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Sustainability in Online Education

As we move into an increasingly virtual world, Europe is looking to the future to discover how to align the challenges of a technological model with long term goals like promoting sustainability and building an inclusive society. 
Photo Credit – Anyaberkut from Getty Images

Student Engagement

Students are very supportive on online learning, but their overwhelming preference (66%) is for blended programmes. This may reflect the fact that students struggle with fully ‘distant’ learning solutions. Many students reported a decline in mental health during Covid, which they attributed to online learning. This puts a responsibility on distance learning providers to create virtual communities which support the student’s learning journey.

Lower Carbon

Research shows that the online teaching model creates almost 90% less carbon than face to face teaching, thereby:

  • Reducing pollution from student/staff travel and accommodation requirements
  • Reducing the pressure on campus facilities, equipment maintenance and running costs
  • Reducing deforestation by eliminating of the need for paper

This is good for the planet – but it is also good for the profitability of education providers who should reflect the savings (or explain the reason for not sharing the savings) with their students.

Technology Cost

It is often assumed that the use of technology is 100% environmentally friendly, as if the use itself did not require any energy! ChapGPT is the current hottest thing for both tutors and students, but a recent article in EuroNews said that ChatGPT “drinks a bottle of fresh water for every 20-50 questions we ask”. That’s a significant environmental cost.

Technology is changing the way we deliver study programmes to students, and ways in which we evaluate our sustainability score. In the future, sustainability accountability will become a necessary inclusion in the annual reports of Higher Education and Distance Learning Institutions.

Note: based on a presentation delivered to the EADL conference in Brussels on 12 May 2023.

Source: Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)

Source: EuroNews

Harnessing the power of Technology - Creating the Thought Leaders of Tomorrow