Is online learning a sustainable model for higher education?

Is online learning the future of education?

By U2B Staff 

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The closure of universities around the world due to the coronavirus outbreak has meant that traditional forms of learning have had to take a backseat while its sibling, online learning, takes the spotlight.

Today, anyone with a computer and internet connection can have access to quality online education.

Market research firm Research and Markets project that the global online education market will reach US$350 billion by 2025 due to the introduction of flexible learning technologies in the corporate and education sectors. Further fuelling the growth of this market globally is artificial intelligence (AI).  

In the US alone, there are over six million learners enrolled in online learning and distance learning programmes, while numerous other countries are also tailing closely with high numbers of learners who are hungry for online learning. 

Seizing the opportunity 

Based on a 2017 trends report, BestColleges.com found that 50% of students choose online learning over on-campus degree programmes due to existing commitments, such as work and family. 

Other notable findings include:

  • More than half (54%) of online students are part-time; 
  • The average online student is 32 years old;
  • Many online students are career professionals, with 36% of survey participants considering themselves “industry switchers” hoping to move from one career field to another

With a global health crisis unfolding, many have had to shift their views that learning does not only have to take place in a classroom; online learning can offer an equally enriching experience for students and career professionals.


Many of the world’s top universities are increasingly offering online undergraduate and postgraduate programmes to cater to the demand for online learning, dampening skepticism over the quality of such programmes. 

Part-time online programmes also present prospective university students and professionals a convenient way to upskill and boost their credentials by learning at a time that is convenient for them. Meanwhile, the growing availability of online learning options translates to more programme choices from a wide variety of institutions. 

Online learning options

online learning
Members of the LinkedIn Learning team show attendees how the online learning platform can help students both supplement their current curriculum as well as prepare for their job search at Microsoft’s EDU event on Tuesday, May 2, 2017.

Professionals who are looking to upskill themselves or enhance their knowledge in a specific area may want to consider Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada. The university has one of the highest post-graduation employment rates in Ontario: 91.7% after six months; 95% after two years.

Further attesting their prowess and quality as a quality education provider is their growth; Laurentian saw a 50% growth over the last decade, growing from 6,000 to over 9,500 students since 2000.

Laurentian Online delivers online and distance education courses offered in partnership with our Federated Universities. There are 27 degree programmes and nearly 540 courses in online and/or blended formats (online and print-based). 

Some of their online degrees at the undergraduate level include Business Administration, Psychology, Interdisciplinary Science and Gerontology.

With MBA programmes becoming increasingly popular, Laurentian also offers an online MBA programme that prepares its graduates for a fast-paced, highly competitive world. The programme builds on core business foundations and provides learners with the knowledge and skills that clients demand to take their business to the next level. 

Their courses focus on ethical leadership, advanced financial and marketing concepts, managing information systems, business strategy and explores the complexities of managing within a global context. Recent graduates will be required to complete a work-integrated learning program that will give them the experience needed to move their careers forward. 

Laurentian also has a MScN Primary Care Nurse Practitioner that allows students to gain advanced knowledge, skills, and hands-on experiences needed for all five components of comprehensive health services: health promotion, prevention of diseases and injuries, cure, rehabilitation, and support services.


Those who prefer not to take a full-on postgraduate programme can also choose from Laurentian’s Professional Development programmes which are shorter in nature. Some of their programmes include Cardiac Care on the Web and Faculty of Education – Additional-qualifications courses.

There are also several financing options on hand to assist prospective students. The university notes that financial assistance can come in the form of scholarships, bursaries, loans, as well as on-campus jobs; students can contact the university for advice in navigating the multiple options available.

The sustainability of online learning

Without a doubt, online learning offers professionals a flexible option to enhance their skillset and doing so in accordance with their schedule. 

Coupled with the development and enhancements of telecommunications networks around the world, wider access to the internet across societies allows for the democratisation of education, providing better opportunities for individuals to access higher education.

In addition to that, some of the wider implications of online learning include reducing our carbon footprint by reducing the need to travel to campus, in addition to enjoying more personalised learning – a key advantage of online learning over bricks-and-mortar institutions.