What Criticisms Have Been Levied Against Online Learning?

What advantages have emerged from online learning? What disadvantages have emerged from online learning?

Some critics would prefer to see lessons taught in a more traditional classroom setting, but “there are circumstances where learning is better outside of the classroom environment,” Armstrong, a 1975 University of California, Davis, graduate, writes. “Virtually any type of contemporary online learning is fundamentally better than its brick-and-mortar counterparts, and I believe it will eventually surpass them.”

It’s helpful to recall that while the Internet—as we know it today—was born in the U.S., adoption and penetration abroad are considerably more significant—because it was first used as a tool for civil society, local governments, private companies, nonprofits, even totalitarian countries.

For generations, barriers to accessing online learning abroad were typically created by geography, education and socio-economic status. So, for example, the U.S. helped create a free, reliable and regulated international telecommunications system, as well as a bustling economy and full human development that spawned widespread demand for the Internet. Consequently, Facebook, Wikipedia, Google, eBay, Netflix, Amazon, etc., expanded beyond America to include nearly every democratic nation on Earth.

In addition, Asia, Canada, and even parts of Europe developed their own cutting-edge tech innovations as a result of centuries of deliberate policy development, including high-speed Internet, electric grids, electrical power systems, educational systems, banking, and access to leading research and media. Along the way, these nations adjusted their education systems to suit American English standards—but never surpassed them.

The Internet is not the Internet anymore. But users around the world are embracing it as a fundamental pathway to learning and opportunity. More of them are on their own networks than ever before, and they are also learning from various social media platforms, publishers, TV networks, and even video games.

Indeed, today’s learners don’t just belong to traditional academic institutions, but networked arenas that complement them—where customization, speed, and instant communication are required to meet the changing demands of today’s learners. In a sense, online learning is not only accessible to learners in different countries, but also to students pursuing different educational pathways and in different countries. That is what makes online learning so innovative, as opposed to a traditional education that relies on classroom training.

“Online learning doesn’t represent a laissez-faire discussion among an unlimited population but a calibrated response to specific education needs, often tailored to individual learners’ individual needs,” says Arnold Lim, a fellow with the Alliance for Global Education at the World Bank Group.

The internet has radically changed the nature of learning in practical and even philosophical terms.

In the U.S., only 33 percent of high school students complete high school on time. Out of the remaining 67 percent who take the Classroom Standard college entrance exam (10th, 11th, 12th, etc.), only 10 percent pass.

Many of those who attend community colleges, however, complete a degree course or two by the time they reach 30. Moreover, with combined costs of community and four-year college, the average American graduate will have spent nearly three years in school—and debt has been estimated at $35,000. When compared to the last several generations, this generation is well-connected, technology savvy, and dependent on broadband service. Today’s student is very different from the student who needs to attend school every day, has a problem with her grades, is struggling in school, or feels the pressure of a family that cannot afford college.

Furthermore, more and more students are working and paying for classes in three or four years, since tuition costs—which are subsidized by the government—are rising at a much faster rate than their paychecks. The average student adds $10,000 in student debt each year. As such, both the need for and desire to enhance online learning are growing exponentially.

With online learning systems, the world, instead of only the U.S., is becoming an interactive online learning sandbox. In an increasingly digital and interconnected world, our digital education system as we know it has a chance to truly become a worldwide one, where distance is replaced by context and time, and where student learning doesn’t just happen in some distant, out-of-doors location, but also in working settings that are both familiar and accessible.

That is why we at ICED call on all stakeholders—as the age of offline learning goes, so will the age of virtual learning. Digital curricula are emerging rapidly, and online learning is already being used as educational tools, leveraging resources and available expertise around the world.

It is imperative that we create a global learning environment at the international level, so that the goal of universal education is realized.

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