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In the past few years, online learning has gone from an option for some to a necessity for most schools. With both advancements in technology and increased access to the internet, online learning now offers a more tangible opportunity for students to learn.

In this article, we will discuss:

  • A brief history of online education
  • The impact of COVID-19 on online learning
  • Online learning today

A brief history of online education

When we think of online education today, we think of virtual classrooms: Zoom meetings, interactive learning, and everything short of complete hands-on experience. However, the first instances of online education occurred in the 1980’s. Nova Southeastern University created the first electronic classroom through an accredited graduate program in 1985, and by 1993, the first fully online based accredited university opened in Centennial, Colorado. 

Despite its relatively slow inception, online learning quickly caught on in the 2000’s. By 2003, 40,000 teachers were teaching 150,000 online courses to over 6 million students. Many doors were opened in terms of online learning in the millennium, from the introduction  of synchronous learning, to MIT offering OpenCourseWare to offer MIT courses for free. Since then, many schools have followed suit with this course model, offering asynchronous college courses (without college credit) for free online. 

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

While online learning was certainly more popular in 2019 than in 1993, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way online courses were taught in many ways:

  1. The popularization of Zoom – While Zoom Video Communications, Inc. was founded in 2011 and gained its own software in 2013, it didn’t become popular until schools were unable to meet in-person in 2020. When schools moved fully remote, many instructors had no experience running an online class. Schools introduced Zoom as a way to have a virtual classroom instead of a more asynchronous online setting. While many schools have returned to in-person learning, Zoom remains as an integral part of online learning. 
  2. Hybrid courses – As instructors became more comfortable with online learning, especially in the higher education realm, many institutions introduced hybrid classes. The model of hybrid classes could mean many things, from students having the option to attend in-person or online to having class in-person half the time and online for the other half. As COVID-19 restrictions ebb and flow with cases rising and falling, hybrid models of learning are more popular. This is especially popular – and valuable – to students who need hands-on experience with their programs, but don’t necessarily need to attend lectures in-person. 
  3. Adult learners – While the amount of adult learners was steadily rising prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people decided to change their careers due to the pandemic. Adults chose to return to school, whether it be because they were at home and had the resources to start an online program or because they wanted to change careers and needed a new degree or higher education training to do so. In a 2021 survey, institutions reported that 79% of their target online students are adult learners returning to school after an absence. 

The future of online learning

What does all of this mean for the future of online learning? Well, the growth isn’t going to slow down any time soon. Today, about 25% of college students are enrolled in at least one online class. Even if students don’t attend an online university, they might have one online class on their schedule per semester. Additionally, 83% of institutions that already offer online courses think they will become even more popular in the next ten years.

Some things that the online education industry sees happening in the future as online learning stays consistently sought after are:

  1. Tracking student progress – A professor can speak to a room of students and track their progress, but that’s not as easy to do with a virtual room of students, especially as the groups of students become larger. By improving technology to track student progress, online learning in the future will become more personal and equitable for the student. 
  2. Engaging students online – Another obstacle that educators seek to smooth out in the future of online education is how to make sure students stay engaged online. Online learning infrastructure in the future will hopefully foster environments where students can work together virtually and create communities in order to optimize their learning experience.  
  3. IT infrastructure – Before online learning can carry more weight, the IT infrastructure needs to be up to par. Where one student might have the bandwidth to support the institution’s software at home, another student may not. This issue ties into the digital divide and amplifies it. The future of online education relies on whether online infrastructure can be accessible to both rich and poor demographics.  


Southern Careers Institute offers a variety of different programs that train students in different tasks to prepare them for their future in Texas. With eight campuses in Texas along with online programs, it is SCI’s mission to provide employer-tailored programs to students, whether students prefer in-person schooling or online learning. To learn more about the programs, start dates, and financial aid, click here. 

This article was published on: 01/31/22 10:13 AM

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