Why online digital learning makes sense: The top 5 benefits

The new Academic Director of Hybrid Global Excellence Executive MBA at Esade, Katharine D’Amico, assesses the advantages and challenges of online learning. Both need to be understood to bring the future of education to fruition.

Katharine D'Amico

Education, they say, is the great equalizer, and the future of education is here. More than 70% of colleges and universities expect to launch one to four new online undergraduate programs over the next three years. Self-paced learning programs are in high demand and account for more than 77% of the total E-Learning market share.  

The ability to learn is one of the most important qualities a leader can have. If you think about the functions of a leader, you will no doubt think about vision, setting strategic direction, finding talent, making decisions, connecting, building trust, motivating, transforming, innovating and influencing action.

Self-paced learning and online undergraduate programs are in high demand

If COVID has taught us anything, it is the de-mystification of what digital even means. So welcome to 2023 – where we see the explosion of online learning and blended programs designed to deliver educational content and resources to future leaders via the internet. There are five main reasons why online digital learning makes sense: 

  1. Accessibility: Online digital learning allows students to access educational content and resources from anywhere, at any time. This makes education more accessible to balance personal, professional and academic life.  
  2. Flexibility: We all value autonomy. Online learning allows students to learn at their own pace and on their own schedule.  
  3. Cost-effectiveness: Online digital learning can be more cost-effective than traditional classroom learning, as it eliminates the need for physical classrooms, textbooks, and travel. By using technologies, companies upskill their teams in less time and for less money. Companies annually spend an average of 1, 280 USD per employee on employee training. Teams appreciate these significant investments, but switching to EdTech could reduce these expenses and make the learning process more effective and efficient. 
  4. Personalization: You may not think so, but online digital learning allows for a more personalized learning experience, as students can choose the content and resources that best suit their learning style and needs. This can lead to better learning outcomes and actually increase student engagement. 
  5. Innovation: Online digital learning encourages innovation in teaching methods and instructional design. Educators can incorporate a variety of multimedia resources, interactive tools, and collaborative learning activities to create engaging and effective learning experiences. 

In addition, no traditional program can quite match the global reach across borders and time zones, creating opportunities for students to connect and learn with people from all over the world. Doing so can foster global awareness and cultural competence.  

Moreover, online learning can incorporate immediate feedback, such as quizzes and assessments, allowing students to receive feedback on their performance in real time. This can help students identify areas where they need to improve and adjust their learning approach accordingly. We can also increase student engagement through the use of interactive multimedia resources, gamification, and social learning features, making learning more enjoyable, motivating, and meaningful for students.  

Finally, the environmental sustainability of online learning should also be considered since this educational model reduces the environmental impact by lessening the need for physical classrooms, textbooks, and travel. 

The challenges of digital learning  

However, online digital learning is not without its challenges, as digital learning relies heavily on technology, which can be vulnerable to technical glitches, outages, or cyber-attacks. If students or educators become overly dependent on technology, disruptions to the digital learning environment could significantly disrupt the learning process.  

In addition, while digital learning can help to increase access to education, it can also exacerbate existing inequities in education, such as the digital divide or socio-economic disparities. Ensuring that all students have access to reliable internet, digital devices, and quality digital learning resources is essential to promote equity in education. In this regard, the global picture is far from good. According to a UNESCO report, 50% of learners worldwide (826 million people) don’t have a household computer. 43% of learners (706 million) don’t have household Internet and this is no doubt one of the challenges in the future.  

Digital learning resources must meet high standards for accuracy, rigor, and relevance

Another potential barrier when we consider an online digital program is quality control. Ensuring the quality of digital learning resources and assessments can be a challenge. Ensuring that digital learning resources meet high standards for accuracy, rigor, and relevance is essential to maintain the credibility and effectiveness of digital learning.  

Lastly, one of the main barriers is the feeling of social isolation: digital learning can be more isolating than traditional classroom learning, as students may have less face-to-face interaction with their peers and educators. Despite being more isolating, digital learning can indeed create an environment that promotes social interaction, collaboration, and a sense of community, all essential to motivate students to learn and go beyond. 

Lessons from neuroscience 

So, does online digital learning make sense? Online digital programs are still viewed as ´new´ and ´different compared to our traditional idea of what program of study should be. 

Change is pain, and change is unexpectedly difficult because it provokes sensations of physiological discomfort. Our brains are energy-saving organs and we crave certainty. We do know, however, that our expectations shape our reality. People’s preconceptions have a significant impact on what they perceive, and the correlating success or failure of that experience.  

According to Dr. David Rock, the Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, cognitive scientists have known for 20 years that the brain is capable of significant internal change in response to environmental changes, a dramatic finding when it was first made. We now also know that the brain changes as a function of where an individual puts his or her attention. The power is in the focus. Focusing on the problem only ingrains it in the mind. Based on what we know now, the focus should be on the new behavior: online digital learning. 

What the data says about digital learning 

What does the future look like? The EdTech market size was valued at USD 254.80 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach USD 605.40 billion by 2027. According to Statista research, 81% of college students believe that digital learning technology, including virtual classroom chat, helps them boost their grades. E-learning is also the fastest-growing sector of the education industry, up 900% since 2000.  

Moreover, a Smoothwall report showed that 96% of teachers believe technology has a positive impact on participation and learning, 56% of respondents believe that the use of technology makes students noticeably more engaged, and 54% of teachers believe that technologies help them to plan various and more exciting lessons.  

E-learning is the fastest-growing sector of the education industry

In addition to this data, McGraw Hill surveyed 3,300 US college students, and the vast majority of them strongly agreed that technologies are most helpful in their education: 81% of students feel that digital technologies improve their grades and efficiency, while 82% of respondents confirmed that tech devices allow them to spend more time studying through increased accessibility. 

Leadership requires both courage and action. Leaders need to prepare like experts: they need to be competent, confident and have sufficient knowledge to act in ways that create the most benefit while avoiding any harm. Furthermore, they have to survive dramatic changes in different circumstances and industries, and motivate others to follow them. It is not a question of luck but rather a prepared mind. 

Katharine D'Amico has recently been appointed Academic Director of Esade's Hybrid Global Excellence Executive MBA.

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