What does the future of online learning look like?

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Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the 21st century had seen a dramatic increase in the use of learning technology in place of traditional classroom-based methods. During the pandemic, educational providers across the globe were forced to take their classes online to protect their students and staff. This latest transition may have been forced, but it has shown the many benefits of virtual learning.

And it’s not only educators who have realised the benefits of online learning. Half of all adults in the UK believe online learning carries the same benefits as formal education in a physical classroom setting. This is a particularly popular opinion among those who are most likely to be learning: millennials, who are between 25 and 40 years old.

Online learning platforms are growing in popularity due to necessity and convenience. Students from all over the world can attend classes that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to if they were limited to their physical geographic location.

In this article, we will take a look at what the future holds for online learning and the benefits and limitations of learning online.

What does the future of online learning look like?

Online learning is a versatile way for students to take classes outside of a traditional classroom setting. Students are able to access and work through materials at their own pace, which means that students can potentially complete a course quicker than they would in the rigid format of a physical classroom.

Artificial intelligence may also see a rise in popularity for online courses. Online classes have the ability to be specialised through the use of AI. Each student can be given their own learning strategies and material, rather than the one-size-fits-all approach that is common in traditional education. AI can accurately analyse each student’s work and focus on areas that need more focus, which is effective in speeding up the learning process. AI technology can also mark students’ work, which frees up the teacher’s time for other tasks.

With the growing number of higher education courses that are offered online, educational institutes will need to develop more efficient ways to teach classes and grade work for students that could potentially be scattered across the country and around the world.

Continue reading to find out more about the benefits and disadvantages of online education, along with the best techniques to make the most of digital learning.

How can AI help students to learn online?

Artificial intelligence can be used to improve the learning experience of students in many ways. It can ease the pressure on teachers and help online lessons to become more efficient in the future.

AI systems can be used to answer frequently asked questions or to post weekly announcements. Using AI for these tasks will give tutors more time to focus on other tasks, such as hosting one-to-one video calls with their students or creating more interactive course content in the coming years.

Based on their test scores and other information, AI can tailor materials to address students’ weak areas. This will provide targeted support that can help students to improve on topics that need work, without spending too much time on areas that they are already confident in.

Dedicated software can also help tutors to monitor the time that students spend on tasks and identify those who might be cheating in their exams. There are systems that can detect if a student stays on a web page during an exam or opens up a new tab, which is a good indicator that they are searching for answers online.

AI can also be used to distribute grades at speed to students so that they aren’t reliant upon their tutors manually marking their work. This means that students are able to see what they need to focus on and can implement extra revision sessions for those areas without delay.

All of these helpful features are only set to improve in the future as AI technology advances.

What are the benefits of online learning?

One of the main benefits of learning online is that students aren’t limited to educational institutes in their local area. This means that students can select courses based on their quality, rather than their location. They can compare courses based on their prices and the reputation of the institute, and they can make a choice without having to worry about a commute or what to do if they need to relocate.

Online learning environments allow for flexible timetables because you aren’t constricted to standard classroom hours. This means that students can study for an online degree around their other commitments, such as a part-time job or childcare. On the other hand, conventional classroom learning can interfere with everyday life as students are restricted to classes at set time periods that don’t cater for the individual needs of students.

Moreover, it’s not just convenience that makes online learning so popular. Studies have shown that online students absorb anywhere between 25% to 60% more material than students learning in-person do. This could be down to a number of reasons, such as the opportunity for students to learn at their own pace. Students can spend longer on subjects that they are less confident with and skim through areas that they don’t need to spend as much time on. This isn’t possible in most traditional classroom settings as the teacher has to move every student along at the same pace in order to cover the whole syllabus.

Learning through virtual environments also allows you easily to meet and collaborate with students from around the world. Many students are limited by the cost of international study, and with rising transport costs and worries about the environmental impact of flying abroad, it seems likely that more and more students will choose to learn online.

What are the disadvantages to online learning?

Despite the generally positive future of online learning, there are some disadvantages too. Virtual learning can be a very isolating experience as students aren’t able to talk to their peers in class in the same way they would if they were physically attending lessons. This means that students have to make an effort to interact with their fellow students over video calls and emails if they want to collaborate over classwork and assessments.

Online learning requires self-motivation and discipline as the majority of learning is independent. Students will be responsible for creating their own timetables and making sure that they study the materials with the right amount of attention. Moreover, students could be easily distracted when working in their own space.

Although the initial price of online classes is generally cheaper than on-campus courses, there are many other costs to consider. For example, students will be reliant upon their own internet connection and computer to view the online materials and to submit their work. Students may also still be required to buy textbooks for certain subjects if the required materials aren’t supplied online.

Tutors who conduct classes through an online platform also tend to focus on theory rather than practical elements of the subject due to the constraints of teaching through a screen. Students won’t be able to participate in demonstrations as they would if they were sat in a physical classroom, which is particularly difficult for subjects such as the sciences, as experiments are often a large part of the curriculum. Instead, they may be directed to watch videos or read text on the topic, although this won’t have the same impact as it would if they were in class watching it happen in front of them.

In the future, educational institutes will likely offer more hybrid learning options, so that students can have the benefits of in-person classes and virtual learning. This will help students to get the most out of their studies as they will be able to use a variety of tools that wouldn’t be on offer solely online or from traditional learning. For example, students could have the flexibility of online classes along with the opportunity for drop-in one-to-one sessions with their tutor for extra help.


Online learning will likely come to rely more heavily on artificial intelligence in the coming years. AI systems can be used to improve the speed at which feedback and support are given to students, which can improve student grades in the long run.

Students are able to choose to study at institutes that may be too far away for them to physically travel to. This means that in the future, students can base their course choice on factors other than location, such as price and institute reputation.

There are also disadvantages to online learning, such as the additional fees that students have to cover, including textbooks and computers. Students can also become isolated if they work remotely, as they miss out on interaction with other students. They also have to make an effort to reach out to their tutors through email and video calls. However, hybrid classes offer the best of both worlds by giving students the freedom to largely learn at their own pace whilst maintaining social interaction.


How can I make the most of online learning?

Time management and self-discipline are very important for successful online learning. It’s essential that students commit to a study timetable, as it is very easy to fall behind with classes. Online students can also lack the important social interaction and assistance that they would get if they were learning in class.

A helpful strategy is to create a study calendar and use timed techniques such as the Pomodoro strategy so that students know exactly what they should be doing at any given time during their study period. This enables students to work methodically through the course material in manageable chunks. Students can also schedule regular video calls with their peers and tutors to expand their network and get help with difficult topics.

Students can also use AI systems and specialised software to receive tailored study materials and guidance. This could be anything from grammar and spelling check software to help with essays to virtual web chats that can help advise students on what textbooks they should read for help with particular topics.

How much do online courses cost?

Online courses tend to be cheaper as the institutes don’t have the costs of running classes in physical buildings. For example, the Open University – the UK’s largest university, which conducts its classes solely online – offers qualifications that are two-thirds the cost of degrees at campus-based universities. Students also won’t have to pay for accommodation or travel.

However, students may have to travel to exam centres for their tests, which could mean some accommodation costs depending on the distance. Remote students are also responsible for supplying their own study equipment, including furniture, textbooks and their own computer or laptop.

Online students can save on commuting and accommodation costs, as well as additional costs such as childcare. As with conventional institutes, online students are also eligible for certain bursaries and scholarships to help cover the cost of classes.

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