How eLearning has transformed the academic world

How eLearning has transformed the academic world

eLearning, short for electronic learning, is ‘the delivery of learning and training through digital resources’. (1) As a form of asynchronous learning, it can refer to anything from pre-recorded video lessons to activity-based animations.

The biggest advantage of eLearning is that it’s self-paced. If you have a computer and internet access, you can do it anywhere and at a time that suits you.

eLearning has been invaluable since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with millions of locked-down students and employees relying on virtual lessons to further their education and knowledge. But even before the pandemic, the eLearning market was growing rapidly, with global investment in edtech reaching US$18.66 billion in 2019. (2)

With eLearning on the rise, we look at the impact it’s had on the academic world so far – and its potential for the future.

How is the academic world embracing eLearning? 

Schools, colleges, and universities across the world have embraced eLearning to different extents. Some use it to supplement traditional in-person classroom-based education, while others have gone even further and introduced entire eLearning courses.

Ulster University, for example, is one of many universities that offers a full catalogue of virtual courses, allowing for flexible delivery. The courses are particularly popular with professionals looking to learn around a full-time job, with modules including lecture notes, peer-based discussions guided by the tutor, and self-directed learning tasks. 

The existence of eLearning courses at universities is made possible by the increasing number of platforms available, including Moodle and Totara. These hubs allow students to access courses, download materials, take quizzes, and submit coursework, all at their own pace. The benefit for institutions is that they’re not limited to the number of people they can reach – they simply need to allow students access to the platform. Plus, once the course is created, the maintenance of the teaching content is minimal.

Outside universities, the massive open online course (MOOC) market is also taking the world by storm. These are free learning online platforms where participants can join from all over the world – you don’t need to be a student, and you don’t need to be enrolled on a particular degree course. 

One of the most popular public-facing examples is FutureLearn, the Open University’s online learning platform. Since its launch in 2013, FutureLearn has partnered with universities across the world to run courses on topics such as law, healthcare, politics, and literature. Each of the courses contain engaging videos, articles, audio, and quizzes. Crucially, while courses are divided into weeks, learners can work through the curriculum at their own pace – giving them the option to revisit topics or even power through them. Over seven million people have signed up to courses on the FutureLearn platform so far (3), suggesting a real appetite for online learning opportunities.

Another approach that’s quickly gaining traction is the idea of a flipped classroom. This is where students are introduced to content at home on eLearning platforms, before working through traditional ‘homework’ at school with their teacher and peers. Watching pre-recorded videos and reading online course material in the students’ own time gives them a chance to take in the information at their own pace – it also encourages them to become familiar with the background information before they put it into practice.

Of course, successful eLearning relies on access to technology as well as a stable internet connection, which isn’t ubiquitous. For example, there are several countries in Africa where the percentage of the population using the internet is low: in South Sudan, only 10.9% of the population use the internet (4). So, while the academic world is embracing eLearning in all its forms, there’s still a way to go before it’s globally accessible.

How effective is eLearning?

Initial research into the effectiveness of the format looks promising, with eLearning said to increase retention rates from 25% to 60%; retention rates from face-to-face learning are around 8% to 10% (5). This is attributed to the fact students have more control over their learning, and can revisit any aspect of the course as and when needed.

Research also suggests that students can learn quicker online, thanks to the self-paced element. It’s estimated that eLearning takes 40%-60% less time than a traditional classroom setting (6).

While eLearning has many benefits, it’s been noted that it might not be suited to younger children. As they’re more easily distracted, a more structured environment is often required. 

Final thoughts: the future of eLearning

The future for eLearning isn’t just bright – it’s positively glowing. In fact, between 2020 and 2025 it’s estimated that the UK eLearning market will grow by US$9.94 billion (7). But what can schools and universities expect to see next from their learning platforms?

The academic world is embracing AI in all its forms, from chatbots to AI-powered research tools. For example, Scholarcy helps busy students and researchers keep on top of their reading by turning online texts into interactive flashcards. It makes the reading process less linear and helps to bring key facts – which might be buried deep in the document – right to the forefront. Likewise, the eLearning industry is already developing more engaging eLearning formats that make use of advanced technologies including AI and virtual reality. By focusing on the gamification of online classes, companies hope to bring learning to life and immerse more students in the world of education. Watch this space!

References

[1] LearnUpon Blog, 2018. What is eLearning? [online] Available at: <​​https://www.learnupon.com/blog/what-is-elearning/>  [Accessed: 13 March 2022]

[2] World Economic Forum, 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. This is how. [online] Available at: <​​https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-education-global-covid19-online-digital-learning/>  [Accessed 11 March 2022]

[3] FutureLearn, Futurelearn course providers, [online] Available at: <https://www.futurelearn.com/partners> [Accessed 14 March 2022]

[4] Statista, 2022, Countries with the lowest internet penetration rate as of January 2022 [online] Available at: <https://www.statista.com/statistics/725778/countries-with-the-lowest-internet-penetration-rate/#:~:text=North%20Korea%20was%20ranked%20first,penetration%20of%20nearly%20zero%20percent.> [Accessed 15 March 2022]

[5] World Economic Forum, 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. This is how. [online] Available at: <​​https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-education-global-covid19-online-digital-learning/>  [Accessed 11 March 2022]

[6] World Economic Forum, 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. This is how. [online] Available at: <​​https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-education-global-covid19-online-digital-learning/>  [Accessed 11 March 2022]

[7] Technavio, 2022. E-learning Market in the UK to Grow by USD 9.94 billion [online] Available at: <https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/e-learning-market-in-the-uk-to-grow-by-usd-9-94-billion–technavio-301498162.html> [Accessed 15 March 2022]

 

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