Can e-learning make education sustainable?

Jeremy Bradley discusses why going green could be the way forward for higher education

Online learning appeals to students for many reasons. These reasons may include the ability to access content from anywhere at any time, the flexibility to arrange one’s own schedule, and the opportunity to engage with colleagues from around the world.

However, there is another factor which is often overlooked: the green factor. Keeping that in mind, it’s interesting to consider whether online education can be a sustainable alternative to the less environmentally-conscious approach of traditional bricks-and-mortar schools. 

There are great benefits of studying online that, at a first glance, go unnoticed. Although you may need electricity to power your computer, you use little else in terms of energy consumption; no public transport is used or fossil fuel burnt during your commute to class, and there’s no waste from heating a half-empty classroom or printing out paper notes.

Online students can access e-books and other paperless materials, enabling institutions to reduce the consumption of natural resources. The bottom line is that online learning reduces a student’s carbon footprint and the institution’s. 

Here are three ways that online learning helps create a cycle of sustainability, providing benefits for everyone involved: 

Environmental impact

Educators often go into the industry hoping to make the world a better place. What better way to do this than by teaching online? Implementing a green education policy helps reduce waste, conserves natural resources, and ultimately protects the wellbeing of the natural ecosystem. Reducing your reliance on paper and using your computer instead can have a hugely positive impact on the environment. 

Financial impact

Besides the altruistic environmental benefits of online education, the reduction in reliance on physical materials in turn reduces the cost of your energy bills, making online learning friendlier for your finances.

The satisfaction factor

Online education isn’t just good for your wallet and the environment – it’s also great for improving satisfaction levels. Studies have shown that sustainable design and technology enhance the overall sense of value and worth that a student gets from studying. 

A 2006 study by the Center of the Built Environment at the University of California demonstrated that green design improves productivity and general satisfaction. Students that study online typically have higher satisfaction rates and are often happier with their quality of learning; part of that is due to the innate sense that they’re being sustainable in the process.

In summary, embracing a green approach to education isn’t just about helping to preserve the rain forest by using less paper. It can also mean improving your financial outlook, increasing productivity and, ultimately, improving the overall quality of the teaching and learning process. 

Jeremy Bradley is Director of Academic and Student Affairs at Study InterActive


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