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Did you know these exciting facts about online learning?

The arrival of Covid-19 globally has brought much hardship, but the changes it has brought with it are not all negative. What it did do was to fast-track a lot of processes and trends that were already underway, speeding them up to truly bring us into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The rapid growth and expansion of online learning is one area that has benefited from this. The lockdowns and social distancing that came with the pandemic have forced many institutions to adapt their previously contact-only learning models to blended or hybrid approaches. This has created great opportunities for online learning as what was previously seen as a drawback – not having physical contact and lessons in person – has now become a benefit.

Here’s an assortment of interesting facts about online education:

The first online education programme was launched in 1982

Fully online learning may seem to some like the new kid on the block, but it has been around for quite some time. Surprisingly, online learning is even older than the internet. If it were a person, it would be approaching middle age by now.

The Western Behavioral Sciences Institute in California in the US is credited with being the first to offer an online learning programme. The institute’s School of Management and Strategic Studies made use of computer conferencing to deliver distance education to a class of business executives in 1982.

Online learning is the latest evolution in distance learning

While we may think of online learning as being entirely its own thing, it is just the latest evolutionary step in distance learning programmes. Each new technology has opened up new possibilities:

  • In 1873 the first official correspondence education programme, called the “Society to Encourage Home Studies”, was established in Boston in the US.
  • In 1919 a radio station was started by professors at the University of Wisconsin, becoming the first licensed radio station dedicated to educational broadcasting.
  • In the 1930s the University of Iowa began to experiment with teaching via television.
  • In the 1950s the US Federal Communications Commission reserved television frequencies for educational purposes for the first time, bringing the medium into the public eye.

As new technologies develop they are likely to also be taken up and used for online learning. Virtual reality (VR) is one such technology that has advanced rapidly in recent years. Although VR has not yet made its way into mainstream online learning, it has already been trialled in some interesting cases. Walmart has already been using VR for several years to help train staff.

We’ve come a long way indeed from delivering course notes by carriage and horseback nearly 150 years ago.

Online learning is eco-friendly

A 2008 study in the UK that compared several full-time contact courses with their online equivalents found that despite using computers instead of paper, online distance learning is a huge saver of energy.

The study, conducted by Robin Roy on behalf of the Open University, found that distance learning higher education courses involve “87 percent less energy and 85 percent lower carbon dioxide emissions than the full-time campus-based courses”.

The study concluded that if environmental impacts were taken seriously, “then part-time and distance education should be prioritised over increasing full-time provision”.

Eco-friendly is good for business too. Going green isn’t just good for the environment, it can be good for the bottom line. With the growing awareness of environmental concerns, studies find that Millennials and Generation Z are far more likely to consider a company’s environmental impacts when choosing an employer, product or service.

Online learning is growing fast… very fast 

This is not a fact that’s likely to surprise anyone, but the rate at which it is growing just might.

Much like with remote working, the potential of online learning has been there for several years, but the biggest hurdles were perceptions and resistance to change. However, the forced Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions across the globe shifted this perception very quickly.

As a society we’ve realised we can both work and study from home every bit as effectively as we can in the office or class. On top of this is the reduced barrier of travel, saving both time and money. The temptation for a student to sleep in and miss an early morning lecture is no longer a problem as they can watch it in their own time, even from the comfort of bed over a cup of hot chocolate.

From 2000 to 2012, there was 900% growth in the e-learning market, according to a KPMG report. That growth continued through 2020 but the arrival of Covid-19 hugely sped up the shift to online learning, with as many as 1.2 billion schoolchildren experiencing disruption to classes. If higher education students are included, that figure rises to almost 1.4 billion people.

As we are not yet out of the pandemic, it is difficult to find reputable and up-to-date statistics showing the effect Covid-19 has had. There is certainly much anecdotal evidence. It did not take long for people to adjust and soon they were doing things they would previously never have imagined, such as online fitness classes.

A report published in May 2021 showed the global e-learning market to be valued at $185-billion in 2020 and it projected that this will more than double to reach $388bn by 2026.

Getting in synch – synchronous and asynchronous

One of the great benefits for students of online courses is that they can study in their own time. Depending on the format and structure of the course, students could also study at their own pace. There are two different course formats in online learning – synchronous and asynchronous.

Synchronous learning is when all students move along together at the same pace, much like in conventional classrooms or lecture halls. Online learning is not so limited and online courses can also be asynchronous, meaning that each student moves along at their own pace.

The synchronous online format involves scheduled live lectures while an asynchronous format would have students watching pre-recorded lectures from a video library, so they can watch (and rewatch) them whenever is most convenient.

Did you know there are four basic models for learning online?

Online learning is a broad term. Even in reading this article online, you are hopefully learning something new, which under a wide definition could be termed online learning. That is of course an unhelpful and overly wide definition.

Online learning courses are generally broken into the following four categories, as defined by size and structure. This classification covers all manner of online learning, from higher education degrees to corporate training to private online yoga classes.

  • Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are structured for an unlimited number of students to study at their own pace (ie asynchronously).
  • Synchronous massive online courses (SMOCs) are structured for an unlimited number of students to study at a set pace (ie synchronously).
  • Small private online courses (SPOCs) are structured for a limited number of students to study at their own pace (ie asynchronously).
  • Synchronous small online courses (SSOCs) are structured for a limited number of students to study at a set pace (ie synchronously).

At HEP Africa, we are focused on the SPOC market. The courses our partners provide are limited to the number of students that the individual lecturer and tutors can mark and give constructive feedback. The courses are also asynchronous as students can study in their own time, although each module is to be completed within a certain time frame.

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