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Video calls online have now become a familiar sight to us. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, many things have moved online, and that includes education. Schools were forced to shut down and teachers scrambled to create materials for online learning. However, these circumstances have also allowed many to discover the appeal of this alternative form of learning. In fact, it has been raised that online learning might continue even after the pandemic and become the future of education. Changing times have opened our doors to a new era of learning.

New Kid on the Block

Is online learning a concept that simply popped up recently? Not at all. In 1984, over 30 years ago, the University of Toronto offered their first-ever completely online course. Online learning has been around for a fairly long time and has been increasingly utilized by schools and institutions since then. This is also propelled by improving technology systems and high-speed internet such as 4G and 5G which is now widely accessible. With the world wide web available to us, we can essentially learn anything we want online. You can learn a new language with an online tutor or take a full course on coding and even receive certification for it. Platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, and Skillshare offer courses that can award students with certification which are recognized and relevant to their future careers.

Of course, online learning was utilized in the past, just not to the extent today. For the “online” aspect, schools use sources and materials taken from online to teach students and help them better understand concepts. Some schools and institutions have been slowly integrating online learning. For example, prior to the pandemic, schools in Singapore had “e-learning” days where students spent one or more days taking classes on online platforms. However, in this pandemic, online learning has completely taken over all education settings due to the need for social distancing. “Going to school” now means to plop in front of a device for hours and listen to lectures for five days a week.

Why Online Learning?

Although it might have been against our will, online learning has grown immensely in recent times, and many have opened their eyes to its appeal. In the words of Professor John Domingue, the director of Knowledge Media Institute, a multidisciplinary research and design lab, the “online genie” is out of the bottle and will not go back in. It is unsurprising that online learning is projected to become the future of education. In 2020, the online learning market grew to $250 billion and it is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2027.

What makes online learning a viable and attractive alternative for learning? Firstly, as mentioned, the internet is widely accessible. Online resources, such as videos, are also extremely useful for educators. When studying abstract concepts, students can better visualize the topic at hand through the use of online resources. Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, YouTube channel “Amoeba Sisters” was popular in helping students visualize and understand Biology concepts. In March 2020, the viewership of this channel went up by 70 percent, which was a period when the pandemic was at its worst and online learning commenced for many.

The flexibility of online learning is also an important factor. Online learning encompasses not only school-style lectures and lessons but also lessons and courses you can take online under online institutions. Such online learning options are flexible as they allow you to customize your learning. Certain online courses do not have fixed deadlines or lesson hours, allowing you to plan your schedule and learn at your own pace. This is especially useful for those who are learning and working at the same time.

The convenience of online learning definitely plays a part in the appeal. Both students and teachers get to enjoy being in the comfort of their own homes while teaching or receiving lessons. There is no concern about being late for class. It has even been raised that in countries which experience heavy snow, this will no longer pose a problem if students do not have to physically attend school. This also brings in the point of the cost-effectiveness of online learning as travel expenses are saved and schools and institutions do not need to spend money on printing out resources since they can be provided online.

A Double-Edged Sword

Unfortunately, online learning is not the best option for everyone. As widely accessible as the internet is today, there are families which might not have the means to purchase devices for their use. In the case of online learning for schools, a study conducted by the National Union of Students (NUS) found that one in four students were unable to access online learning during the lockdown. This was attributed to a variety of factors such as lack of IT equipment and software, and poor internet connection. While this survey was conducted in the United Kingdom, it is likely that many students across the globe face similar disruptions in their learning.

As with everything, online learning has its pros and cons. However, online learning definitely offers many benefits, and allows students to learn wherever they want, whenever they want. Given the current circumstances, there is no doubt that online learning will continue to grow. This makes it necessary for schools and institutions to make improvements to this system and for students to adapt to this style of learning to maximize the potential of this learning experience.