The big debate: Will online learning replace attending college?

By Anne Sexton - Last update


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There are more e-learning options than ever before. That is one of the reason that ever greater numbers of people are choosing to study this way.

All the indications are that e-learning will keep growing. That means one of two things may happen. Either e-learning will grow and complement bricks and mortar educational institutions. Alternatively, it is possible that e-learning will one day replace traditional centres of learning.

Many will argue that the college experience is valuable in itself. Spending time with peers as well as lecturers is an important – and much loved – part of the student experience. However, it is also possible to argue that college does not prepare students for the workforce. E-learning, along with work experience, could change that .

Blended learning

Many institutions already offer online or blended learning courses. Blended learning may be the “best of both worlds.” This means that students use online modules, but also attend a number of classes. Blended learning has proved popular with employed people who want to upskill or change career direction without giving up work.

In future, third-level institutions could offer blended learning as standard. This would make education more accessible. In addition, it would reduce costs for educational institutions.

Changes in technology have meant that it is now significantly easier and less expensive to make online modules. Students with access to these can study in their own time. This makes learning flexible and allows those distant from an institution to attend a course. Furthermore, it would be possible for a number of institutions to share the same online learning materials. This would also allow them to spread the cost and maintain standards.

Technology in the classroom

Lecturers already use technology in the classroom, such as online quizzes and tests. This cuts down on time marking, freeing up lecturers to spend more time with students.

In the coming years, educators are likely to harness new technologies. For example, the Georgia Institute of Technology added a chatbot to the human teaching assistants. It was so successful that one student nominated it for a teaching award.

We may not yet know how technology will change higher education. What is certain is that it will make an impact. Technology makes it possible to improve access and reduce costs. It would be foolish to ignore that.


Anne Sexton

Springboard+ courses for graduates and employed people
Head in the cloud: NUI Galway’s MSc in Cloud Computing Research


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