E-Learning in Higher Education: Trends and Benefits

Students sitting on the grass with a computer

By Dr. Glen Low

Overview

There are significant benefits for institutions to incorporate e-learning into the campus foundation. All indications and research point in that direction and my shared experience will, I hope, validate and encourage the incorporation of e-learning. The tiered briefing will be from the perspective of institutional benefits, student and faculty benefits, and overall readiness.

Benefits for Institutions

There are a number of significant benefits for an institution of Higher Education to embrace e-learning. It is now an expectation for prospective and current students to have online courses, curricula offerings and associated infrastructure support. The reality is, they have grown up with it and their learning now occurs beyond boundaries: time, physical, and resources. It is now a key must-have determinant for attracting and retaining students.

For institutions, e-learning increases access to students, breaking down geographical boundaries — students now have access to colleges they may not have been able to attend. They also have access to content and accomplished faculty. The uptake of MOOC’s is an example of this trend, particularly for continuing education.

The aforementioned factors all point to increased student enrollment, growth, access, attracting faculty and an enhanced reputation — all of which provide significant revenue growth.

Benefits for Faculty and Students

Learning in this venue — when done well — is more collaborative, encourages participation, and accountability.  

As a faculty member having taught courses online, classroom-based, and blended for many years, it wasn’t until business travel took me to Australia, when I logged into my Boston University course I was teaching, that I had that “aha” moment. I was many miles away, but still connected to my students, assignments, questions, and course materials. Wow, only technology could enable this. The realities of online learning have only increased, and will continue. In many respects learning in this venue — when done well — is more collaborative, encourages participation, and accountability.

I found that using e-learning revitalized and improved my own teaching.

I no longer needed to be the knowledge funnel for my students’ “down-stream.” I found that using e-learning revitalized and improved my own teaching. I was eager to explore new pedagogy, content delivery, and get to the knowledge application level in my courses. Other faculty members and myself are able to get feedback from students along the way, rather than wait for the end-of-semester cumulative ratings that can even be difficult to decipher what “works” and “doesn’t.” Setting up a survey in a Learning Management System has proven beneficial and is also extremely easy to implement.

Faculty members embracing e-learning have an opportunity to evaluate the instructional design of their courses through self-evaluation, tapping into the expertise of instructional designers — or both. It is refreshing to be able to discover new approaches to learning that resonate with the current student population and accept the challenge that learning and technology will never be status quo.

Another benefit that I have personally witnessed is the ability of ESL students to excel using e-learning. A student who was hesitant about communicating in the traditional classroom could now participate in an online forum with thoughtful ideas and collaboration. This would then flow back into the classroom as their confidence improved.

The improvement in degree completion time is another benefit to both students and institutions. There are opportunities for students to take courses on a more flexible schedule. They no longer have to wait, in some cases, an entire calendar year for a course to be scheduled and taught. E-learning provides a flexible environment for universal learning and accessibility.

Readiness

A valued resource that I have used, developed by EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research, assesses an institution’s progress in e-learning. The assessment takes about 20 minutes to do and breaks scores out into 7 dimensions. These include:

  • synergy
  • priority
  • readiness
  • ongoing evaluation/training
  • policies/governance
  • investment in faculty/staff
  • outcome assessment

It is helpful for those institutions to periodically evaluate and measure their development. The results can also open up a dialogue with institutional department leaders and encourage improvement efforts.

Summary

The added accessibility, connectivity, and flexibility through e-learning have a strong influence throughout the institution. As campuses continue to expand their efforts to meet the needs of their students, the use of online learning will continue to grow.

Dr. Glen Low

Dr. Glen Low has extensive background, experience, knowledge and education in eLearning. He has developed mission critical enterprise-level training solutions using open-source, propriety and serious game based learning technologies; supporting more than a 1000 plus courses and very large user bases. He has developed frameworks and eLearning strategies that enhanced organizational knowledge and learning with improved performance and cost-reductions for Fortune 500 companies in the biotech, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, high-technology industries as well as institutions of higher education. Also, he has directed course management products for an eLearning start-up company that became a market leader. He has held a number of leadership, individual contributor, educator and CEO positions with a talent of working with all resource levels in agile environments. He is extremely passionate about the innovative and creative uses of learning technologies.