Last updated: 30.07.12

Poll reveals web experts predict explosion in online learning by 2020

E-learning is expected to explode in the immediate future, a study has revealed.

Research from Pew Internet and Elon University, which involved the polling of 1,021 web researchers, experts, observers and users, found 60 per cent of respondents believe there will be significant changes in the education sector by 2020.

These people agreed that there will be "mass adoption" of distance learning online and teleconferencing in order to help facilities leverage their resources effectively.

Furthermore, they said there will also be a growing transition towards 'hybrid' classes, which will involve some aspects of online learning alongside in-person, on-campus class meetings, which will be less frequent than they currently are.

However, 30 per cent of the people polled agreed that higher education will be "not much different from the way it is today" by 2020.

This indicates internet experts are more than twice as likely to forecast a rapid increase in the use of virtual learning environments as they are to predict little change to occur.

Pew Internet researcher Jan Lauren Boyles remarked that the transition to online learning courses could foreshadow an "uncertain and challenging future" to some individuals, while people more enthusiastic about e-learning innovations will think the change "can't come soon enough".

Respondents appear to believe universities and the education sector will have to deal with the "same powerful disruption" as that seen by the recording industry and news media businesses, he said.

Director of the Pew Internet project Lee Rainine suggested economic forces are viewed by the majority of respondents to be the most important factor in the changes.

Some of this group were excited that online learning courses would enable universities to leverage new capabilities and collaborative projects in such as way as to "enhance knowledge creation and sharing", he added.

While many of the survey respondents have leadership roles on the web, many others have smaller roles in the internet and came to the poll because they were on the Pew Internet & American Life Project's mailing list.

The organisation said: "It is striking how much their views are distributed in ways that parallel those who are celebrated in the technology field."