UK and Online Learning

Online learning: the UK’s scepticism is holding it back

The UK has a long tradition of online learning, but regulation and a shift in attitudes are needed to stay top on the international stage

Nancy Coleman (originally posted on the Guardian website here)

Online learning is still seen as the poor relation in the UK – but it’s time for attitudes to change. As the student cap is lifted, and opportunities for expansion increase, online education offers a way for UK universities to compete internationally without struggling to meet capacity.

It’s a different story in the US. There, online degree courses have turned a corner. No more lurking in the shadows as the lesser option, the fallback. If it wants to make the most of those opportunities for expansion, the UK can learn some useful lessons from the US experience of learning to love online education.

The lifting of the student cap is one driver, but what will matter long-term is taking a decent share of the ballooning numbers of students globally looking for a world-class degree. The OECD estimates the numbers of people with degrees will grow from around 129 million to 204 million by 2020. It’s also one answer to the problem of declining numbers of part-time students and creating the right kind of higher study offer for people in work.

Latest figures from the Babson Survey Research Group suggest that 7.1 million higher education students in the US are taking at least one online course as part of their degree. There’s some wrangling over the figures, with the US education department’s first research into online study putting the total at more like 5.5 million. Forecasts suggest this will mean more than half of US students taking an online course by 2018.


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