E-learning is a concept which excites some and concerns others. But regardless of whether we embrace it with open arms or regard it with a sceptical eye, e-learning is already well and truly upon us and growing larger every day. From MOOCs (massive open online courses) to augmented reality technology, which places students in various roles from astronaut to a historical figure; the world of learning is becoming less and less about massive text books and more about innovative technology.
And in British universities, recorded lectures have become so prevalent that some students can barely find a reason to leave their houses anymore, opting instead to watch their lectures in bed after a lie-in, with the wonderful ability to pause their lecturer. And, if students do attend their lectures, the lecture halls are likely to be filled with the clatter of laptop keyboards rather than the scribbling of pen on paper. It has also become common to enrol on a distance learning course instead of physically going to university, although the Open University’s student numbers have decreased by a quarter over the past five years, due to less people enrolling on part time courses.
So what can we expect?
One future trend we can reasonably predict is an increase in the use of e-learning tools such as gamification, mobile learning, augmented reality technology and digitalised textbooks. These technologies have already been successfully integrated in to the curriculum in many areas so it’s most likely that the rest of the world will eventually adopt them too. Therefore, forty years from now, learning by listening to someone who is physically present in the room, may actually become quite rare. Indeed, there’s already been a shift in universities from face to face learning to face to screen learning because of the recorded lectures. It is also possible that classes made up of students who live geographically close may become a thing of the past, replaced by opportunities for students to enrol on to a range of virtual classes online, alongside students living all around the world.
However, it is highly unlikely that physical schools will ever actually die out. Identifying with an institution based in a specific location is important to student’s identities and, besides, distance learning does not provide students with labs, workshops or face to face discussions, unlike physical schools and university campuses. Additionally, in the case of university campuses, the appeal is not just about the degree itself but also the various societies, opportunities to get involved in the local community and the chance to live independently in a student house. However, the university experience is not for everyone and MOOCs help work towards the democratisation of education by allowing anyone who has internet access to learn, no matter where they live. But, we must remember that only around 40% of the world’s population has internet access today, meaning this democratisation has limits.
Anyhow, although we can speculate, it is impossible to know precisely what we can expect from e-learning in the long term future. Nonetheless, we can safely conclude that it’s definitely not going anywhere, as it’s very much become an established central part of education. I predict that, alongside the growth of e-learning, there will be much debate about how best to strike a balance between utilising innovative e-learning techniques whilst preserving certain traditional teaching methods which cannot be replicated using technology.