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What does the future hold for online learning?

Ashley Wheaton, Principal at University College of Estate Management, explains all

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | December 10, 2016 | Higher education

The benefits of online learning, compared to studying in a traditional classroom setting, are clear – and the appeal is growing. Students learning online can study from anywhere, at any time, and have the option to earn and gain work experience while they learn. 

Employers are also recognising the advantages to hiring students who have studied online, as they can often be more disciplined and committed than their peers who have completed classroom-based courses. For institutions, online learning has the potential to be much more cost-effective, boost individual funding and internationalisation strategies – and reach people who previously might not have been able to study due to geographical constraints. But as online learning is rapidly transforming education, technology advancements are transforming online learning at an equal pace. 

One of the biggest advancements in technology that’s set to transform online learning is Virtual Reality (VR). Although not often associated with education, I believe this can be a powerful tool – particularly for distance learners. Institutions can develop virtual environments for students - from information sharing to test centres - giving students a completely immersive learning experience, providing they have access to the relevant technology. For example, in the Built Environment sector, this could mean students will soon be able to put on a VR headset and step onto a construction site where they can ‘walk’ around and identify problems or solutions. 

Emerging technologies, cloud services and new communication platforms are bringing us closer together – and this directly applies to online learning

Another asset that will change online learning is live streaming. This is fast becoming a part of everyday life thanks to platforms such as Periscope, and social network functions like Snapchat Live Stories and Facebook Live; meaning growing numbers of the population are becoming comfortable with this technology. Many institutions are making use of webinars, which allow tutors to broadcast a feed and students to stream and comment live. However, in the future, I can see this becoming a multi-way channel. It provides a brilliant platform for students to deliver live presentations or talk through their ideas to a live audience of limitless size – from anywhere in the world. It also opens up plenty more opportunities for guest speakers to address large numbers of students, as they don’t have to travel to a fixed institution to reach the audience.  

Whilst online learning removes the ‘face-to-face’ element of teaching, which some see as a negative, it provides a wealth of opportunities to tailor the learning experience to each individual – that’s rarely possible in a lecture theatre setting. We are now also beginning to tap into the benefits of learning analytics, which means we can more accurately predict and support student performance - enhancing the learning experience.

Emerging technologies, cloud services and new communication platforms are bringing us closer together – and this directly applies to online learning. We’ve come a long way since the commonplace approach of simply uploading mass learning materials such as slide decks to the student Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), and the future of online learning looks more interactive than ever. 

I’m excited for what 2017 and beyond might bring.

W: www.ucem.ac.uk

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