Although online education is no longer new, it continues to grow at breakneck speed, challenging the dominance of the brick-and-mortar classroom in the Information Age.

According to eLearning Industry, the global online learning market will reach $398 billion by 2026. Up from $165.21 billion in 2015. 49% of students worldwide have taken an online course in the past year. In 2017, 77% of US organizations utilized e-learning systems.

E-Learning Advantages

According to Orbis Research, among the factors propelling the rise of e-learning: low cost, easy accessibility, more people on the Internet (43% of the global population by recent estimates), and a surge in the number of smartphones (owned by 36% of the world’s population). Mobile apps are making it easier to learn anytime, anywhere.

Student demographics further favor the digital classroom, starting with the tech-obsessed Gen Z and Millennial cohorts who dominate higher education. The numbers of older, employed students with families are increasing, as is the globalization of higher education. All of these trends are served by the flexibility of online education.

Technologist Ken Mazaika of the Firehose Project identifies these additional e-learning advantages:

  • It’s easier to learn from world-class experts who can’t be in everyone’s classroom.
  • It optimizes learning to reach more people.
  • Allows students to learn at their own pace.
  • Offers more support from peers through online forums, chatrooms, and email.
  • It democratizes the spread of knowledge since the usual gatekeepers to education are less important.

E-Learning Disadvantages

Sander Tamm of details these potential drawbacks to online classes:

  • Student feedback can be limited.
  • Can cause social Isolation.
  • Requires strong self-motivation and time management skills.
  • There can be a lack of communicational skill development in online students
  • Cheating prevention during online assessments is complicated.
  • Online instructors tend to focus on theory rather than practice.
  • Lacks the advantages of face-to-face communication.
  • Not all disciplines work well in an online environment.
  • Online learning is inaccessible to computer illiterates.
  • A relative lack of accreditation & quality assurance in online education.

Yet despite the drawbacks, one thing is for certain—e-learning is here to stay and will only grow larger. So, let’s explore some best practices to optimize the e-learning experience.
Online Teaching Tips from the Experts

Instructional Designers Andrew Salcido and Jessica Cole of Arizona State University, a pioneer in online education, offer these tips for educators:

  • Establish teaching presence early and often by posting announcements, appearing on video, and participating in discussions.
  • Motivate students by making a real-world connection to what they are learning.
  • Break learning into smaller chunks.
  • Establish a pattern of activity and due dates.
  • Provide technical support information.
  • Clearly explain your expectations.
  • Make sure the course aligns with objectives and assessments.
  • Provide timely feedback.
  • Provide students with opportunities to interact with peers.
  • Create learning that is challenging, enriching, and extends a student’s academic abilities.

Flower Darby, a senior instructional designer at Northern Arizona University, and co-author with James M. Lang of Small Teaching Online (Jossey-Bass, 2019), offers these tips on The Chronicle of Higher Education website:

  • Schedule the same amount of time each week to be visibly present and engaged in your semester-long online class.
  • Be yourself. Bring your classroom personality to online learning.
  • Put yourself in student shoes since you can’t see them in person to understand any confusion or questions they may have, or clarification needed.
  • Organize course content intuitively.
  • Add visual appeal to the course’s online presence.
  • Make class an inviting, pleasant place to be.
  • Get help from your campus instructional designer.
  • Connect with an experienced online teaching mentor.
  • Reach out to colleagues who are excellent online teachers.

These e-learning technologies are on the rise in 2020, according to the Neo Blog:

  • Video content and interactive videos.
  • Game-based learning.
  • Immersive learning, including augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality.
  • Integration of artificial intelligence in assisting with course planning, adaptive learning, student support, assessing student papers, and grading. details increasing use of these technologies and practices:

• Mobile learning using apps.
• Social learning using platforms that enhance online collaboration and cooperation.
• Microlearning—breaking learning into bite-sized chunks.
• Adaptive learning which uses data to personalize learning to the individual.
• Curating freely available information on the Internet.

As with any sea change brought by technology, online learning will continue to have its advantages, disadvantages, and hiccups as it permeates the education landscape. But few can argue with the reach and power of the Internet to bring education to an ever-expanding web of humanity.

Author: Bryan Schneider