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EdTech and equality

Technology connects us all. From remote working via Google Hangouts and shared Apple screens to social media platforms telling us where we’ve been, what we’ve seen and what we’ve had for dinner - there’s no escaping it.

And why would we want to?

Who could operate without being able to access our bank accounts at the touch of a fingerprint? Text our loved ones to tell them we’re on our way home? Demand the latest TV series be streamed into our sitting rooms? How different would life have been without this constantly evolving technology - each stage more clever, more intuitive than the last.

In every sector from healthcare to banking, the law to accounting, home computing to big-budget space programmes, 21st technology makes our lives easier and smarter.

Improving access to learning

Before the internet swept into our lives, learning was a passive teacher-pupil relationship. Teachers told us stuff. We checked it out in libraries, in books which were out of date as soon as they’d hit the shelves. After school, if we were lucky and we worked hard, we headed to university or we enrolled on apprenticeships or got jobs.

And as we sat in lecture halls and workshops and meetings, we tried to figure out complex concepts and absorb facts that to check would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Now, geography, class, ethnic background and financial status are no barrier to learning. eLearning has seen a huge upsurge in recent years, in both developed and developing countries.

Deploying eLearning to the world’s poorer nations might initially sound paradoxical. They neither have the infrastructure nor the education systems we take for granted in the Western world. So how could they pioneer this new way of remote learning?

But it’s precisely that lack of wired infrastructure - particularly telecoms - that’s allowed African nations, for example, to embrace the mobile phone.

Because wireless technology is cheaper to adopt, more than 80% of the sub-Saharan population now owns a mobile, and many have access to data services. It’s the same with eLearning.

Getting children to school when there isn’t a proper road system or vehicles to get them there makes this type of knowledge transfer uniquely suited to developing nations or remote areas.

Let’s not forget that eLearning was pioneered in the Australian bush at the turn of last century, for kids who simply couldn’t travel for hours to get to a classroom.

There’s also a cost implication. eLearning is undoubtedly cheaper, because you don’t need school buildings or books; you can easily tailor it to the individual and the technological possibilities are endless.

And with programmes like UNESCO’s One Laptop Per Child initiative, eLearning - even if you’re off-grid - is now a global reality.

But it’s not just developing nations where eLearning offers unique benefits to the student.

From media companies to utility giants, Western corporations are increasingly delivering staff training online, whether it’s health and safety in the workplace or sharing best practice among nurses.

Organisations like the MoD, Al Jazeera and British Gas for example, have taken this one stage further through the skills2learn programme. For example, British Gas now trains its call centre staff in basic domestic infrastructure, to improve their knowledge when speaking to customers.

It’s something the DfES champions. Not only does it reduce training costs, it allows employers to keep staff abreast of the rapid growth in information they need to handle and helps change attitudes.

Change is afoot: and it’s good.

Benefits for adult learners

Here are seven of the top eLearning benefits for adults:

1. Improves knowledge retention. Personalised learning gives you the ability to learn at your own pace and absorb knowledge more effectively.

2. Learn when it suits you. You don’t need to be at your desk at 9am for a lecture - you can learn while you’re waiting at the dentist or to pick up the kids from football practice.

3. Time is money. All the time you spend learning, you learn. There’s no long, time-wasting commute.

4. It’s all about you. Because it’s highly adaptable, you have control over what you learn, from delving more deeply into a new topic which interests you to whizzing through modules you already understand.

5. Work-life balance. Time-poor people no longer have to choose between educational, professional and personal obligations. You don’t have to commit to a class every Wednesday night, for example, when you could be helping the kids with their homework.

6. Reduced risk. You don’t have to worry about failing in front of your peers or looking foolish - there are no peers to judge you.

7. The sky’s the limit. Because you’re in control, you feel more motivated - and this makes you an active participant in your own learning.

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