Is online learning the future of education?
In some ways, education has changed very little in literally decades. Predominantly, lessons are still led by a teacher standing at the front of a class of pupils sat at desks. Blackboards may have been replaced by interactive whiteboards – but you could argue that changes to the way things are done in school over the years have been more to do with technology rather than pedagogy.
Indeed, anybody who sat the old ‘O’ levels back in the 70s and 80s might be forgiven for thinking that they’d travelled back in a time machine if they saw the current GCSEs – such is their similarity to those old-school exams.
Hell, we even teach kids grammar again these days too!
Well, yes, very little had changed… that was… until covid struck. The pandemic changed so many things for so many people. And education was not left unaffected. In fact, the extraordinary events of the last couple of years have even called into question what the notion of ‘normal’ learning is, to some extent.
After all, it’s now apparent that learners don’t necessarily need to be physically present in the classroom for a lesson to take place anymore.
The wealth of new technologies that are readily available means that it is now possible to receive an education wherever and whenever you want, if you have access to a digital device.
Most people – certainly not many teachers – had even heard of the likes of Zoom or Teams before lockdown. Now, for many, video calls and meetings have become a part of the new normal – a hybrid work routine.
Online learning: a revolution in education?
So, have we entered a new era? Is online learning at the forefront of a revolution in education? Well, distance learning had been growing in popularity even before Zoom lessons were forced upon everybody during lockdown. More than 30% of higher education students take at least one distance learning course. Although the experience that university students had of online lectures and seminars during lockdown was not particularly positive, online learning is still likely to play an important part in the education of the future.
Online learning provides flexibility and greater choice
One of the major advantages of online education is that it allows the teacher and the student to set their own pace of learning. It becomes possible to set a schedule that suits everyone. Online learning is also a great way to learn new skills – or to refresh existing ones.
There is now an online distance learning course for virtually any skill and topic. Increasingly, universities are offering online versions of many of their existing programmes and courses. Away from full-time education, online learning has become the convenient way to gain acatc certificate or qualification to advance your career, in several sectors.
A virtual classroom can be created anywhere where there is a decent internet connection. It means that the teacher and students need no longer have to travel to the same place. As well as reducing travelling costs, online learning modules are re-usable – again and again.
Will online learning become a part of mainstream education?
Post-pandemic, the world of business is unlikely to ever quite be the same again now that companies have experience of using Teams or Zoom as an alternative to face-to-face meetings.
But could the same transformational impact occur in mainstream education? Could a GCSE Maths lesson on Zoom for 30 students replace a conventional classroom lesson? Probably not, at least anytime soon. However, there are many potential opportunities for schools to incorporate online learning into their normal everyday offer. Some already are doing so – with revision sessions and catch-up sessions the obvious starting point.
Schools were forced into the online route. But now the dust has settled on covid, teachers are being creative and looking for exciting ways to explore the potential of online learning.
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