Is the future of education online?

The world is in the grip of a digital communication revolution. We Skype, download music, shop online, and so why not get an education online?

With the news yesterday that 12 US and European universities including the University of Edinburgh have joined Coursera an internet platform created last year by two Stanford University scientists which provides free online access to a range of classes designed by academics. Coursera, hopes to revolutionize higher education by allowing students from all over the world to not only listen to lectures, but to do homework assignments, be graded, receive a certificate for completing the course and use that to get a better job or gain admission to a better school.

Is the future of education online and better still is it free? New technology is enabling students to learn in an interactive way, which will leave the YouTube clips and web course shared servers of today’s online education light years behind.

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As a student how often did/do you find yourself dozing off in a crowed lecture theatre or passing the time unengaged and (for modern students) checking facebook? A number of educational institutions are dipping their toes in the promise of a digital future, from online degrees to iPads for school children. Many UK universities already offer online lectures and web based content and some – notably the Open University – offer qualifications through distance learning.

But does the recent rise in online partnerships and educational start-ups such as Skillshare and ThreeRing mark a shift in the balance of power in higher education. With online becoming the preferred choice for students, if not an expected part of any degree course along with lectures and coursework?

Recent research has shown that school children with access to the internet generally perform better, around a grade level above, than those without access to a computer.

The US is currently the global leader in online education With the University of Edinburgh becoming only one of three outside of North America to take part in the Coursera scheme, Other UK universities are expected to follow suit as the online educational revolution continues.

There are a number of different online educational offerings which have been gaining increased media attention including UniversityNow, the Minerva Project, Udacity and Udemy to name a few.

Recently it was MIT and Harvards collaboration causing much excitement, their edX project is a non for profit partnership between two of Americas most well respected universities MIT and Harvard. Both are now working together to offer free online technology courses.

The rapid spread of mobile technology is also taking e-learning beyond traditional boundaries and opening up learning opportunities in the developing world as mobile consumption continues to grow in emerging markets refashioning higher education for people around the world. With one of the fasting growing mobile marketing being India, where people now have better access to a personal mobile than they do to sanitary living conditions.

The opportunities to improve learning and access to education to education through mobile and the internet are endless.

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