Jeremy C Bradley, InterActive's director of academic and student affairs, shares his thoughts on the role online education has to play in the democratisation of learning.
As an e-learning professional I have been lucky enough to work with a number of inspired individuals over the last decade, from technical specialists and dedicated online lecturers, to successful graduates from all corners of the globe. A growing belief shared by many of us is that a significant number of the 21st century’s looming issues, such as chronic global inequality, can be addressed by the digital communications revolution. I believe that online education will play an increasingly important role in these issues, which bodes well for the future of an industry which so often receives a bad rap in certain media outlets.
When economists talk about the concept of wealth creation, knowledge is now widely recognised as one of the most important factors in this process, alongside natural resources, labour, capital, and the entrepreneurial spirit.
This would seem to be backed up by statistics. Senior Goldman Sachs executive John L. Weinberg points at the strong correlation between extremely low levels of unemployment within highly educated sections of society to indicate an almost insatiable demand within the global market for very highly educated workers.
The organisation of which I am a part has provided distance learning services to students young and old in over 150 countries worldwide. What better way to take on the challenges that will be faced by the next generation of global citizens than by making education accessible to all, regardless of personal wealth, cultural background, religious affiliation, or geographical location? This is a project which tens of thousands of talented people are involved in right now, and it is surely time to lay aside the petty media debate which seeks to confine online learning to playing second fiddle to its brick-and-mortar cousin.
A project recently came to my attention which I believe strongly backs up the case for online learning as a force for societal change. The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women has made it clear that they view technology and education as vital components in the struggle towards global gender inequality. Their mission is to support women around the world in their efforts to set up successful SMEs, and to contribute to their local economies while having a stronger voice in their communities. Speaking about the rationale behind the project, Cherie Blair explained that “one of the things that put me where I am today is my education, but the other thing was my ability to make my own decisions because I had financial independence. If you don’t have financial independence, you’re very vulnerable in life,” Cherie Blair’s words here back up my personal belief that online education gives us a unique opportunity to level the global playing-field. If you have a wifi signal and the desire to learn, an entirely new landscape of opportunity is out there waiting to be discovered.
Online learning is now rightly viewed as a credible alternative to traditional methods of education. However, all the indicators point towards further growth and development. Already, the industry has become something of a catalyst within the educational sector, with many instructional design professionals and esteemed academic institutions choosing to imitate and incorporate the features of digital education into their on-campus programmes.
The inherent advantages of online learning are obviously not a silver bullet for solving the world’s problems, but I believe that they are able to make a strong, resilient, and positive global impact. The time has come for online learning to really mature and step confidently into the educational leadership role that it will undoubtedly come to occupy throughout the 21st century.