E-learning — or electronic learning — is the acquisition of knowledge students achieve through varying electronic technologies or digital media. E-learning has been gaining significant traction for several years. In 2019, the global e-learning market was worth around $200 billion. It’s expected to increase to $370 billion by 2026. This is partially due to the COVID pandemic, which began in early 2020 and intensified the need for an alternative to in-person learning.
E-learning is a flexible, affordable option for students who cannot pay for traditional schooling or the cost of commuting. It grants educational access for those who are not physically able to attend in-person classes due to either disability or transportation issues.
Evolutions in Online Learning
Throughout 2020, the e-learning industry disrupted traditional methods of education and proffered a more convenient, arguably safer alternative to classroom learning. We can expect the e-learning industry to continue to create new ways to revolutionize the classroom while striving to maintain a high standard of quality education.
Online learning has evolved in many ways since its inception. Universities have been offering e-learning in some capacity since the internet was created in the 1990s. We saw rapid growth in technology between 2006 and 2010, which helped boost the popularity and accessibility of online learning, especially in the higher education sector.
However, when the COVID pandemic hit in late 2019 and early 2020, many countries around the world implemented immediate changes to their education systems. Teachers of K-12 students, who had never used e-learning technologies before, were now having to adapt to new ways of teaching their students.
Even as we are emerging from the COVID pandemic, we are continuing to see changes in technology, teaching, and learning.
Changes in Technology
Because of the increase in students who are using e-learning, educational technology is seeing some advancement, especially software. Technologies like remote access software and remote monitoring systems have allowed more people the opportunity to learn online as well as teach online.
It’s important to note that, with the advancement of technologies along with video conferencing and other distance solutions, comes the threat of cybersecurity and the need for increased protection. Teachers and students alike must use network security software to protect their documents, privacy, and personal information.
Increasingly, educators and students rely on remote IT help from managed service providers (MSPs) to keep virtual classrooms operational, and secure all the different personal devices they’re using to connect.
Since the COVID pandemic emerged, the educational system has seen an increase in the need for collaborative technologies, like interactive whiteboards, video conferencing, and assignment delivery systems. Before COVID, these were more popular in the higher learning system, but are now widely used within the global education industry.
Changes in Teaching
Traditionally, teachers taught in person, especially at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels. However, since the e-learning industry has seen rapid growth in the last several years, technology now allows teachers to work remotely and do their job from virtually anywhere. Not only can they do their job remotely, but they’re also able to continue providing the same quality of education as they were with in-person learning.
Even before COVID hit, K-12 teachers were adapting to new technologies. For example, a lot of schools gave their students iPads and/or other devices they could use to complete their homework, sign paperwork, and more. Teachers also had to learn how to use these devices as well as the software and programs that come with them.
Changes for Students
E-learning has also changed the classroom for students, especially those who are growing up in today’s educational system. In the past, students had to use physical resources (books, periodicals) or a designated database to research information or complete assignments.
Now, there are hundreds of thousands of credible online resources and technologies that students can use. Because of the evolving internet, there is almost an unlimited supply of online information on any given topic, making it easier for students to complete their research and assignments.
Students have also adapted to using technologies to complete their assignments, rather than doing them by hand and then giving them to their teacher in person. Virtual classroom software has made it possible for students to learn from home and get the same quality of education as they would in a traditional classroom. However, such virtual classroom software is not equally and readily available to everyone because of the digital divide.
The Digital Divide
The digital divide is the gap between those who have ready access to computers and the internet and those who do not. Unreliable, or complete lack of, access to technology, Wi-Fi, and other necessary tools needed for education has created discrepancies in education.
Lack of high-speed internet can be a problem for rural areas because some regions simply do not have internet service providers that can reach them. It is also an issue for households with low income, but many areas have resources to help families who cannot afford high-speed internet.
To combat this digital divide and make it possible for all students to access quality education, lawmakers around the country are introducing bills that would expand internet access to rural and low-income households. Because the COVID pandemic intensified the need for all households with students to have access to Wi-Fi and other necessary tools, U.S. lawmakers on the state and federal levels have also intensified their efforts to provide it to them.
Is Online Learning Here to Stay?
The education system has seen a lot of changes over the last few years and is expected to continue on that path. E-learning opportunities make it easier for students all over the world to get a quality education.
While the COVID pandemic has forced change to happen, students and teachers alike are taking advantage of the opportunities that e-learning is affording them. These opportunities include advancements in technologies that make it easier for them to get a quality education from home or anywhere else in the world.
Lawmakers around the country, and the world, will continue advocating for universal access to high-speed internet so that everyone can enjoy equal access to e-learning. E-learning is a convenient, affordable, flexible way for students everywhere to get the education they want and need.