Is Online Education Reaching the Masses?

Is Online Education Reaching the Masses?


Online education has been growing tremendously. What started with online versions of different degree courses and masters programmes among others and extended to e-learning modules provided by corporates has been surpassed already by Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

According to Sukanya Samy (2015) writing for the World Economic Forum these are now being used by a range of different organisations and institutions including universities, governments, schools and non-profit organisations. The goal is to deliver education to all people everywhere. It is questioned by some whether this is succeeding, and the position of Samy is that it is, at least to some degree. As detailed by Samy:

“The online / e-learning market is slated to grow by 23%. This takes the worldwide e-learning market from 490 billion to $166.5 billion in 2015 and $255 billion in 2017.”

In particular online learning has achieved significant penetration in Asia, with the Indian market, Malaysia and Vietnam all expanding rapidly in this area.

There are a number of reasons that are provided as to why online education has grown so quickly. One obvious one is the massive growth of the internet. It is reported that 40% of the population of the entire world now has access to the internet, providing people with opportunities to take MOOCs, which are free. There have also been improved technologies like cloud and social media, as well as web analytics, all of which are enablers for success with online learning. There are significant advantages of online learning for various actors including educational entities and large corporates as the cost of delivering learning is significantly lower than through other means, and this has also been a major driver. Some argue that online teachers do a better job of imparting information, though this may depend on the teacher. Yet another driver of online learning has been the fact that it is much more environmentally friendly, and emissions per student are explained to be 85% lower as a result of taking an online course.

However, while great advances have been made, MOOCs do have some challenges in reaching all students in developing economies. There are various barriers that are explained to be in place that can prevent such courses in reaching everyone that might benefit from them.

As already explained 40% of the world’s population has the internet. This means that 60% does not. This 60% clearly has challenges taking MOOCs. This problem is deepened in areas that are more rural where there are poor communications and bad transport and infrastructure. Commonly these types of areas may not necessarily have internet access. Another challenge is the lack of infrastructure in itself. If there is no electricity in the first place, it is argued that accessing online courses is going to be very unlikely. There are also wider challenges of getting teachers into rural areas, since many people that are qualified and talented tend to prefer to migrate to the cities to seek work. Retaining teachers in rural areas that might use MOOCs to train people is challenging.

Global Information Technology Report 2015

However, steps can be taken to help developing economies to be able to enhance and improve education through the use of technology. The World Economic Forum has produced a report called Global Information Technology Report 2015. It is explained that developing economies are encouraged to resolve problems with infrastructure and invest in facilities and equipment needed for teachers and trainers to be able to provide education effectively. The argument is made that by using technology to increase awareness of teachers in MOOCs, some of these types of online courses can then be used to teach children and others and provide increased learning opportunities in a greater breadth of subjects.

It is additionally argued that developing economies could benefit from using traditional classroom techniques in conjunction with online classes. This is reported to bring opportunities of “augmenting the outcome”. The goal with this is to help children that do not necessarily have internet at home, by providing them with some level of an online education, which currently leaves them behind children that have internet at home.Developing economies are also encouraged to build economies of scale through using online education to reach the masses.

While all of these are excellent solutions and may be helpful, governments do need to see the value of this and invest money in it. Will online education reach the masses one day? Yes, almost certainly it will, and we can hope that with some foresight this will happen sooner rather than later.