The world of education has changed markedly over the last 25 or so years. As educational establishments have moved increasingly to integrate tech and the internet into their operations, there has been a growing realization among many universities and colleges that much of their traditional real-world syllabus could very easily be ported to a purely online environment and the virtual classroom.
There’s little doubt that technology is playing an increasingly important role in education – everything from interactive lecture theater presentations to students augmenting their real-time understanding of lessons with laptops and tablets. Just as it is with so many other areas of life, modern tech is revolutionizing the idea of the traditional classroom and passive learning experience, giving rise to opportunities that would have been previously unimaginable just a few years ago.
How education made the move online
Traditionally students took a largely back-seat, passive role in the educational experience, however, as technology has improved and, in particular, our devices have become more capable and sophisticated, many teachers have started to realize the considerable advantages afforded by integrating tech into their lessons.
In a world where there are now more web pages than there are people, the internet has grown to become the greatest informational resource in the history of man. No matter how diverse or obscure the subject, if you do a quick Google, you can be pretty sure someone, somewhere will have documented it, and this tremendous resource is now becoming a mainstay tool in education.
The potential of the web as a huge online library was embraced early by more progressive lecturers who were keen to find ways to make their classes more interesting and engaging. While once mobile devices (cell phones, tablets, laptops, etc) were viewed with scorn by many teachers, these days it’s now commonplace for students to seek out extra, supplemental information while they learn during lectures. Indeed, the most forward-thinking colleges and universities were quick to develop additional tools and apps to help students augment their lecturers’ classes, actively encouraging the use of devices as students learned.
With more and more syllabus content moving online, there came a growing realization across institutions that the key structure of many qualifications could quite easily be learned fully online, without the need to attend real-world classes. When taken with the increasing capabilities of our devices, vastly improved connection speeds, and general improvements in software, online learning quickly became a realistic proposition.
Reasons why online learning is the future of education
Technology is changing and improving all areas of our modern lives and education is most certainly no exception. Indeed, as noted above, tech has grown to become an integral part of the learning process and has been positively embraced by many institutions around the world. However, while tech is becoming increasingly important, it could easily be argued the greatest and most exciting area of development has been the constant growth in online learning over recent years. Internet-based education offers many potential advantages over its real-world equivalent, including (but not limited to), the following:
Reduced running costs enable a greater diversity of courses
From a university or college perspective, designing and running courses can incur a huge outlay, both in terms of time and money. Between rent, rates, utility bills and maintenance fees, operating a traditional educational establishment is expensive – and that’s not even considering the costs associated with cafeterias, staff rooms, equipment, desks and other facilities, etc.
By moving courses online, institutions can slash their operating costs, instead transferring them to the student (i.e. the student is expected to buy their own laptop, pays for their electricity, provide their own food, etc). In turn, these reduced costs allow educators to concentrate on the courses they run rather than how they run them – effectively freeing up valuable time and money.
Moreover, as the majority of the coursework is offered in pre-formatted, repeat-use modules, the costs associated with paying for teachers are dramatically reduced too. In real terms, once a course has been designed and tested, it can be used over and over by thousands (potentially, millions) of students looking to study the same subject.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a need for ongoing support from lecturers – but the costs are nonetheless dramatically reduced and allow establishments to design a far greater variety and diversity of courses. By learning online, you’ll go a long way to supporting the continued development of these additional, more varied courses.
Lowered course fees, commuting, or the costs of living remotely
As universities have considerably lower expenses running courses online, they tend to pass on these savings to students and can offer web-based learning at a much lower price than its real-world equivalents. For example, the University of Ottawa offers its engineering management courses online at a vastly reduced rate compared to its on-campus version.
Also, as well as enjoying reduced course fees, as an online student you will be able to save considerable money on the costs of commuting – or, should you decide to learn at an establishment far away from your home town, the cost of renting accommodation. Reducing these costs can result in considerable savings for students, offering a much-improved Return on Investment (ROI) from their education.
Online learning requires commitment and self-discipline – qualities that employers love to see
Compared with their real-world equivalents, online courses require higher levels of commitment and self-discipline on the part of students – both qualities that employers love to see in prospective employees. Often students need to juggle their ongoing personal commitments like work or family alongside their online coursework. Also, as there is no structured or rigid framework or timetable to web-based learning, online students rely mostly on their motivation to complete their studies. Many employers view having the dedication to finish a course under your own steam as a highly desirable quality in potential workers.
Studying online allows you to keep up with other interests rather than being a full-time student
This same lack of a rigid or mandatory timetable allows online learners to study in their own time, at a time of day or in a place that suits them – meaning you can keep up other interests alongside your learning. Whether you’re looking to enhance your career advancement possibilities or just see extra education as a valuable addition to your existing skillset, web-based learning means you can keep on existing commitments e.g. your current job. Also, remote learning means you can base yourself anywhere with an internet connection – meaning you could even learn while taking a year out for travel, etc.
While you’ll mostly learn solo, you’ll be far from alone
There’s a common misconception that online students are largely left to their own resources and don’t have any form of a support network where, actually, the total opposite is true. Indeed, in many ways, it could be argued web-based learners have access to even better tools and encouragement. For example, in a real-world setting, students will mostly share their allocated learning time with their fellow students rather than the one-to-one attention that is such a part and parcel component of internet courses.
Moreover, most internet courses are designed specifically with the notion of background support in mind. Course creators are more than aware that learning alone can, for some, seem a daunting prospect so tend to go above and beyond in terms of the additional resources they provide. If you learn online, you’ll likely have 24/7/365 access to a vast array of additional support and tools – everything from online tests to previous exam papers and linked journals/publications.
It is also becoming increasingly common for courses to have dedicated social platforms where you can share your learning experiences with fellow students.
Learning online will give you confidence and enhance useful life skills
As mentioned above, taking a course online requires you to dig deep into your inner resources to find new levels of dedication. Finding ways to keep up your existing commitments while also studying – and subsequently passing a course – will bring you an immense sense of achievement and confidence that simply can’t be replicated through study in the more traditional environment.
Internet-based learning means education at your own pace
Unlike lecture-room education, learning online means you can complete course content at your own pace – perhaps going back to revisit concepts or key features you didn’t grasp sufficiently well the first time around. Also, most web-based courses feature frequent checkpoint tests to ascertain you’ve completely understood previous content.
These regular milestones can help you build a far more accurate estimation of your understanding and progress through the course – and can also be reviewed by lecturers to make sure you’ve completely comprehended each module.
Increased career advancement opportunities without giving up work
Many online students embark upon additional education as a way to improve their promotion or career advancement opportunities in their current jobs. Often, employers will also help with tuition fees if they feel the additional education will be of benefit to their operations and make you a better, more rounded employee.
Regardless of the reason (or who ends up paying), having additional qualifications certainly will not harm your ongoing career development – and, best of all, learning online will mean you don’t need to relinquish your current position but, rather, can keep on earning as you’re learning.