The trend towards online learning has been growing gradually over the past decade but it got an unexpected boost with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, which changed most people’s attitudes to what can be done from home. If children are able to get their schooling that way, why shouldn’t adults? In fact, adults are much better suited to it, and as other aspects of life begin to go back to the way they were, online education is one area where the new normal looks set to stay. These are some of the reasons why.
It’s easy to access
Going to a traditional college campus to study can be a great experience, but it’s not for everyone. Often it just doesn’t fit in with the rest of life. If you work a full-time job, the flexible hours offered by most online courses can make it much easier to fit in your studies. This flexibility also helps if you’re a busy parent or you have other care responsibilities. If you have a disability or illness which makes getting around difficult, online learning is much more accessible, and it’s easier to combine it with assistance tools designed to help work around sensory impairments or learning disabilities. In addition to all this, distance learning provides access for people who live in remote locations and don’t want to relocate. Not having to move into new accommodation significantly reduces the financial barriers to learning.
The technology is constantly improving
The earliest distance learning initiatives depended on correspondence and gradually developed to incorporate televised lectures. Today you can watch video lectures online, use tools like Skype or Zoom to attend classes, ask questions and engage with fellow learners, and join social media student support groups. Costs are low – for many courses, all you need is a phone – and you’ll have easy access to additional materials for free online, while ordering books is just a few clicks away. Now some colleges are starting to incorporate virtual reality learning, with a simple headset placing you right there in the classroom. More great tools are becoming available all the time.
You can study at any level
If you’re homeschooling your kids, online learning can provide great support and expert resources in subject areas where you’re not as strong. Courses are available all the way from the first grade through postgraduate level. This means that if circumstance led to you doing badly in a key subject at school and you have felt embarrassed to admit to your difficulty, you can get the basic level help that you need with complete discretion. You can also discreetly get the training you need for a mid-life change of profession, take courses aimed at sharpening up the skills you’ve got or launch an academic career.
You can study any subject
The first generation of online courses focused on purely academic subjects and later ones sometimes incorporated a couple weeks of on-site learning to add a practical element to an academic course. As a consequence of the pandemic, however, more and more courses have been finding work-arounds for traditional practical requirements so that even subjects with a very hands-on focus are now able to be taught entirely online. You can now take an online manufacturing degree or an online biology degree with the same convenience as an online degree in English or math.
It’s gaining respect
In its early days, online learning wasn’t taken as seriously as learning based in a traditional institution. That began to change pre-pandemic with the launch of online programs by celebrated universities like Harvard and France’s Catholic University of Louvain. By engaging with the online model, these institutions made it clear that it deserved to be taken seriously. Their efforts were backed by campaigners for access to education in developing nations that pointed out its potential as a contributor to a real meritocracy where intelligence and commitment would matter more than the circumstances of someone’s birth. Today fewer and fewer employers see online qualifications as second class, and the opportunities for graduates are growing.
Online learning still requires hard work. From that point of view, it’s not an easy option, so it’s important to go into it with your eyes open and be prepared to work hard. If you do that, it can give you new skills, expand your worldview and present you with opportunities you never dreamed of having before. We can do better than going back to the old world in every area of life. Online learning is an idea whose time has arrived.