Inked feathers, pens, typewriters, computers, and now online learning. Each had its own place in the evolution of modern education. The COVID global lockdown spurred a new appreciation for studying at home rather than slogging down to a college or university. With that in mind, the question is, is online learning now a component of educational evolution.
Here is a line from the great comedian Ron White, “Back when I was in school, if we wanted to know something, we had to go to a library, which was a building. We would walk down there seeking knowledge, and sometimes, they would tell us that the knowledge we seek isn’t there, and to come back next week.”
Most millennials have a vague recollection of those days of visiting a library and hoping the book you need is there. When you look back, it is frightening to think that we had to go through all of that just to learn whatever our teachers had set out. Yet, education evolved, and online learning is no doubt a component in the next step of education evolution.
While quoting popular culture, here is a snippet from the Simpsons. A new teacher asks a question, Martin Prince answers, and the teacher says, “Why have you learned that fact off by heart when anybody with a smartphone can look it up in seconds, To which Martin replies dramatically, “I’ve crammed my head full of garbage.”
We are leaving the era where you have to memorise a bunch of facts and figures in order to pass a test. In fact, the few places where such learning is still relevant is chemistry and physics. Other than those two, we are seeing exams rely less and less on the regurgitation of facts and figures from memory. This ties in very well with online learning because it is almost devoid of such memorising. You may need to memorise concepts and/or scenarios, but the verbatim recital of facts and figures are not as heavily relied upon, which is in line with the current evolution of the education system.
Perhaps online learning courses are becoming more popular because they are also becoming more relevant. For example, twenty years ago there were far fewer jobs that could be done at a computer, and even fewer that could be (or learned) from home. For example, you cannot learn how to change a tyre from home, but you can learn logistics, programming, digital marketing, graphic design, bookkeeping, video editing, audio editing, and so forth from home.
You can then go out and get a job working in an office using those skills, or perhaps get remote work using those skills. The COVID lockdown has perhaps proven that many in-classroom courses need not take place in a classroom, which spurs on the changes that make digital learning a larger part of the mainstream education system.
There are some people who learn better when they are told by a teacher rather than reading it from a screen. A teacher can adapt and change the lesson based on the comprehension of the group, and in-classroom learning creates a sense of urgency, whereas many online courses can be failed through simple procrastination or lack of the sort of motivation that a teacher gives.
One could argue that online digital learning (from home) just doesn’t work for some people, but the same can be said for classroom learning and on-the-job learning. Nobody is saying that digital learning should become the one and only method of learning. It should simply factor into what makes up the modern education system.
Perhaps modern learning should be more adaptive. There are some students who will never learn chemistry through reading alone, who will need practical lessons, teachers, and so forth. There are some people who will never learn engineering correctly without on-the-job learning, self-teaching, and so forth. With any hope, modern education will one day lean towards teaching students the way they learn the best, be that in classrooms, digitally, on the job, or some mixture that works for the student in hand.