Is education’s future online?

Viky Silder for writes:   The future of education may be online: where learners, educators, and institutions are connected and engaged – across devices, around the world.  You might think that the future of learning is filled with projected touch screens, video textbooks and a range of bleeding-edge tech.  But perhaps the future is simply online: where learners, educators, and institutions are connected and engaged – across devices, around the world.   But how will online learning influence education, for the better?   The best indicators can be found in the roots of what effective educators seek to provide for students: access to relevant knowledge through an engaging learning environment.


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Having a meticulously constructed education programme with engaging content and valuable outcomes is of little use if it is only able to be accessed by a select few.

Accessible is defined as “able to be reached” and therefore includes considerations like location and admissions limits.

The downfall of a physical university campus is that it limits access to those who live far away, and puts a cap on the number of students it can accommodate.

Online learning answers both of these considerations as students from anywhere in the world are able to participate, as long as they have a reliable internet connection and sufficient financial backing.

There is already evidence of this shift locally in South Africa, with prestigious institutions, such as the University of Cape Town, broadening access to education by allowing for certain postgraduate programmes to be completed online and part-time.

Relevant Knowledge

Clay Shirky, an American writer, consultant and teacher on the social and economical effects of internet technologies, and writer-in-residence at NYU Journalism Institute, says of traditional classes, grades, and degrees that, “Not one of them is real. They’re all just how we do it. Here’s what’s real: Students are real. Knowing things is real. Being able to do things is real.”

A strong stance, but one containing more than just an element of truth.

Although many will rightly argue that a primary education from a recognised school and a tertiary education from a prestigious university will continue to hold some weight, at least for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to deny the fact that people want relevant, practical and immediately applicable knowledge – a desire not often fulfilled through traditional education.

Consider the amount of learning that is still a necessity for most as soon as they enter the workplace, even if their studies were focused on the field they entered.

An efficient education programme would make this a seamless transition, leaving further education up to the employee’s desire for career advancement, and not up to necessity.

Shirky goes on to say that the advantage that technology offers to education is not that it will replace older institutions, but rather that it allows for the breaking up of course packages offered by these institutions to provide “particular parts of them at a scale and cost unmatchable by the old order.”

Learning Environment

Online learning

Maybe the biggest challenge facing online education is the recreation of the benefit students derive from physical interaction and interpersonal discussions in classrooms and lecture halls, as well as the traditional ‘university experience’.

Rita Kop, Dean of Education at Yorkville University in Canada – whose interests lie at the crossroads of human learning and technology – writes about how “presence” has an effect on meaningful learning.

She notes how certain scholars believe that “the closer the ties between the people involved, the higher the level of presence and the higher the level of engagement in the learning activity.”

It is obvious how a traditional classroom or lecture theatre environment would benefit students in this regard, but it poses an obvious challenge to online education.

Online learning institutions are, however, taking steps to mimic this environment through engaging learning material, discussion forums, dedicated course instructors and continued support throughout the online learning journey.

Rob Paddock, Chief of Education at GetSmarter, noted the importance of these factors when he said, “Support of this nature ensures that learners remain motivated throughout their online learning journey.”

Online educators have put measures in place to equal, and even improve upon, traditional learning practices, but only time will tell if these measures are effective enough to shape the future of education.

From the looks of it, they just might be.

This article was published in partnership with UCT and GetSmarter, online education provider.

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