"In most of the world, higher education is mired in a crisis of access, cost, and flexibility. The dominant forms of higher education in developed nations-campus based, high cost, limited use of technology-seem ill-suited to addressing global education needs of the billions of young people who will require it in the decades ahead."
The 21st century is the age of information technology. This technological age provides several avenues for acquiring education through a number of channels. As the vast web of global and local information networks grows, several new skills and forms of literacy will become available to anyone who wants to reap the full educational benefits of the information age.
The traditional (ancient) educational system has been face-to-face, involving traditional classroom learning. Students who study at a face-to-face learning institute attend classes daily/periodically and are taught by lecturers in a synchronous format.
Under this system, the teacher acts as a sage on the stage and is the controller of the learning environment. Students become passive receiver of information from the teacher. This educational system begins with buildings, with classrooms, with lecture halls, with dormitories. This ancient way of providing education often requires huge sums of money to create the environment that will house the teachers and the students. And these buildings need roads and walkways to connect them, and men and women to keep them clean, and secure.
This traditional educational system has been the primary means for achieving the ultimate goals of education in most parts of the world. However, it appears this traditional teaching and learning methods is not sufficient to deal with today's educational needs and challenges. The "metaphysics of presence", the belief that you have to promote a face-to-face environment in order to promote teaching and learning will prevent society from using the new technologies to bring learning to all the places that have learners that need it. That belief will continue to jam students into unwholesome dormitory accommodations, jam students into lecture halls all in an attempt to satisfy the belief that face-to-face instruction is superior.
Coupled with this is the fact that most of the institutions of higher learning are constrained by space, time, and money. Innovative teaching and learning methods are required if society is to make a meaningful headway in meeting the educational challenges of the 21st century.
Even though traditional education will continue to be important for generations to come, new innovative teaching and learning models driven by technology has now become the norm for acquiring education in most parts of the world. These new technologies have brought about a pedagogical shift in higher education and opened new opportunities and delivering lectures in a different format. Over the past few years, the concept of virtual learning environments (VLE) have emerged as a supplement to the traditional educational system. These involve a set of teaching and learning tools designed to enhance a student's learning experience by including computers and the Internet in the learning process. The principal components of a VLE package include electronic communication (using e-mail, internet relay chat, threaded discussions, LMS, etc.), online support, and links to web resources.
This educational model makes it possible for students to have access to global educational resources without necessarily setting foot in the classroom.This new concept in higher education eliminates the traditional rigid division of the school year into terms as students may enroll at any point in time, move through their courses at their own pace and graduate from their course at any point in time. All courses run using some form of a Learning Management System (LMS).
Most of the world renowned universities like MIT now have online access to study material and videos of lectures. It is now possible to obtain an Ivy League degree without setting foot on a campus.
The impact of the new technologies have given birth to a plethora of new terms such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online courses), xMOOCs (eXtended Massive Open Online courses), cMOOCs (Connectivist Massive Open Online Courses), and others. MOOCs and their cousins are only one part of a wave of innovation in higher education, affecting both pedagogy and mode of delivery. New learning systems such as distance education, hybrid or blended learning, flipped classroom, mobile learning, and e-learning are already in place.
Several new online learning platforms have emerged to provide the global learning community with access to educational materials at very minimal costs. One such platforms is Coursera, a for-profit platform for online courses developed by Stanford University's Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller. The courses on Coursera are often adapted from existing university courses by professors and Coursera staff. They've pioneered the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
edX is another platform for online learning that provides MOOCs. Founded as a non-profit with open-source software in 2012 by MIT and Harvard University, it hosts a number of free online university courses and analyzes data on its use to contribute to broad research efforts in mechanisms of learning and MOOC optimization.
Udacity is a for-profit organization developed by Sebastian Thrun, David Stavens, and Mike Sokolsy that offers MOOCs. Originally focusing on technology and science courses that were presented in a traditional university-type structure, it focus has shifted to courses intended for professionals.
Class Central is a free online course MOOC aggregator from various prestigious universities like Stanford, MIT, Harvard, etc. offered via Coursera, Udacity, edX, NovoED, & others, in multiple subjects that are open to students around the world. Class Central does not offer any courses of its own, but it serves as an aggregator of the best, highest quality courses offered online.
FutureLearn is a platform developed by the UK's Open University in 2012 that delivers MOOCs. It partners with British universities and aims to engage a British audience with a British-oriented version of a MOOC platform.
Canvas, developed by an education technology company, Infrastructure, provides a platform for teachers and students to connect and build and use educational resources.
With the paradigm shift in education, the future of teaching and learning is happening faster than we can imagine. Let us embrace the changing role of higher education in the 21st century and use it to undertake a radical transformation of our educational system.
Online education arguably holds the key to mass education in future. It can provide instructionally effective, highly interactive learning experiences that meets the educational needs of most students.
Nana Prof. Osei Darkwa, President
African Virtual Campus