Digital learning has been around for a while. The Open University has used online systems as a learning tool for over 30 years and currently offers entire degree courses fully online. Since 2000, online learning has truly boomed. Audiovisual material and course documentation is now being distributed online not only by schools and universities but also by a myriad of platforms specializing in career and skills development.
Before the pandemic, Research and Markets forecasts estimated that the online education market would be worth US$350 billion by 2025. As schools switched to teaching online during the outbreak, there has been substantial growth in the online learning market so the predicted figure may now be different.
There are numerous online learning platforms such as Udemy, Coursera, Lynda, Skillshare, Udacity and others that serve millions of users. E-learning websites offer courses for particular groups of people and interests. Skillshare caters to the creatives and entrepreneurs with courses on photography, marketing and lifestyle, Coursera offers access to mostly academic courses from the world’s top universities and GetSetUp delivers virtual education to older adults.
Top universities like Stanford and Harvard offer online courses and lectures, many of which are free of charge thus democratizing education provided by learning establishments that are considered to be elite.
What the experts say
At the recent US$50 million round of capital raised by Udemy, President Darren Shimkus said, “The biggest challenge for learners is to figure out what skills are emerging, what they can do to compete best in the global market. We’re in a world that’s changing so quickly that skills that were valued just three or four years ago are no longer relevant. People are confused and don’t know what they should be learning.”
Luke Yoquinto, a research associate at the M.I.T. AgeLab and co-author of “Grasp: The Science Transforming How We Learn” echoed this sentiment, saying that “the need for workers to keep pace with fast-moving economic, cultural and technological changes, combined with longer careers, will add up to great swaths of adults who need to learn more than generations past — and faster than ever”.
Advantages of online learning
Online learning websites use machine learning algorithms and pattern recognition that can personalize the content for each individual. In this way, when someone is struggling with a particular concept, the platform adjusts to assist the student by offering expanded information.
A more obvious advantage is flexibility. People can take a course according to their own schedule and at their own convenience, proceeding as quickly or as slowly as they wish. This is important for those who need to increase their knowledge rapidly. It has been reported that going online has also proven to be a more effective teaching experience for many educators.
Another aspect that attracts millions to remote learning is the cost. Many online courses are free, some are free to access but the downloadable certificate or diploma has to be paid for and many platforms offer monthly subscriptions. Furthermore, there are no commuting costs and course materials are frequently available online at no extra cost.