In 1665, Sir Isaac Newton and his classmates were forced to stay out of Trinity College for a year. All due to the Great Plague of London, which saw a loss of over 100,000 out of a total population estimated at 460,000. However, Newton used this time to begin his work on calculus, using prisms for optical theories and spending time in observing gravity. What he returned with at the end of the plague, changed the rest of the world forever.
Fast forward to 2021, the global pandemic COVID-19 has brought about a similar situation. It has changed the traditional method of education. Globally, over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom, while the schools remain shut. Digitizing education was already underway before the pandemic, however the lockdown led to a speed in transformation. Increasing numbers of schools, colleges and institutions have been obligated to adopt this digitized method of learning to ensure steady flow of knowledge. With this quick shift in education format, there has been a rise in E-learning – where teaching is imparted virtually over a digital medium.
E-learning has grown exponentially during the last few years. While it is being used for school/college courses, it has also proven effective in certification training and professional development. This has led to be a positive trend in opening new windows of learning for children and adults alike. Edtech firms are working at their full capacity to manage the growing need of online learning.
Adult learners are the ones who have completed their formal education but wish to improve their life skills and knowledge as they continue to grow. Online learning is being pursued by many adult learners in recent years as they continue to receive answers to critical questions:
- Why should I take up this course?
- How can I utilize the knowledge?
- Is the course flexible enough to blend into my life?
- Can I afford the cost involved?
- Will the online course certification hold value?
Amidst self isolation and work-from-home situations, professionals are grabbing the opportunity to invest their time and efforts in enhancing their knowledge and skills. This is helping individuals remain relevant for the future. In the current times of gloom, online courses bring a sense of satisfaction and motivation. As it is highly convenient and flexible, learners enjoy this method of education. This has been a catalyst in more adults taking up online courses with certification to productively use their quarantine time.
Any change that is so revolutionary will also introduce growth avenues across the learning landscape.
Few modes of online learning:
Synchronous online learning
Learning happens in real time at a pre-scheduled time from the comfort of your home or existing location. This includes live sessions with teachers and professors through virtual classrooms. Attendance is registered virtually just like they would within a classroom. The common methods under this kind of learning are video conferencing, teleconferencing, live chatting, and live-streamed lectures that must be viewed in real time. This kind of learning leads to increased classroom engagement by personal interactions with peers and instructors. It allows for a dynamic nature of learning by exploring topics, ideas and concepts. Learners can ask questions live and receive answers to their queries. It also helps create a bond with the professors by way of face-to-face discussions, individual guidance and mentorship.
However, there could be some drawbacks to this kind of learning. If your job keeps you at work for long hours, is hectic and unpredictable, you may find it difficult to keep up with the scheduled online course. At times, technical issues like a weak internet, dying battery or crashing hard drive could lead to unwanted stress during a live online session.
Asynchronous online learning
This type of learning happens on-demand, as per your schedule. Learners are given access to study materials, lectures, tests and assignments on enrollment. These can be accessed any time. Students learn the same thing at different times and different places. This course is available to students 24×7 but is bound by certain deadlines. The common methods of asynchronous learning are self-guided course modules, pre-recorded videos, virtual libraries, lecture notes, and online discussion boards or social media platforms. This kind of learning provides greater flexibility that makes it easier for it to blend within your lifestyle. It also allows you to understand the course material at your own pace rather than being dependent on when the live class ends.
However, asynchronous learning could lead the adult to isolation during his learning journey. Social media and email cannot replace real-time interactions. But, this is a great method of learning if one needs to learn skills quickly without dependency.
This combines face-to-face learning with online learning methods. Learners can work on individual concepts while instructors can support students who may need attention. Blending information technology in projects improves the student-teacher interaction. Such learning allows learners to demonstrate more autonomy, self-discipline and freedom.
Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)
These courses are accessible to learners for free.
- Massive because unlimited enrollments are accepted and can usually be a large number.
- Open because it is open to all without the need of admission.
- Online because they are facilitated via the internet.
- Course because it is designed to teach a specific topic.
These courses consist of video lessons, readings, assessments and discussion forums. They are created by universities and distributed by course providers. However, in MOOCs there is minimal or no interaction between the instructors and learners. Students are encouraged to provide answers to difficult questions via forum discussions.
Overcoming the challenges
While online learning has great potential, it also has its own challenges that need to be addressed effectively.
- Absence of in-person interaction – Online world limits the in-person interaction between learners, peers and instructors. This may be a challenge when a learner finds certain aspects of the course difficult to understand. Having access to video conferencing tools can help students learn effectively in a safe environment, free from the pandemic virus. Giving students access to discussion forums can also help them to attain the objective of enrolling for the course.
- Technical limitations & dependency – Fluctuating or weak internet bandwidth can cause undue stress while wanting to participate in an online course. Having access to a reliable internet connection is the key factor to make online learning a success. It is also good to have a ready-list of wifi connected places nearby and the responsive contact of the internet provider, in case the internet acts up at the last minute.
- Managing time and responsibilities – Adult learners have more responsibilities compared to younger students. This may be a major challenge for learners that give up on a course before completion. This challenge can be addressed by creating a strict but realistic schedule of what all can be achieved in a day. Keeping a to-do list in view constantly will help one succeed at time management and online learning.
Benefits of online courses:
- Irrespective of location – Online training can go on irrespective of your location. It is a safe and convenient alternative to a classroom setup.
- Beyond the age barrier – Older adults can also enroll for courses from the comfort of their homes. This will motivate them to contribute to the society with their treasure of experience coupled with enhanced knowledge and skills.
- Greater flexibility – You can decide to learn as per your need and free time. This makes it possible to manage other obligations towards family, career, hobbies and other responsibilities.
- Train at your own speed – Pursuing an online course is similar to private tutoring. Speed of lessons are based on your capacity and knowledge grasping skill. You can set your own schedule and take full control of how you want to improve your skills, with self discipline.
- Cost effective – Online courses are more affordable compared to full-time classroom courses. One can also save money, time & effort that is spent on daily commuting.
Online learning is here to stay. To keep up with the rising demand of learners, online Ed-Tech companies are now focusing on creating a robust IT infrastructure, adding new courses and increasing manpower.
While each of us have a right to decide how we wish to utilize our time during the coronavirus outbreak, many have made a choice to pursue online courses to enhance their skills and shift their focus from the pandemic. This could help an individual to generate an additional stream of income or enrich their current job role. We all wish this pandemic gets behind us soon, however, while living through it why not give education and skill learning a shot.
In some organizations, employers are investing in enrolling their employees for online courses. This has turned out to leave a positive impact on the minds of the employees as they feel like an intrinsic part of the company.