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Digital Learning Brings New Opportunities to Regional Australian Communities

Digital learning is an essential part of education and understanding how to effectively use technologies to support students must be a priority for all educators, according to University of South Australia learning analytics expert Professor Shane Dawson.

Prof Dawson delivered a public lecture discussing the future impact of digital learning on schools, business and community at UniSA’s Mount Gambier campus on the night of 17 August 2021. He noted that new technologies will be particularly important in regional communities, erasing existing physical barriers to quality education.

The Professor noted that innovations in technology are transforming digital learning, creating immersive access to education in places where it’s not been possible before. Virtual reality environments can bring resources into your living room, allowing you to visit the Louvre, explore the Great Barrier Reef or discover the deep reaches of outer space without leaving home.

Technologies can also help regional communities open themselves up to the world, creating new businesses opportunities and networks for locals. The shift to online, accelerated by the global pandemic, has demonstrated that we already have a variety of digital learning tools at our fingertips.

The role of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence in future education settings and what it means for learning, teaching, and career transitions was outlined.

As UniSA Executive Dean of Education Futures, Prof Dawson oversees researchers and educators who are working closely with South Australian schools on digital learning. He says it is crucial to establish communities of learners in these new spaces while using technology to personalise the learning experience.

A popular catchphrase is that students must be educated for jobs that don’t yet exist has been overstated, but realistically most students today will undergo more frequent and more significant transitions in their careers, Prof Dawson stated.

This will require constant upskilling, reskilling or radical career changes. In this landscape, access to education and remote communities of learners will be essential and an educator’s ability to harness technology will be one of the keys to success in this digital learning environment.

New models of online education can provide the flexibility to better personalise individual requirements and support learners on a lifelong education trajectory. A computed curriculum can also support and adapt to an individual’s academic level as well as motivation and career goals.

Recent research showed that the e-learning market size surpassed US$250 billion in 2020 and is anticipated to grow at an exponential CAGR of over 21% between 2021 and 2027. The advent of several new technologies, such as AI, VR, and cloud-based LMS, will drive the market growth. The emergence of an AI-enabled e-learning solution will help in the development of smart content, digitized study guides, and real-time questioning.

E-learning platforms have been witnessing an exponential uptake by the education and corporate sectors over the past three to five years.

For instance, investments in the U.S. education technology sector reached US$1.6 billion in 2019. Schools and businesses are adopting online learning tools for improving the engagement and learning experience of students and employees. Service providers are utilizing this opportunity and expanding their EdTech products and services.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further transformed the e-learning market with the closure of schools and universities globally. According to UNESCO, in March 2020, over 1.2 billion students in 186 countries were affected by school closures due to the pandemic.

Countries that are worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic have seen unprecedented growth in distance learning enrolments. For instance, in April 2020, around 5.4 million students in South Korea started learning lessons that were live-streamed on platforms, such as Google Classroom and Zoom from home, as the country strives to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.


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