Online education has come a long way in a relatively short space of time. Since the first online courses were introduced during the 1990s, the popularity of digital learning has grown enormously.
In 2016 the Global Shapers Survey – which surveys 25,000 young people from around the world – found that 77.8% had taken some sort of online course. In the first ten months of 2017, global investors put a record $8.15 billion into educational technology companies, up 11% from the previous record set in 2016.
The international EdTech marketplace, which includes everything from online postgraduate degrees to professional training and certification, is booming. But is online learning the future of education?
A brief history of online learning
To try and decide whether online education is the way forward, we’ve looked back at how far distance learning has come. Over 250 years before the online courses of today, the Boston Gazette advertised one of the world’s first “correspondence-based” courses. In 1728, students interested in learning shorthand could sign up to receive lessons through the post on a weekly basis.
In 1858, the University of London became the first educational institution to offer correspondence degrees. By the 1940s, many colleges and universities in the US were using radio to provide some of the first synchronous distance learning classes. Back in the UK, the Open University began broadcasting on television on BBC Two and on radio in 1971.
The arrival of the Internet in the 1990s created the online degree as we know it today, enabling a truly interactive experience between the content, tutors and peers. The number of US students on distance learning courses increased 150% between 1998 and 2008; in Europe, student enrolment rose 15-20% in 2012.
Changing attitudes to online education
In their original form, online courses struggled to compete with campus-based learning, not least because the infrastructure of the early Internet simply wasn’t good enough to support quality connectivity.
However, with advances in technology enabling improved connectivity and communication techniques, online learning is no longer thought of as lacking in credibility. Recent research from iMod Education found that 71% of academic leaders believe online learning outcomes are the same or superior to face-to-face education.
Why do people choose to learn online?
It’s certainly true that the Internet has become a major part of everyday life, but there’s more to the rise of online education than our increasing familiarisation with all things digital. While no two individual reasons may be the same, there are several key aspects of digital learning that may explain why online study has become such a popular and valued form of study.
It allows you to learn without taking a career break, and to apply learning directly to your real-life role.
- There’s no need to relocate or travel in order to attend campus.
- It’s accessible and flexible, allowing you to study when and where suits you.
- Online cohorts are often global, enabling you to build up a valuable professional network from all over the world.
The future of online learning
Looking back at our original question, it’s unlikely that online learning will ever replace campus-based education altogether, but it is undoubtedly a viable alternative for today’s busy professionals.
As the digital world continues to evolve, intelligent technologies – such as Artifical Intelligence and Machine Learning – could create a never-before-seen level of personalisation for online students. The online learning experience could be individually tailored, using data insight to understand personal learning styles, identify areas for improvement, and create customised learning pathways.
In the future, students learning online could find themselves digitally transported to Virtual and Mixed Reality learning spaces, without ever physically leaving home. This kind of technology could make attending a virtual lecture or discussion session as authentic as really being there.
Discovering online education for yourself
Learning online can allow you to gain a wealth of career-boosting skills and expertise alongside work and life commitments, enabling personal development and opening up new opportunities. Take a look at our online course pages to find out more or get in touch using the online request form.