Last updated: 04.08.12

Distance learning online 'is set to transform education'

Virtual learning environments will cause significant disruption to higher education in the immediate future.

This is according to Parneet Gosal, writer, strategist and founder of digital strategy consultancy Seedwalker, who wrote in a blog for the firm that universities across the world are implementing e-learning programmes and looking into the possibilities provided by distance learning online.

Wide-spread public demand for improved access to education is driving this change, she continued, highlighting the fact that there are many "ordinary people" who wish to study a particular subject at their own pace and without a teacher "looking over [their] shoulder".

"There is every indication that online learning works," the expert stated, pointing to research that appears to indicate students on e-learning courses learn content faster than people participating in face-to-face instruction.

Many people are pursuing academia in later life through online learning programmes because of "sheer curiosity", the specialist remarked.

Ms Gosal forecast that hybrid learning environments will play a key role in the education of the future.

Some colleges and universities will utilise a combination of offline and online tuition, while others will consist almost entirely of virtual learning environments and will provide very little in terms of real-world instruction, she predicted.

Certification will begin to make a larger appearance in e-learning courses, as educators will seek to enable employers to specify the competencies of their alumni, the representative added.

This will occur due to the "sheer volume of students" that will take part in online learning programs, she noted.

Other predictions made by the expert include peer assessment methods and honour codes, which will aim to curtail any cheating or exploitation that could occur in mainstream online training, Ms Gosal argued.

Presently, these developments would be largely unnecessary, as the majority of students taking online learning courses are doing so "because they want to", she pointed out, noting these individuals are "not as interested in taking shortcuts" as others might be.

A recent poll by Pew Internet and Elon University found 60 per cent of people believe the education sector will be substantially different to how it is now by 2020, with e-learning driving these changes.