Online education ? a product or a service?

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The internet is an amazing platform for educating: it?s global, borderless, quick, collaborative and its content is infinite, meaning that many people can all take part at once. Educators have experimented with a wide range of approaches like creating education products or providing educational services. We look at each of these options in detail.


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Education is an extremely complex topic to define because it means many things to many people, depending on their background and attitude. At its most basic, educating means imparting information to increase knowledge or transfer skills. The means of doing this can be simple or very involved, and the internet has both broadened and complicated the field.
There is no doubt that the internet is an amazing platform for educating: it?s global, borderless, quick, collaborative and its content is infinite, meaning that many people can all take part at once. Educators have experimented with a wide range of approaches.
Currently, there are two possible avenues for education online: creating education products or providing educational services. Here is an examination of both.
Education as product
The simpler of the two is creating a product that plays a role in education. A product is the result of a once-off effort: a book, a website, a blog article, a podcast.
The biggest mover in this field is the digital textbook: an electronic version of an academic text that often includes many useful features, like search, annotation and bookmarking.
Digital textbooks also have the potential for an integrated, multimedia approach: they can include images, videos, animation, sounds, links to websites and more. The breadth of content that can be included in a digital textbook makes it an extremely useful and valuable learning product.
Although this field is still in its infancy in South Africa, Kalahari.net, the online retailer, has recently started selling university textbooks in electronic format.
Education as service
Many teachers would argue that creating an education product in only one step in the full teaching process, since learning is a process and not an end point. A teaching service is an ongoing platform that offers structure, progress and support for students.
A product on its own cannot guarantee that students will be motivated to work through the material, or that they have understood everything correctly. A teaching service can.
Providing an education service is time consuming, expensive and difficult, since it involves dealing both with students and teachers on a daily basis. But the outcomes are much more dramatic for all involved. A good teaching service adds all the intangible aspects that a product cannot: motivation, personal interaction, challenges, the drive to succeed and the sense of a learning community.
Although many institutions offer courses online, the majority of these fall more into the product than the service category. Traditional online correspondence courses involve little more than receiving learning materials and exams by email, to be worked through in isolation.
However, a new style of teaching service fully embraces the possibilities offered by technology and broadens this experience immensely, creating a real service rather than just a product. GetSmarter, an online training firm, combines learning products and services to present a package that has the best of both.
For more information about online learning in South Africa, visit www.getsmarter.co.za or contact Abby on 021 685 4775 or [email protected]

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