The President: Leading the charge

Prins says the time is ripe to start reaping the potential of online training For the past decade and more, there has been considerable debate about the benefits of online training and the opportunities it offers, but for various reasons, real life examples have been slow to materialise. It is only now that the original promise is beginning to be fulfilled.

Issues such as communications infrastructure, user acceptance, the availability of material and content, as well as appropriately skilled educational staff to undertake its development, and the economics of online training, have all combined to slow its progress.

While our communications infrastructure and user acceptance of technology have vastly improved in recent years, it would appear that content development by education professionals has been slow to take off.

One reason for this has been the view by traditional educational institutions that social interaction is a necessary part of the learning process. As these institutions lead the charge towards online education, this foundation stone has been challenged and it has been slow to be overturned.

While many institutions currently augment their existing offerings with online learning modules, most are really only enhancing their distance learning programs with electronic dissemination of materials or, in some exceptional circumstances, online interactivity.

The real issue for many of these institutions is the investment required in both their staff and infrastructure to develop the material required to deliver a comprehensive online program.

Added to that is the substantial marketing effort that will be needed to sell these programs to students or other institutions, resulting in an economic equation that remains a significant stumbling block to the forward movement of online learning.

The ACS has been approached on several occasions to be part of a "virtual university", however, for commercial and content reasons, these ventures have yet to get off the ground. Despite these delays, the target population for online learning would appear to be increasing.

By this I refer to the fact that people are generally working longer hours and have less time to dedicate to travelling to places of learning or attending lectures. This makes home study through online learning seem more attractive and therefore more economically viable, although it is arguable whether many people have the self discipline to undertake study from homeOnline learning does offer corporate staff development programs a significant opportunity to reduce their investment in program development, delivery and infrastructure, while enabling staff to remain on-site for learning activitiesIn my view, it will take some time, and possibly several years, before online learning really impacts its ultimate target audience of potential students within the wider community. However, I expect corporate and government organisations will increasingly turn to online training as their preferred method of staff development into the future.

The challenge for the educational sector is to recognise the potential and take appropriate steps to invest in staff and infrastructure to make this a reality for Australia. If they fail, there's little doubt that education providers in North American and Europe will move to capitalise on this potentially lucrative market.

Prins Ralston is president of the ACS

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