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Over the last decade, online education has seen significant growth. Since the 1990s when the internet really came about (yes, it was invented before this, but this was when it had its big boom), online education has become more and more prevalent. From online courses to completing a Master’s degree online, there is online learning for everyone. Especially in the times of COVID-19.

Because it is unsafe to be out in public and around others for fear of spreading the virus, many schools are turning to virtual learning – aka online schooling. From kindergarten through university levels, schools have transitioned to online classes for the safety and well-being of their students and staff. However, online schooling has been around for decades. The history of learning online is a long one – longer than you might expect. It did not begin with the spread of this virus, nor will it end when there is a cure.

Online learning is an excellent alternative to in-person learning. While many people tend to (believe that they) learn better in a classroom setting, online learning is quickly making its come-around. Not only can it be done from any location with WIFI, but many assignments, quizzes, and exams can be done on your own time. Of course, there are some meeting times which require you to be present on a video or conference call, but for the most part, the rest can be done when you have time.

Here we will take a look at the historical growth of online education and how it has changed since COVID-19 has come along. Starting from the beginning, we will take a look at how online learning has evolved and what some of the benefits of online education are today. Let’s get started.

A Historical Look at Online Education

Modern internet has evolved, and continues to evolve, at a rapid pace over the past 50 years. In October of 1969, ARPAnet delivered a message from one computer to another. These computers were located at UCLA and Stanford and were each the size of a small house. Then, by the end of 1969, there were four computers connected to the network. This grew steadily through the 1970s and by the end of the 1970s, TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) was invented by Vinton Cerf. This served as a way for all of the world’s computers on mini networks to communicate with one another.

In 1991, the World Wide Web, modern internet, was opened to the public, changing the course of everything. The very next year, Western Michigan University developed a system of automatic computer grading and the Electronic University Network offered a Ph.D. program via America Online. Continuing throughout the 1990s, several universities and colleges began to offer online courses with real-time instruction (synchronous learning) and in 1996, Jones International University was launched. This is the first fully web-based, accredited university. (It closed in 2015.)

Then, of course, in 1998 the Google search engine was developed, and everything changed. A world of information was available right at your fingertips. From the year 2000 moving forward, the internet is deemed a critical dimension of modern society and more and more online schooling options are available. Continuing along with the growing trend, many online courses are opened and certain academies are founded, giving people the option of taking shorter courses online rather than through universities.

In 2009, more than 5.5 million international students were enrolled in at least one online course and then, in 2011, the Department of Education issues regulations requiring online colleges and universities to meet the requirements set by the state they are in. These regulations also mandated stricter rules as far as using a rubric using credit hours to measure learning. The year after, Barack Obama grants $500 million to community college and the majority of that was used on the development of online resources and classes.

If we continue down the line, in 2013 University of Florida-Online was launched, becoming the first public university that is fully online. And by 2018 around 98% of public universities and colleges offer some form of online program. Of course, that was only two years ago, and then we come to this year – 2020. Let’s take a look at how online learning has changed since the start of COVID-19 and what the future of online education is looking like.

Online Education in the Time of COVID-19

Online education has become centric in people’s lives since the outbreak of the virus. As entire nations have had to go on lockdown, children and students are unable to attend class as normal. So, what do they do? Naturally, schools go virtual in some way or another. Of course, this looks different from school to school, class to class, and teacher to teacher.

Now, before the pandemic, we know that there were numerous platforms for online learning such as Udemy, Coursera, Skillshare, and a variety of others. While these are not “schools” per say, they are learning platforms where people can learn a new skill of their own choosing. Some courses are free, and some are paid. Some come with a certification or diploma at the end, and some do not. Since the pandemic began, these platforms have become incredibly popular. The demand is so high because the world is changing rapidly, and people are trying to keep up. Well, there’s that and the fact that a lot of people have much more time on their hands.

Not only are there several skill courses available online, but college students, high school students, and primary students have all had to go virtual. Because being in a small classroom with other people is not conducive to the protocols set forth by the CDC as of right now, children have had to adapt to learning online. University and college courses have gone online with professors giving their lectures via video calls. High school students are being sent schoolwork and expected to keep busy. Even middle and elementary school children are learning virtually.

Being that people are discouraged from leaving the house and some are working less or not working at all, there is a lot of free time to kill. For some, this means taking up a new hobby. For others, this means expanding their skillset, and what better way to do that than with an online course? Udemy, Coursera, Skillshare, Khan Academy, and so many other online platforms offer thousands of courses right at your fingertips and have become incredibly popular over the last few months during this pandemic.

Benefits of Online Education

While some people do not learn well virtually, for others it is a great way to learn. There are several benefits of online education and reasons why the world is continuing to head directly in this direction. Let’s look at some of the advantages to online education.

  • Remote Learning: When studying online, you can pretty much learn from anywhere with WIFI! You can even learn while traveling (if you can keep yourself from getting too distracted that is).
  • Online Learning Platforms Gather Data: According to Forbes, the online learning enterprises collect data from each of their users which then enables the platform to use machine learning algorithms. These algorithms can use pattern recognition to personalize content for people.
  • Instant Feedback: Another great thing about online learning is not having to wait for feedback. Most online learning platforms give you feedback instantaneously, making it easier to correct yourself.
  • It’s Easier to Participate: Even if you are shy or don’t like speaking in public, an online forum is a great place to state your opinion or join in a group discussion because you are doing so virtually. What’s there to be nervous about?

Historical online education growth has been very steady over the past 50 years and will continue to grow. Now that the pandemic has hit and you are at home, what better time to continue your education or add a new skill to your list? Now is the time to do so! And you have zero excuse not to do so because of all the amazing online learning platforms to choose from.

If you are looking for new skill sets, then Udemy probably has something right up your alley. Coursera, on the other hand, offers more academic courses via access to university courses. Skillshare is more creative and offers courses such as photography and animation. There are so many platforms to choose from, and MOOC Market brings them all to one place so you can easily choose the best one for you.

If you are looking for something to do, do something productive! Learn something new! It could enhance your future or, at the very least, give you something to do while you are stuck at home. Online education is the new “normal” and will more than likely continue to grow in the near future. Take advantage of it while you have time to do so!