The Internet has changed the face of learning worldwide, forever. A man in the United States gets tutored by his native Arabic tutor in Egypt, while a student in Brazil accesses a Harvard course from his home, free of charge, and a high-school student learns on his mobile phone, via mobile chat platform Mxit every evening.
On the other side of the traditional teaching ‘table,’ an ‘e-tutor’ logs on to upload tutorials for her first year university students, and discuss course work with them via discussion forums on an e-tutoring site hosted by the university. She telecommutes to work every morning and afternoon, with students knowing she is online to provide tutorial support.
This phenomenon, now termed ‘e-learning’ has grown exponentially in recent years. With greater, and more affordable Internet accessibility worldwide, faster connection speeds, and the undeniable convenience of learning online, it is no surprise.
Online learning enables students worldwide to have access to learning in their own time, in the comfort of their homes, or on the go. It is most often cheaper and more flexible than learning offline, and eliminates the need for travel. And it gives teachers online similar convenience, and access to remote work opportunities.
Free and open-source e-learning are also on the rise. Coursera allows students worldwide the opportunity to take up courses from leading universities, for free. Courses offered on the site range across several languages, to education, law, the sciences, medicine, mathematics and business. The University of the People is an entirely online tuition-free University, founded in 2009, and accredited in 2014. Apart from a once-off admin fee, and a $100 fee per course exam, it is tuition-free, and all learning, assignments and examinations take place online. Websites like openculture.com offer a collection of free learning materials, including access to course materials from Stanford, Yale, Berkley and Harvard universities.
Campus-based and distance learning universities across the globe have also come on board with e-learning offerings. Harvard offers edX courses via its Extension School’s Open Learning Initiative. Like other universities, it offers a choice between online only and hybrid courses, where a student can attend a week/weekend of intensive lectures, and work independently online for the rest of the semester, or opt to work online only throughout.
And so, online education gives students access to international courses, often very different from their own country’s educational offerings. Because personal, real-time contact is a feature of online learning via Skype and webcam, as well as communication via online discussion forums, students are no longer left feeling isolated, as was previously the case with distance learning.
Even at schooling level, online tutoring has become popular, particularly with home-schooling students whose parents may need to call in extra help for certain subjects.
From a company perspective, e-learning tools have been found to substantially decrease costs in employee training, with printed material, transportation, and conference hosting eliminated. There are also several reports of increased retention of content learned. Naturally, e-learning is also more eco-friendly.
Online learning and teaching is the vehicle of education of the future, no doubt. Whether it will ever entirely replace classroom-based learning remains hotly debated. It is however estimated that the e-learning industry will double from a 2013 estimate of 56.2 billion U.S. dollars by 2015.