Is Online Learning The Future Of Continuing Education?

Is Online Learning the Future of Continuing Education?
What defines our traditional education system? Sugata Mitra, the winner of the 2013 TED prize, believes that traditional education still relies on the Victorian educational model created 300 years ago. This model creates a human computer made up of people, which he dubs the “bureaucratic administrative machine.” The human capital is provided by another machine – schools –  that turn out students with identical reading, writing and arithmetic skills, with each identically trained student forming a cog in the human computer.

But, with the advent of sophisticated information technology, is this traditional model now obsolete? Traditional education systems face a number of challenges – accessibility, rising costs, escalating student debt, and high drop-out rates. How do we educate people in a smarter way and at less cost? And how do we ensure more students complete their education – and then continue with life-long learning? Personalized online learning delivers many of the answers.


Education is one of the most important tools in raising living standards and the world needs highly trained workers for global health and prosperity. In the words of Mezon Almellehan, a 16 year old refugee from Syria, “Education is the only way to regain our spirit and control over our lives.” If we believe that everyone should have an equal opportunity for a quality education, then it is crucial to develop an education model that is accessible regardless of geographical location, race, gender, or social, cultural or economic conditions.

Sugata Mitra believes one of the greatest problems of education is that the best teachers and schools don’t exist where they are needed most. His solution is to give the responsibility for learning back to the students via a self-organised learning environment (SOLE) based in the cloud. This results in a learning experience that is student driven rather than teacher centric, where the teachers job is to pose the question and the students’ job is to explore and seek out the answers, utilising web based technology within a supportive network.

Bill Gates visited colleges that are at the forefront of providing online access to higher education, especially for low-income students trying to fit their studies around full-time jobs and families. They allow students the freedom to study virtually anywhere. He heard inspiring stories of students “who are taking advantage of these flexible learning models to pursue [an education] that can put them on paths to new careers.” Other students said ‘they liked the fact that they can learn at their own pace and fit school into their busy schedules.’

Rising Cost

Tuition at traditional bricks and mortar colleges is rising faster than any other cost in the US. Costs can be $60,000 a year for tuition, room and board – putting education at these institutions out of the reach of many.

In comparison, online training is a low cost sustainable learning solution with a small carbon footprint. With online courses there are no down time, travel or accommodation costs. Online courses are typically less than half the cost of face-to-face training, especially when productivity gains are factored in.

Drop-out Rates

Traditional higher education systems are characterised by high drop-out rates. More than 40% of college students in the US dropout. In the European Union dropout rates range from a low of 20% for Denmark, to a high of 54% for Italy. Dominant factors leading to student drop-out include coming from a poor socio-economic background, coupled with a lack of a student-centred approach in designing and delivering higher education programmes, and a lack of attention to the needs of a more diverse student population.

Similar challenges apply to online learning. Many students who do Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCS) report a lack of teacher access and feeling disconnected from other students. A close focus on students is important to prevent online students feeling isolated. This requires a two-fold approach of having learning management systems that track students’ online progress and having facilitators to help students at risk of falling behind or dropping out. This can be accomplished by Small Personalized Online Courses (SPOCs) that are led and facilitated by experts who can provide insights and practical guidance to students. This contributes to high completion rates – over 80% for SPOCs, compared with 4% or less for many MOOCs.

The benefits we should expect from a future education model are defined by the challenges facing traditional systems. Future education needs to be accessible, affordable and engaging.  This can be accomplished by an educational model that has the following components:

  • Offers students support by tracking student progress and providing contact with teachers
  • Personalised – tailored to the student’s individual needs
  • Utilises the power of the cloud and web-based online technology – for anywhere, anytime access at an affordable price,
  • Student driven and directed, rather than teacher centred

New thinking is required to address the challenges facing higher education. This requires an opus of creative work on a grand scale. We need to look for innovative models for higher and continuing education that will help more students get a personalized education that produces better informed and intellectually agile individuals at an affordable price.

Is online learning the future of continuing education? In the journey to a better, more accessible educational model, personalized online learning is  a key step.

Continuing Professional Development offers online training courses that give you practical skills and knowledge to enhance your lifestyle and career opportunities. When you buy an online course, Continuing Professional Development donates a course via its Giving Back programme, so that you know your money is helping others to get a quality education. By making the choice to buy our online courses, you create that same opportunity for someone else who otherwise couldn’t access this learning.


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