Is online learning the future?
In the past, if you wanted to get a qualification, or even simply learn something new, you would sign up for courses at a bricks-and-mortar institution, pay any relevant fees, and then physically attend class. That was until the online learning revolution started. Let us look at some History on how online Education has evolved.
Evolution of distance learning through Postal service
The concept of distance learning or correspondence learning started when US postal service was developed somewhere in 19th century. To present you with few facts, in 1873, the first official correspondence Education Program called “Society to encourage home studies” was established in Boston, Massachusetts. Later in 1911, University of Queensland founded its department of Correspondence Studies. Both these establishment relied on Postal department. Later, many universities across the World, started offering distance learning. Postal service became a wonderful medium to deliver the course materials for learning purpose. They became mediators between learner and college.
Slowly, Television became delivery medium for distance learning. In 1953 the University of Houston made distance learning history by offering the first televised college classes on KUHT (today called HoustonPBS), which was the first public television station in the United States. Many of the courses aired in the evening so that learners who worked during the day had time to view the material. Even now, in our country, there are many courses for High school children that are being offered through Doordarshan channels on Television.
On to the age of online learning through Internet
Today, the same distance education program has become more sophisticated and reliable through internet. The distance education is digitalized and re-named as “Online Learning”. Elite institutions around the World are offering legitimate online programs to earn degrees.
Online learning, brought education to people who wouldn’t previously have been able to attend a college due to geographical or time constraints. People were able to enrich their lives by earning degrees that can be obtained in their own pace. Educational Institutes are able to reach wider audience.
Online learning is not just to earn degrees. Many businesses in the early 2000s began using e-learning to train their employees. New and experienced workers had the opportunity to improve upon their industry knowledge and expand their skill sets. So, we can say that online learning is not a new concept, but evolved across the years. And, currently online learning is applicable to everyone, right from school going children to College students to Working professionals.
The growth of online education has not been without challenges. It is being criticized for its apparent lack of quality control, particularly the scarcity of high-quality teachers. It’s also been said that online learning deprives students of some of the benefits of being in a classroom, such as teacher-student interaction, as well as other things such as a reliable internet connection and electricity supply. But, everything has its own advantages & disadvantages. All, we have to do is to improve it constantly, so that the advantages become more than the disadvantages. For example, lack of traditional classroom feature is a disadvantage, but this can be compensated by giving flexibility in timings and low cost. Students can access their “classroom” recordings whenever they want, allowing them to review lessons at their convenience. The one-on-one lessons that are often part of online education have taken teacher-student interaction to a new level, which makes the training unique and valuable.
Let us look at the current education ecosystem in light of the pandemic and the unprecedented impact created by the same.
The Covid-19 Impact on online Learning
“A lot has changed in the last 7 months” would be an understatement. Lifestyles have been revamped, schedules have been shifted, businesses have taken a hit and children are now attending classes from the comfort of their own homes.
Which then poses the question, is online learning the future?
So, the answer may be subjective as there are a lot of pros and cons to pay heed to. While many parents are concerned about the nature of online classes, some of them appreciate the essence of learning being so easy. With the rise of technology, the concept of traditional education has changed drastically. A course that’s being taught in an educational institution thousands of miles away can now easily be learnt online. As long as one has access to a computer or any electronic device as such, they can easily be exposed to quality education wherever they are and whenever they want. It is definitely hard to leave behind the traditional classroom, but what is the need of the hour now?
Let’s dive deeper into some of the pros & cons of online learning for school students:
The two major advantages are:
Anyone can attend any class from wherever they are in the world, as long as they have access to a phone or a computer. This saves a lot of time, energy and money that students would otherwise spend on travelling to and fro.
Learn at your own pace
Everyone learns at a different pace. In a classroom where everyone taught together, many students find it difficult to follow the lessons. This is a serious disadvantage of traditional education. Online education solves this issue. In online education all the course materials are provided beforehand, students learn it by taking their own time. Students can clarify their doubts by live chats or forums as well.
Everything in this world comes with the side effects. Along with these pros, there are a couple of cons as well. These include:
●Constant need of stable internet: with online learning, it’s a given that the need of stable connectivity will be extremely important. This may not be possible at all times, which may affect the students’ education.
●Lack of feedback: online classes will require a lot of focus and self – discipline. The teachers and the students may not always be on the same page regarding the classes.
●Social isolation: the duration of classes can go up to hours, meaning the student has to stay at home for a majority of the day, to complete their respective work, assignments and studies. Due to the lack of contact with people, thus may lead to social isolation.
●Chances of distraction are very high: students can easily lose track of their studies in online education since there are no face-to-face lectures and classmates to remind you about assignments. Until and unless you keep yourself motivated it takes a long time to complete your course or abandon your entire course.
●Few lessons, like science practical become difficult.
As students’ progress to higher classes in school, they seek more autonomy and intellectual freedom.
Online learning platforms can help these students become more independent learners. Mobile apps that provide enhanced learning opportunities for school children have become quite popular as of late. Since mobile phones have already found their way into their hands, these apps are being used to supplement classroom learning. Teachers should act as anchors & mentors and parents should support children to learn digitally.
Virtual schools that offer full-fledged K-12 education have already sprung up in some parts of the world. They even offer a combination of the traditional system with online education. There are programs for families who wish to home-school their children in the form of online course material. These programmes bring parents and teachers together, by involving them in their child’s education from the get-go. However, their effectiveness in the long term needs to be studied.
Now, the question arises – what does online education mean for Teachers & Educators? Online education needs to be designed to accommodate a variety of learning styles among students. For teachers & educators, developing curriculum for all kinds of learners via online is a great challenge, but at the same time it is a learning experience too. This kind of learning will help the teachers to advance their skills.
The answer to the question – Is online learning the future? I would say yes and no. There will always be a place for traditional, classroom-based teaching method, though online learning has become in-evitable. And while it’s almost impossible to predict what directions technology will take us in, online learning is set to become a major part of learning institutions all around the world.
And therefore, it is very clear that future lies in BLENDED LEARNING, i.e. an integrated approach that leverages both the forms of classrooms- Traditional/Physical and Online. After all, we owe it to our future generations to bring the best of both (I would say all) the world to them.
What everyone across the globe is agreeing to is that Covid-19 is a watershed moment for online learning and thus we can conclude with the statement- In the post Covid world, online learning will move from being looked as stop-gap or just an enabler to becoming more mainstream that will be part of Blended Learning.
-Nidhi Mishra, Secondary Coordinator.