While an increasing number of students join online classes in the United States, sophisticated technology lags in cyberlearning. According to Babson Survey Research Group’s 2012 study, “…the number of students taking online course has now surpassed 6.7 million,” this great number can be seen as a warning that cyberlearning technology has to improve quickly in order to provide effective tools to improve the learning experience online.
Students who join online classes need to be well equipped as the learning process heavily relies on how cyberinfrastructure is handled. Good connectivity is not all, well functioning systems carried by schools should offer easy tools to plug the student into the virtual classroom making the experience as close as to presential learning. Students should be able to interact with the professor and classmates, download documents and upload as well, and this whole interaction counts on reliable cyberinfrastructure.
Currently not enough research is devoted to improve cyberinfrascture for online learning. According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), the importance of cyberinfrastructure contribution to learning lies upon “facilitating new applications, allowing applications to interoperate across institutions and disciplines, ensuring that data and software acquired at great expense are preserved for future generations and easily available to all, and empowering enhanced collaboration over distance and across disciplines.” These are ultimate goals to not only elaborate the learning experience but also ensure that the knowledge shared online is captured and saved, as in print, for the upcoming generations. The process cannot be lost for lack of infrastructure.
Among serveral strategies that NSA has elaborated in order to move forward with improvements in cyberinfrastructure, the goal of improving cyberlearning for K12 education is one of the most delightful. This is extremely relevant considering the fact that the current and upcoming generations are ‘digital citizens.’ For these young students, online learning is among the best ways to communicate and teach. Children already know how to use gadgets at an early age while for older generations it might take a while to understand how those electronics operate. Going digital is already part of most K12 student’s reality; therefore, traditional education should not move away from this momentum but join it in the best way possible.
Of course we need to take into consideration that not all children, and individuals, have equal participation in the online learning process. As cyberlearning involves high technology, the digital divide keeps a big parcel of the world population away from this privileged knowledge resource. Keeping this issue in mind, the WGIG Issue Paper on Education and Human Capacity Building has addressed the problem and proposed alternatives to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. According to WGIG, Governance mechanisms should aim the use of the Internet as a ‘teaching and learning tool.’ If this is one of the main focus for Internet and cyberinfrastructure evolution, it is good to keep in mind that research and improvements should arrive to all/or almost all parcels of the world population. Evolution on ICT must aim closing the digital gap in order to improve online learning.
The biggest challenges faced by cyberlearning are not only confined in the attempt to improve tools and technology, but mainly making available these tools and technologies to the ones who could best benefit form the cyberlearning experience. The ones who would definitely take cyberlearning as an alternative from an already faulty traditional education system that currently excludes many women, people with disabilities, and other individuals who do not have access to the current education system in different countries. Cyberlearning can close this gap, not only digital but also educational.