“Learners learn better online than they do in a classroom, and if they take a hybrid course of online and hands-on, they learn even more, according to a report published by the United States Department of Education,” says Michael Lambert, now an executive director emeritus at the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), a non-profit educational association in the US.
The findings were concluded based on “a meta study of 51 rigorous research studies — comparing online and distance learning to traditional classroom learning,” says Lambert. “That study has put to rest all the old doubts there used to be about [online education — that] it’s not rigorous enough.”
Current state of online education
Distance education seems to be making strides in developed nations such as the US and the UK. Recently, online learning has gained further popularity with the introduction of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Web-based platforms such as Coursera, Udacity and edX — supported by universities such as Harvard, Stanford and others — offer MOOCs in a range of subjects. These courses are accessible to anyone who has Internet access and attract hundred or thousands of students worldwide.
However, traditional online programmes differ from MOOCs — as there is a fee associated with them, they may have a selection criteria and courses can be taken to earn degrees. Lambert believes that MOOCs have revolutionalised the state of education. “From here on now, and the rest of the decade, we are going to see more students enrolling online than those who sit in a fixed facility classroom,” he says.
Though the concept of online education has evolved in Pakistan and even though virtual universities are present in the country, more prestigious and well-known educational institutions haven’t introduced this form of learning yet.
The need in Pakistan
Taking into account the illiteracy rate in Pakistan, and the number of individuals who do not have access to education, we must do everything possible to ensure that education reaches the masses — so that it becomes a norm, a staple of life — like food and water.
In an article titled: “Education in Pakistan: The Key Issues, Problems and The New Challenges” published in the Journal of Management and Social Sciences, author Ghulam Rasool Memon writes, “The reasons could be a limited number of educational institutions in the country and accessibility to those.” He adds the situation in rural areas, where the majority of the country’s population resides, is much more grave. “The people in those areas avoid sending their children, especially females, to schools because schools are in far flung areas,” he writes.
For example, an academically brilliant student from Sukkur, who is capable of getting admission in the country’s most reputable business schools, but cannot leave his or her hometown, be it for financial or personal reasons, should have an alternative option. Such talent should not go to waste. Student talent needs to be harnessed by the best teachers and the best educational institutions so such students can acquire the skill set to compete with their global counterparts.
Similarly, a mother of young children who wants to study, but cannot commit to a five-day a week schedule, should have another option. Likewise, a married man, who cannot quit his day job to attend university, should be able to study after hours from the convenience of his home or office so he can upgrade his skills — and in turn reap the rewards of a higher salary — ultimately leading to a better standard of living for himself and his family. Such an individual is more likely to send his children to better schools, and chances are, the next generation will be more educated — and this cycle will continue and most likely multiply.
How online education works
With the prevalence of the Internet, the issues around access to education can be solved. A popular form of learning in the US and other developed nations, online education allows students to access learning without physically attending a university. All learning takes place via the Internet and learners access course
content online. Students and teachers engage in online discussions, where they can chat, discuss the subject, and may have the option to see their peers and teachers in real time.
Benefits of online education
So let’s consider some of the benefits of online education and why learners may learn better online.
Lambert says that distance learning presents an opportunity that many adults never had before. “Some of these adults would never have gone back to a classroom,” he says. “Now that Internet has become so ubiquitous — the technology is virtually free — it’s very easy for people to study at home,” he says. According to Lambert, the primary reason why adult learners choose to learn online is because of convenience.
Also, for adult learners, online learning may provide further benefits. Many adults don’t like to be in a classroom with younger people, says Lambert. “They feel a little intimidated by being with 18 to 22 year olds, when they’re in their early 40s,” he says.
Employers’ attitude towards online learning is also changing. More and more employers now accept online qualifications and are not as skeptical about them. “Today employers don’t discriminate against online degrees,” says Lambert. He in fact argues that as online learning is gaining popularity, corporations are now also funding their employee degrees.
In fact, Lambert suggests that employers prefer online students and think them to be responsible students. “They [online students] have lots of discipline, they are mature, self-starting they don’t need much supervision ... they [employers] know they have a great worker on their hands,” he says.