With the spread of the coronavirus and its impact on classroom-based learning, there could be a sudden surge in online learning. This crisis has the potential to trigger an online boom for education but also equip us better for future emergencies.
With the spread of the coronavirus and its impact on classroom-based learning, there could be a sudden surge in online learning. Education and RTOs are facing disruption with institutions around the world responding to travel bans, restrictions and quarantines. This crisis has the potential to trigger an online boom for education but also equip us better for future emergencies.
In China, it has been reported that 180 million Chinese students (primary, secondary and tertiary) are homebound or unable to travel. The spring semester was due to begin on 17 February but has now seen an indefinite postponement, resulting in an attempt to switch to online learning on an enormous scale. Effects are also being felt across Australia with the economic dependence on international students and restricted travel until (at least) 29 February.
This state of limbo has highlighted the need and benefits of e-learning and online learning management systems (LMS) to help those students unable to attend in person. Currently, there are no mandatory standards for online education which means every institution is delivering at different levels. This makes for a huge variety between institutions and even the courses themselves. Put this alongside a level of reluctance towards distance learning and it creates a murky picture.
But clearly, especially in the current situation, there is a place for online learning and steps must be taken to standardise it and provide it when required. There are many advantages and here we will explore the top ten that an RTO and other institutions can benefit from.
Ten key benefits of e-learning:
Compared to the classroom, online materials are understandably quicker and easier to disseminate. Delivering courses via the classroom takes more time and more resources in order to share information to all students. Due to these quicker delivery cycles, it has been estimated that the time required to learn is reduced to 25%-60% of the time required in traditional learning.
Students learning online can focus solely on the elements they are required to learn, and this can be done at their own pace. This differs to the classroom where an instructor aims to cater to each individual’s needs and cover the entire agenda. Students will have varying existing knowledge and so learning face-to-face can only progress at the rate of the slowest learner.
Application of learning
The immediate availability of learning materials means students can access them (and re-access them an unlimited number of times) whenever they require. Depending on the technological developments and platforms, the learners will also be able to access them from a range of devices. This means a faster application of the learning.
Access to specialists
In terms of cost and readiness, e-learning means increased access to the knowledge, expertise and skills of the local, national and world’s best specialists or exponents in varying fields and industries.
Online learning materials are an excellent vehicle to provide consistency in content and presentation style. This can be particularly advantageous to organisations or institutions that deliver courses to large numbers of people or even across states, territories and countries.
Focus on vital data
E-learning materials give access to essential information required to keep jobs, get promotions, or find new roles. Employers can check the learner’s knowledge is up to standard and therefore meet compliance and regulatory obligations. Because it’s online and distributed via an LMS, this enables organisations to collect crucial data that can be provided as evidence to authorities on current knowledge levels and related regulatory compliance. In turn, this can help employers to save huge amounts of money, time and hassle in potential fines, court cases and other negative impacts.
It is much easier to update large amounts of information when e-learning materials are held in one central location, for example, an LMS. This can be done as and when necessary, which offers a high level of reassurance and trust towards an RTO, and peace of mind for the administrators. As well as reputation and appearance, there is also the question of compliance again. For regulatory purposes, all learners must be able to access information that is current and up-to-date, and this will synchronise them with others in their industries.
Lower impact on environment
The world is becoming increasingly climate-conscious. People and organisations are continually looking for ways to improve their practices which has a positive impact on environmental issues. Online learning is a much lower carbon footprint and a ‘greener’ alternative to classroom-based learning.
The monetary side of developing and delivering e-learning is also worthy to note. It is an extremely competitive aspect for an RTO because it can dramatically reduce the cost of resources and learning materials per learner compared to the classroom. It saves money on the physical side of classroom-based learning but also time on behalf of the learner, as they do not have to leave their jobs or homes to travel to the course location. Finally, learning materials can be accessed, re-accessed, learned and applied much quicker than the skills and knowledge disseminated in a classroom. This means the students are more efficient, effective and productive in a shorter amount of time, resulting in lower costs in the rectification of mistakes.
Lastly, e-learning fits with current technology trends. Online learning is becoming incredibly popular with access from phones, tablets, laptops, personal computers and other devices. All can be used to deliver learning materials wherever and whenever required. From the student’s perspective, e-learning is the cheaper and simpler option and doesn’t take the rearranging of commitments, time and money. Using an LMS and online learning can also be personalised to the individual, focusing on their needs and being accessible according to their availability.
What are the main pros and cons of e-learning?
It can be described as the best and worst advance in learning, but clearly there are many benefits to having e-learning as an alternative option (especially in the current coronavirus-related situation). It all comes down to the quality of the learning materials offered and their suitability to the learners within their industries.
Online learning excels in essential courses, ones that contain industry compliance information and statutory regulatory requirements. Fundamental knowledge and skills can be learnt here, such as successfully delivering a service to customers (BSBCUE201E) and providing effective leadership in the workplace (PSPGEN053E).
It’s also important to note that research has highlighted a higher dropout rate than classroom-based learning. Again, this comes back to the quality and suitability of the materials. If the student feels supported and has a reliable point of contact then these figures should decrease.
Is this a permanent solution or just a crisis response tool?
Online learning plays a much bigger role than just an emotional response to an emergency situation. It gives students more freedom, saves costs for both sides, increases opportunities for all, and unifies learning materials to meet compliance and other standards in education. A global epidemic does highlight some clear benefits but it makes up a more complex picture. Distance learning is advantageous in ‘developing countries’, for those in remote areas of the country/world, and a reliable alternative for those who do not feel comfortable in a classroom setting.
It will be interesting to see if the number of e-learners increases, decreases or maintains once this current crisis passes. Imagine if COVID-19 (the strain of coronavirus) led to some permanent changes for RTOs and other educational institutions, what would this change look like? There are varying levels in being ‘digitally ready’ and no current standard to work towards. What we can see is that online learning can be a robust response system to major crises, and when the need arises, we can quickly move online and learners won’t have to miss out on their studies.