Last updated: 05.09.12

E-learning revolution 'will improve education'

Online learning has the potential to significantly alter education in a positive way, a specialist has said.

In an interview with SmartPlanet, Anant Agarwal, president of edX - Harvard University, the University of California, Berkeley and Massachusetts Institute of Technology's e-learning initiative - suggested that online training could transform academia's efficiency, scale and quality.

Students who have taken part in virtual learning environments have become engaged, been able to study at a pace that suits them and have experienced an education they believe is of a higher quality than that received in a traditional classroom, he added.

Distance learning online enables a small number of staff to teach a large number of people, allowing schools and universities to support vast amounts of learners, he stated.

While e-learning innovations might result in the universities that do not embrace them slipping behind, the sector will not change in the same way as the newspaper industry was transformed by information technology, the specialist declared.

Mr Agarwal said learning institutions are not like media groups and can bolster campus-based education through blended education.

He said: "I see online learning as a rising tide that will lift all boats - I think everything will be better."

However, the expert admitted the disruption digital technologies will bring to the education sector will be significant, pointing out that in the last millennia, some of the most substantial revolutions in academic centres have been sliding blackboards, printing and PowerPoint.

"This is the year of disruption," Mr Agarwal argued, pointing out that historically, when computers are applied to fields in a "concerted manner", the sectors are "completely revolutionised".

Digital innovations have been added to healthcare, communications, transportation, human productivity and "virtually every facet of mankind", but education is still to catch up, he remarked.

EdX could play a role in revolutionising education, he suggested, echoing his previous statements that it is "positioned to improve education more rapidly, both online and on-campus worldwide".