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Is the future of education online?

In 1986, stakeholders from around the world came together in Ottawa, Canada, for the First International Conference on Health Promotion. Emerging from this conference was a charter for action to achieve Health for All, which identified eight fundamental conditions and resources for health (the ‘prerequisites for health’). This month we are reviewing these eight prerequisites – and discussing what they mean 28 years later. Today we consider Education.

A wise man once said "he who opens a school door, closes a prison”. Education is more than just learning to read and write; it is one of the single most important drivers in relieving poverty. It gives both children and adults the tools to build a better life – transferring knowledge, promoting innovation and generally advancing our modern society towards bigger and better things. We thought it would be interesting to take a look at how technology, which continues to advance at an exponential rate, could play a role in the future of education. Below we have split online education into three possible applications for the next decade…

1. Developing nations

With the roll-out and further advancement of wireless technology such as 5G data networks, nations traditionally lacking in tech infrastructure, such as Africa, now have a very real possibility of being fully connected to the Internet by 2025. With this access, the ability to deliver some form of online education to even the most remote village is no longer a pipe dream. This could give millions of children and adults in poorer parts of the world (who have had little hope of even basic primary education) access to a range of courses and to some of the worlds’ best education institutions – and to better economic opportunities for the future. It is also predicted that women, in parts of the world where schooling and further education have been denied them, will be able to acquire some from the safety of their homes.

2. Business

In the ever-changing world of business, companies are expected to re-train their employees regularly to deal with new demands. This becomes a real challenge in organisations, such as large MNCs, which employ many thousands of people across the world. Research indicates there has been an explosion in the extent to which companies make use of technology to deliver new training to their employees. Virtual learning, online courses and interactive video software are just some of the rapidly growing online tools in use. Whilst people still require some formal classroom education, it now accounts for less than half the total amount of time spent in training. Among highly advanced companies as much as 18% of all training is now delivered through mobile devices and apps.

3. Higher Education

Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, are free online courses run by real universities, including some of the best in the world (think Harvard, Oxford etc.). Whilst their popularity has skyrocketed over the past year, there has been some scepticism about their ability to provide a good learner experience. Some believe their one-size-fits-all approach is flawed; a biology PhD candidate is taught the same material as, say, a high-school student looking for more information on Siberian tigers. This has led to a re-think and the introduction of SOOCs, or Selectively Open Online Courses, that are simply MOOCs with some form of entry requirement. This allows for a more uniform student body that in theory will improve peer-to-peer collaboration and learning outcomes. Education pundits are already predicting higher quality courses that are likely to increase people’s willingness to pay for them. This, in turn, will lead to more investment from universities in the form of better professors, materials and online experience as they look to capitalise on the new revenue-generating opportunities.

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