The Future of Online Learning

January 7, 2021

It is no surprise that the topic of education and learning online is growing in popularity at this moment in time.

Moore’s law allows us to account for the fact that the internet and the devices that access it will continue to become faster, cheaper, and available in more places. The barrier to create and publish content is becoming lower and lower.

Adding to this the increasing number of people who will have fast and cheap access to the internet, there will be so much information created online. This also means that it takes less time for said information to lose its value. The law of diminishing returns kicks into play almost as soon as you learn something new. So how can we counter the risk of information overload and the law of diminishing returns.

“Knowledge is cumulative. Intelligence is selective. It’s a matter of efficiency versus effectiveness.”

Honing one’s selective intelligence will become ever more important. With an ever growing ocean of information, the ability to determine the signal from the noise increases as intelligence slowly displaces knowledge.

“Learning itself is a skill, and when you exercise that skill across domains, you get specialized as a learner in a way that someone who goes deep doesn’t. You learn how to learn by continuously challenging yourself to grasp concepts of a broad variety. This ironically then allows you to specialize in something else faster if you so choose. This is an incredibly valuable advantage.”

So what might the future of online education and learning look like?

As online education becomes more ubiquitous, learners will increasingly seek personalized direction from tutors.

There are two main categories that learning online generally falls into.

The first is ‘for-credit’ type courses where students enrolled in tertiary education take online classes offered by their universities in return for course credits. This type of online education is more collaborative and usually has a tutor or lecturer guiding students through the curriculum and course material on a daily and weekly basis. Students may also know one another from live classes and be able to collaborate outside of class hours.

The second form consists of informal training or certification preparation. This type of online learning is usually targeted at professionals or students seeking training or looking to upskill in a certain area of interest. There is usually no live classes or learning and it is taken on a platform like Udemy or Coursera. From a teaching perspective, this form of automated learning is more scalable. Courses can be made once (updated occasionally thereafter) and set up for students to take on-demand.

The Advantages of Online Learning

There are a number of clear advantages to online learning. The flexibility and accessibility that online learning affords often gives rise to a more balanced approach for students. Course content is accessible from anywhere in the world. Your virtual classroom is wherever you want it to be as long as you have an internet connection.

It goes without saying that the cost of online education and learning is significantly cheaper than in person classrooms. There are also a whole host of free online courses that students can use to determine if they have an aptitude for a certain subject, before they commit to really going deep.

Online education and learning tends to be a lot more affordable. Many online courses offer a wide range of flexible payment options for learners. Add to this the other savings from commuting and class materials, the financial investment on behalf of the student is often much less, and the results can often be better.

However, for all of its merits, online learning cannot offer in person human interaction. Self-paced and on-demand learning also requires large amounts of self-discipline. Students who do better in group environments with others to bounce off may not be as well positioned to benefit from learning online.

Emerging Trends

I think what we are beginning to see is somewhat of a hybridized approach to online education and learning. Platforms like Udemy and Coursera have proven there is a voracious demand for learning in the digital space. Now we also see the likes of Thinkific and Skillshare highlighting how creators and entrepreneurs are sharing their own skills and packaging them into niche courses.

As we mentioned already, learners are continuing to seek personalized direction from tutors. They can identify that they want to pursue a certain topic and then seek out tutors or people who have already had success in this area before. Thus, tutors and creators who have had success, are now positioned to impart their knowledge and expertise to willing learners.

Customized learning experiences are becoming more prevalent. Educators, creators and entrepreneurs are creating and sharing knowledge from experience.

A hybridized approach where students have access to on-demand learning material, but also access to a community of like minded individuals is emerging. This model gives the best of both worlds from the two main categories of learning online we outlined earlier. Students get the benefit of self-paced, on-demand learning, coupled with the ability to collaborate with others while doing so. With the global online education market set to grow by 58% between 2020 and 2025, there is huge room for opportunity. I’m sure the online education landscape will look vastly different by then, but the ability to learn and stay agile in an ever changing online environment can’t be understated.

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