower-division online courses at its campuses. Public universities are moving their courses online – from excel training to intense computer science courses.

Certain institutes like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have proven to be one of the leaders of this revolutionary trend over a decade ago. This institute has provided documents and lecture notes online for more than 2,000 courses through its OpenCourseWare program. Over 100 million people have benefitted from MIT’s initiative worldwide. These students’ performances are assessed, after which they receive certificates if they master their chosen courses.

Many traditionalists believe that this shift may not necessarily be a good one – taking the classroom out of learning poses a threat to the social skills and necessary interaction one would learn from that setting. Although this may be the case, let’s look at the reality of education as it currently is:

  • The cost of a tertiary education has exponentially increased in the last few decades
  • This has resulted in a staggering increase in student loans
  • Student loans have resulted in a global population of phenomenally high student debts
  • Money and prestige has created a very exclusive group of people most likely to go to university, while limiting access to the rest
  • Expensive degrees are no longer guaranteeing jobs

For anyone who has understood the ways in which traditional education has been failing the global community has a whole, the rise of online learning comes as a revolutionary idea. This concept has been reconstituted in a way that combines the perks of both classroom learning to the infinite wisdom of the internet in a model called Blended Learning. This approach combines face to face study methods with computer-mediated activities. For example; a class would meet just once a week for discussions, while actual workbook activities are shifted to the online sphere.

Of course, online learning does indeed come with its own disadvantages. Developing nations who barely have enough access to chalk boards for the education of their population will have a hard time providing the means necessary to make online learning a viable option.

On top of that it is also true that parents who cough up big bucks on their children’s degrees are not necessarily just buying education; they are, in fact, buying the right crowd of friends, the right professional connections, access to the right potential spouses. In addition, they’re buying the right kind of status. These things are all important factors when it comes to employability and the ease with which graduates manoeuvre the job market. 

However, the speed at which the modern world is changing to the tune of online culture will inevitably affect the way that education is delivered. In exactly what trajectory, is something we will have to see. 

Jennifer is an online learning instructor based in Cape Town, South Africa. She has taught a wide range of subjects over the years, including English, Maths and computer literacy.

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