Innovative technology is transforming the traditional ways of education. Just as Napster and later iTunes transformed the way we listen to music, or Wikipedia changed the way we access information, the way we learn is set to change dramatically in the coming decade. A combination of advancements in digital media, digital communication and digital bandwidth has made it possible to deliver learning at a fraction of traditional cost. Text, audio, video and interactive as well as collaborative resources can be accessed by students via the Internet. Teachers and students from across the globe can interact seamlessly in virtual classrooms making traditional universities, with their large overheads, redundant.
Online education has many advantages over traditional education.
Low Cost: This is the biggest advantage Online education has over traditional education. Online education does not require the accompanying infrastructure that makes education prohibitively expensive. And we are not talking about a 10-20% cost advantage here. Sebastian Thrun, a renowned Stanford professor believes the same quality of education can be delivered at 1 to 2% of what it costs in a university like Stanford. Bill Gates made a similar claim when he predicted the cost of a degree in the US could come down from $200000 to $2000 due to revolutions in technology. With such huge cost advantage, the online revolution is set to change the whole paradigm of education.
Felxibility and Convenience: Virtual classrooms offer incomparable convenience and flexibility. Students can access a virtual classroom from home, office, internet café or any other place which has an internet connection. There is no time or cost involved in terms of travel.
Smashing the geographical barriers: Virtualization of education will overcome all geographical barriers. Lack of education infrastructure and opportunities in smaller cities will no longer hamper the growth of students. A student in Agartala can access the same course as a student in Bombay. Education institutes can bring faculty from across the globe to connect with students (also spread across the globe), through advanced communication technology.
Other technological innovations: Other innovations like the ability to record lectures, create and share audio/video material and form forums, discussion groups etc. will all make the education experience more and more robust.
While there are many advantages of this model, there are challenges that have yet to be overcome. How do you prevent piracy of online content? How do you keep a remote student from cheating? How do you even know who is sitting at that remote keyboard? These are questions that technology will help resolve in the near future.
It is this faith in technology’s ability to resolve these challenges that has spurred multiple colleges and universities to start online programs in the recent past. Even NIIT has launched what it claims to be the first campus on cloud.
The future of education looks bright. Virtualization will help reduce costs to a small fraction of where they are today. Teaching will become more merit-based. Good teachers will be like superstars with a huge following and lot of money. While the not-so-great teachers will find it a lot more tougher.
All in all, virtualization of education will be a boon for the millions of people who can’t afford or access traditional education due to monetary or geographical barriers.