THE BLOG

Online Learning - the Best Is Yet to Come

07/04/2015 12:40 BST | Updated 02/06/2015 10:59 BST

There was a time when international student exchanges, such as the famed Erasmus Programme run by the EU, were something that a majority thought would never catch on. Today more than three million students have benefitted from Erasmus grants, along with 350,000 academic and administrative staff.

Several years ago online education was also viewed with caution and to some people it still is. Many thought it was something that wouldn't take off and world-class universities had nothing to worry about. Today global education institutions are embracing online learning at pace. For me the really exciting thing about online education is that it is still in its infancy. The potential is still enormous and we have only seen the tip of the iceberg.

Taking a look at the global picture, Higher Education is booming in the developing world. Yet despite that boom it is still hugely more accessible in Europe and North America, where a far greater proportion of people in lower socioeconomic groups are able to study. And when you look at the quality of education institutions the picture is even starker - just six of the world's top 50 universities are outside either Europe or North America. To give those statistics some context, 80% of the world's population live outside of Europe and North America.

So with traditional education locking out the majority of the world's population it is clear that online learning has a huge role to play. Especially given the obvious fact that it is impossible for all young people in Asia and Africa to travel to North America and Europe to experience higher education.

We are now starting to see the necessary steps in to the future being taken. I was recently at the Collaborative Online International Education conference in New York. Collaborative Online International Learning is being pioneered by a growing movement of organisations committed to developing online spaces where students from across the world can collaborate and learn together. No longer do students need to travel across the world to work alongside their peers.

This is exciting for students in the UK as well as students in other parts of the world. It is not just students living in China who benefit from learning collaboratively with peers in other parts of the world - it is students in London, Manchester and the rest of the UK as well. Programmes like Erasmus took 25 years to amass three million students and it will continue to exist and indeed enrich the lives of students. But collaborative online learning is already benefiting millions of students worldwide after only a few years.

This growth in online learning, and especially more collaborative online learning, won't be driven by academics like me or by politicians. The growth will come from the increase in demand - a global community of students with a thirst for knowledge that online education can quench.