Former US Education Secretary Rod Paige argued in a 2002 speech that “Education is the only business still debating the usefulness of technology.” In many ways he was right. Education is a classic discipline – it has a history and a way of doing things. Many people have expectations of what it might be like and how learning will be delivered. Technology provides a challenge to education, but in the sphere of online-learning it appears education is learning.
According to a 2011 Sloan Consortium review nearly a third of all full-time and part-time students at non-profit and for-profit colleges and universities in America took one or more online courses. Massive growth can be charted by the early years of the new millennium. These courses can be as simple as tuning into a lecture screened online. Other courses provide online platforms like ‘Moodle’ and provide creative ways to gain new qualifications.
As education providers, online education provides plenty of opportunities. Whereas before, a university would be limited by the space in its lecture hall, by class size or resources, now a different situation exists.
In online learning students need not be in the same city let alone the same nation or time-zone. They don’t need to listen to a lecture at the same time as other students, instead making use of 24 hour availability. Indeed, a visiting speaker to a college can be recorded once and then have his lecture repeated on dozens of courses, making quality learning available to more and more people.
Online courses can be new sources of income. Charges can vary but many will pay for learning and with the lower overheads of online learning it can be of huge benefit to a college’s finances. E-books and online libraries also provide useful spin-offs in college life. Attending students can gain greater access to resources but also a university can make more of their ideas available online.
For many students online courses are very attractive. Online learning works for students in full-time employment. They are able to learn when they can and practical courses add to their career development. It may be that online courses provide a new horizon into a trained and educated workforce.
Older students also often prefer online courses. To return to university at a later age can be a challenge. Grey hair and baldness amongst kids fresh out of school can be intimidating, but there’s no such problem online.
Lastly, the global nature of business means staff can often be scattered around the globe. Online learning can provide ways to learn together whilst separated by hundreds of miles yet learn together with colleges. Many businesses have linked with universities or colleges to provide appropriate courses which give on the job training to employees at discounted rates.
In 1999, Mark Bonner of Price Waterhouse Coopers suggested that online learning would become the primary way that our workforce was educated. In 2012 it seems his prophesy is coming true.