Learning is something that we normally associate with a classroom. You can picture the scene: the students seated facing the lecturer, who is writing on a blackboard or a whiteboard. Even as late as a dozen years ago, a virtual classroom existed only in the realms of science fiction. Technology has evolved so rapidly since then, that it has not only moved from fiction to reality but promises to be the future of learning, as we enter the era of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
To be sure, traditional classroom learning still has a future. Online learning can only complement it or at best, partly replace it. At least for the foreseeable future, there will be no substitute for a lecturer present in the flesh. Nonetheless, online learning offers a host of advantages that traditional teaching never can. Here are a few examples.
- Geographical outreach: The single biggest advantage of online pedagogy is that it is not bound by the constraints of location. Unlike the traditional classroom method, an instructor can reach out to thousands of students online at the same time. And so a Java expert based in New York can reach out to students across the entire world, irrespective of their location.
In fact, online learning can even eliminate the constraints of time. The Java expert in the above example can record the session and post it online on a video sharing platform. A student based in Auckland, for instance, need not lose a night’s sleep to attend the session. He or she can access it at a time best suited to his or her convenience.
- Accessibility: From the point of view of the learner, online lessons offer the advantage of access. For instance, a student living in a country like Nigeria or Bangladesh, who cannot afford the cost of higher education in the west, can access an information technology course online, without having to leave the shores of his or her country. In fact, it is quite likely that accessibility will give future generations a much more level playing field than their predecessors.
- Affordability: Online learning offers the advantage of lower cost due to two factors: First and foremost, the cost of renting a classroom is eliminated altogether. Secondly, with access to a much wider audience, the cost per student can come down drastically, offering economies of scale.
For policymakers across the world, especially in developing countries with limited resources, this aspect of online learning is nothing short of a blessing. Although the concept is still in a nascent stage, it is just a matter of time before countries start developing governmental policies relating to online education.
- Personalisation: Customised learning is extremely difficult, if not impossible in traditional classroom learning. However, online learning gives students the luxury of proceeding at a pace and in a sequence of his or her choosing. The learner can enjoy a degree of control that would have been inconceivable even a few years ago. There’s also the fact that he or she can also revisit the lesson at any point in time and any number of times if it is available on a video sharing platform.
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