One of the obvious consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns has been the acceleration of the inevitable digital transformation. The impact is not only on consumption patterns or the way of working but also in the way of learning. Since the first e-learning initiatives in the 1970s, the industry has grown rapidly and will undoubtedly play a leading role in the 21st century way of learning.
According to Global Market Insights (2021), the global e-learning market has already reached figures above $250 billion and is anticipated to grow at an exponential CAGR of over 21% between 2021 and 2027. The growth projections are across the globe, for Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia. Disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, blockchain, big data and mobile learning, will drive the market growth.
Regarding the comparison of online training with traditional training, research results suggest that, indeed, online training can stimulate intellectual growth as much as traditional training. The university experience, although different, is complete. Many of the experience components can be perfectly replicated in a virtual environment or can even be improved.
The learning experience in a digital environment is very close to the experience of being in the classroom. The use of multimedia formats allows content sharing and multidirectional communication between teachers and students, students and teachers and students with other students. The proliferation and advancement of e-learning systems, also known as Learning Management Systems (LMS), has made the task easier.
In relation to current trends in online education, we find that enrolment decisions in an online programme are driven by career goals, that there is increasing diversity in the online student profile, and that the importance of the university campus is growing in the online experience. Likewise, online students are convinced that they acquire the soft skills demanded by the market; the vast majority use mobile devices to follow the courses; They choose the school influenced mainly by third-party resources and not so much by the marketing actions of the institutions, and the cost continues to be a key factor in the decision to train online.
E-learning packs a punch when it comes to the benefits that make educational activity easier and hassle-free. The possibility of learning from wherever and whenever; with a better cost-benefit ratio; in an interactive environment, as much or more than in a face-to-face training; developing skills in working in virtual teams, a highly appreciated skill in today’s job market and taking advantage of the great ethnic and cultural diversity that is often present in online programs.
Despite all these benefits, some disadvantages of online learning have also been identified. Some teaching staff still show serious reluctance to implement online training in their schools. It is also a fact that those disciplines and training courses that involve motor skills development must seek complementary face-to-face alternatives. Social skills, health-related concerns, and concern about whether to actually learn online are also some of the disadvantages mentioned.
The effectiveness of online learning will depend on the teachers, the material, and how the training is delivered. Some of the best practices in online training have been described, the objective of which is to increase the effectiveness of the knowledge acquisition process. The combination of asynchronous and synchronous activities, individual activities and group work, a certain degree of flexibility in delivery, fostering the creation of an educational community, and the maximum exploitation of learning resources are examples of good practice.
When comparing regulated training with online corporate training, we find that the long-term concerns of both the regulated and corporate sectors are the same. The two sectors are concerned with the most effective learning methods and styles, learning facilitation tools, the most effective use of current technology and technological advances to come, and the adequacy of content to the needs of society.
LMS are the computing platforms that facilitate online training. These virtual campuses allow, among other things, to organise courses, manage students and the activities they carry out, distribute materials, record evaluations and serve as a communication channel between students and teachers. This virtual environment allows a high degree of interaction between all members of the educational community.
Future of e-learning
The Internet penetration of almost 60% of the world’s population, the advances in the quality and speed of global fixed and mobile networks in recent years and the growing trend towards teleworking are some of the factors that facilitate the advantages of e-learning. This, coupled with the increasing use of social networks in training, is a powerful transforming factor in education, and that is where the future of e-learning lies.
The vocation of online training is to make learning more effective and provide indicators that allow its results to be measured. E-learning, through computer tools, allows creating in an interactive environment and a standardised process that facilitates the analysis of results metrics, not only longitudinally but also transversely. This measurement process allows, in turn, to influence those cognitive variables that facilitate learning. Some trends in e-learning may offer clues as to where we are going in the field of online training. For example, gamification and personalised learning.
It is an interesting time for those of us who are involved in the design and implementation of online training programs.
Dr. Luis Toro Dupouy is Academic Programs Director at OBS Business School (Spain).