Education worldwide has, and is currently undergoing a remarkable change, specifically in higher education. Educators and learners have at their disposal sets of tools that have altered the nature of teaching delivery and learning, and allowed more institutions to create courses and accredited qualifications for a partially or completely online audience. Online education can be defined by Holmborg’s (1990) perspective, which states that ‘distance education includes various forms of study at all levels which are not under continuous, immediate supervision of tutors present with their students in lecture rooms or on the same premises, but which, nevertheless benefit from the planning, guidance and tuition of a tutorial organization’. This shift has largely been driven by the democratization of education by the affordable nature of many online institutions in comparison to residential institutions, allowing access to a far wider reach of potential learners.
Online learning can be distinguished according to three modes:
- Adjunct mode uses networking to enhance traditional face-to-face or distance education.
- Mixed mode employs networking as significant portion of a traditional classroom or distance course.
- Totally online mode relies on networking as the primary teaching medium for an entire course or program.
The question I often get asked when hearing that I work in online education is “but is it effective?” This is always a question with a multifactorial answer which is often ‘it depends’.The three critical success factors in online delivery are: technology, the instructor, and the previous use of technology from the students perspective. In South Africa we are in a unique position whereby millions have access to technological resources, such as computers and the internet, while millions do not. Therefore, the success of online learning can be greatly determined by income factors, whereby lower-income households generally don’t have access to high-speed internet. Students from lower-income households may also lack the social and psychological skills necessary for success in distance education. However, technology has reached areas and socio-economic groups who previously had no access, thereby allowing a far wider reach of education opportunities for those previously unable to access or afford it. Further, some research has shown that online education can lead to superior learning outcomes and allow students to study at a schedule that is best suited for them.
With this in mind, we may ask if online learning has grown in recent years, and by how much? The numerous online platforms, such as Udemy, Coursera, Lynda, Skillshare and Audacity serve millions of people worldwide. Further, universities and colleges are democratizing by making many courses accessible via online. There has also been an expansion in strictly online-based institutions, particularly in South Africa, such as UNISA, Cornerstone Institute, and the Two Oceans Graduate Institute to name a few. These all demonstrate that there is a huge demand for online learning offerings not only in South Africa, but worldwide.
I came from a background in face-to-face education with no online offerings. Student’s assignments and resources were all available for them to download and view online, but all assessments and examinations were taken in person. Since working at TOGI, I have found that the type of student in the online space is quite different than those I encountered in my previous job. Students work at far different hours from one another, and have to often balance a family, job, and personal life with their studies. My observations have been that most of these students demonstrate a higher level of maturity and organizational ability than those in face-to-face institutions, on a whole. However, it is mainly those who maintain open channels of communication with their lecturers and who are capable of finding creative solutions and innovations to learning barriers who find success within the online learning sphere.
One simply needs to do a search online to understand the depth and level of online education. Companies, such as Construct Education and Online Education Services (OES) are large, dynamic companies, working with institutions and corporations to develop online offerings, and this industry has shown massive growth over the past year (Global Online Education Market, 2021-2026)
I am truly excited to be a part of this expansion, and am looking forward to seeing how this industry grows in the future.
Global Online Education Market, 2021-2026. [Online] Available at: https://mobilityforesights.com/product/online-education-market/ [Accessed 26/03/2021]
Holmberg, B. 1990. Perspectives of Research on Distance Education. [Online] Available at: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED325633.pdf [Accessed 26/03/2021]