The student of the 21st century has a plethora of educational tools at his disposal—from traditional forms like print sources, televised documentaries, the good’ol classroom student lecturer setup, or even self-help audio files and tapes, to the more recently devised methods of learning like e-learning, gamification, online simulations and self-help podcasts, just to name a few. Fact is, 21st century students like us are spoilt for choice. However in the cornucopia of tools, books, programs, widgets and applications some forms of learning are gaining more popularity a lot faster than the rest – what is that you might ask? Well it’s none other than online learning of course!—and you’re consuming the simplest form of which right now.
E-learning, or online learning, is electronically supported learning and teaching which one may receive or conduct in the comforts of one’s own home, on one’s own couch, on one’s own desktop and on one’s own 21” monitor (well mine’s 21 inches, depending on your monitor size, substitute that value accordingly). The reason why it’s so popular is because online learning supports synchronous and asynchronous learning (Wikipedia), decreases material costs, increases productivity and facilitates standardization (Articulate, 2010).
The dawn of the interactive web (web 2.0 to be specific) there has been a groundswell of easy to digest online learning applications and courses – from simple how-to lessons to elaborate procedural lectures or activities, anybody or everybody who has access to the internet be it the lowly dogsbody to the profoundly intellectual; the barriers to learning are incredibly low. And with money to be saved and made from hosting these courses, more and more schools are getting in on the act with baby steps being made in online learning management systems (LMS) or portals to quantum leaps in interactive learning using and inside online games and simulations.
Speaking of online games gaining traction as e-learning mediums social interaction platform Second Life has been making plenty of headway in this department. In and on mediums like this, students as avatars can interact with the teacher and his tools in a semi-realistic, hazard-free environment, lending a third dimension to the online learning experience. Second life is not the only online gaming platform on that e-learning boat though; popular MMORPGS (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) such as the World of Warcraft (WoW) have also gotten in on the act. According to Mary Anne Clarke, professor of biology at Wesleyan University in Texas, they’ve been using WoW’s extensive reach to over 11 million subscribers worldwide to teach and popularize concepts pertaining to biology. Due to the emersion of these games, learning on such platforms has become increasingly popular and attractive.
With more and more people becoming more open and receptive to e-learning and its advantages, it’s suffice to say that online learning will continue to change the education landscape for tens of years to come. With more engaging tools becoming readily accessible, perhaps through motion capture as seen on the Playstation and Xbox 360 addons, future variants of the e-learning experience will ultimately be more engaging, captivating and profound than before—which can only be good for education as a whole.