Let’s face it; the internet is slowly and surely taking over every aspect of our contemporary society. We are currently living in a digital world that would never have been fathomed 30 years ago. Despite having mushroomed in the 90s, the advent of the internet and its impact greatly blossomed at the beginning of the 21st century. Today, the younger generation, especially the millennials, can no longer talk about the internet as a discrete entity but rather as a normal way of life. In fact, the internet seems to be slowly positioning itself as one of the basic needs, much like water, oxygen or electricity.
Talk about the internet and every young man or woman will take you through how this has affected their learning curve. We are waking to the reality that the internet has strategically positioned itself to become an integral part of education. This is especially so in regards to the developed nations. Considering its impressive momentum, it is only a matter of time before its worldwide educational significance is realized.
How prominent is this impact thus far?
Contrary to popular belief, the impact of the internet on education is not straightforward. When looking at the effect of the internet on education, we must live up to the reality that well over half of the world’s population is yet to get direct experience with the internet. However, this is expected to change thanks to the introduction of mobile devices. Until then, the issue of inadequate access to one of the most powerful forms of empowerment on the educational front still remains a major concern.
In most parts of the world, traditional forms of education still dominate. This is especially informed by the fact that most of these users seem to suggest that the educational changes being realized in the digital world of the internet are often compromised and complex. So when looking at the impact of the internet on education, it is only prudent that we take much caution and consider the following factors:
- Potentially, what are the implications of the internet on earning and education?
- What is the relationship between real-life experience and the educational potential of the internet?
- What are the most prominent forms of internet-based education that have been realized in the last 20 – 30 years?
- How should we understand and interpret the effects and potential merits and demerits of what is being fronted by the internet on education?
The internet as an educational instrument
Most of the contemporary opinion-makers have always fronted the internet as an inherent educational tool. In fact, many believe that the basic characteristics of the internet seem to go hand in hand with those of education. For instance, it would be noted that both education and the internet are geared towards informational exchange, creation of knowledge and communication in general.
In basic form, the communal, participatory nature that has been seen in most of the social online networks are closely related to the basic qualities of human learning. This is especially so in regards to the aspect of sharing, creating, critiquing and collaborating. The impact of the internet has seen most of the opinionated leaders around the world offer their piece of mind on the same.
In 2013, Jeb Bush, a renowned American Politician and the former governor of Florida, was quoted being in full praise of the internet’s impact of education. He reckoned that apart from the internet being a powerful instrument for communication, it is thus far, the most potent tool for innovation and learning since the advent of the printing press. He was especially delighted that the internet is at the center of America’s greatest opportunity.
A look beyond the hyperbole
Despite the various reaction, opinions and comments regarding the effect of the internet on education, it is only fair that we look deeper into reality. In this case, looking at the specifics of each case will help clear the way in regards to this whole debate. As such the impact of the internet can be understood better by looking at four basic impacts:
The advent of the internet has seen users attain increased freedom as opposed to the previous limitations posed by the real world. This is especially so in regards to the reduction of constraints of place, time, space and geography. Basically put, individuals can now get access to quality learning opportunities right at their local circumstances. With the world slowly turning into a global village, education is now possible at any place, time and pace.
However, it would also be noted that this aspect also comes with its own share of challenges. These freedoms also seem to transcend to materials and social disadvantage whereby the internet is also seen as an inherently democratizing tool. It basically lacks on the ability to support free and fair educational interactions thanks to its radical and infinite connectivity.
New Culture of learning
The internet seems to have come along with as a new dawn for those who have always struggled to catch up through traditional learning. This is especially so considering its ‘bottom-up’ principles of innovation, play and collective exploration. Looking at the basic model of internet leaning that takes place on a ‘many-to-many’ perspective, this seems to be more effective compared to the traditional leaning that only takes the ‘one-to-many’ form of learning. This new model of learning brought about by the internet effectively supports cultural socio-constructivism and cognitive development.
Most of the traditional educators seem to have embraced this mode of education as it enriches the learners through expensive social environments. Talking of the social aspect of the internet, it would be noted that the internet offers learners an opportunity to get access to expertise and sources of knowledge that would otherwise be considered out of their immediate environment. Through the internet, learners can then get authentic information though the activities and interaction with intellectuals and fellow learners from other parts of the world.
We are currently living in an era that has been taken over by social media and other interactive internet forums. This has radically transformed the way people interact and share knowledge. However, it would sometimes be argued that the internet has led to a new form of knowledge creation and consumption that seems to deviate from the epistemological presumptions that have always been known for mass instruction and formal schooling.
Looking at the networked relationships that have come forth through the internet, a wholesale reassessment of this nature of learning would be inevitable. This has seen some educationalists begin advancing ideas of connectivism and fluid intelligence.
The same seems to reflect on the belief that education through the internet is contingent on the possibility of accessing and using the distribution of information on the basis on ‘just-in-time. In this regard, it would be prudent to debate more on the internet’s ability to help learners know more rather than simply accumulating knowledge on what is already in the public domain.
The advent of the internet has seen more learners take the ‘personal’ approach in terms of how they acquire knowledge. This is especially so considering how easy it is for an individual to get online and learn just at the touch of a button. This deviates from the traditional form of learning where one had to attend a physical class with other learners and tap on the information from their teacher or professor.
The internet is now offering an advanced autonomy whereby the learner can choose when, where and how to learn. This basically makes education a controllable part of one’s personal life. With this, it becomes even more possible for an individual to juggle their learning with other personal commitments by scheduling these activities as per the demand and need. This by extension leads to the development of personal discipline as one gets to self-organize and make their daily life more productive without necessarily living up to the expectations of a particular education system.
Looking at how the internet has revolutionized the learning process, it is easy to understand why the traditional forms of education are making realignments. The traditional systems of education that were established through the 19th and 20th century are now facing a fundamental challenge. This is especially so considering how the internet is now contradicting the monopoly of state educational systems.
It is increasingly becoming clear how the digital world of the internet is testing established educational boundaries between the novices and experts. The internet comes with it a range of radically unique forms of learning and this is becoming more evident with the altered social relations.
In the wake of such bare realities and the forceful predictions of what may happen even as we approach 2020 and beyond, perhaps it may be a good idea to take a step back and review that reality of what is already happening. This will be important in charting the way forward in terms of how the internet is impacting education and its future prospects.