WHEN you think of the standard college classroom, it’s likely that you imagine a large lecture hall with chairs or some form of room similar to this. The norm is that students come in at fixed times to classrooms on campus to attend lectures by professors.

And this has been the method of teaching higher education, going as far back as 428 BC in Ancient Greece, where the famous philosopher Plato founded the Platonic Academy, a primitive version of an institution of higher learning.

The University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco is likely the first institute of higher learning ever established. It was founded in the year 859 AD by Fatima al-Fihri. This institution followed the Islamic madrasa concept of educational institutions in which a teacher teaches students in a classroom setting much like today, minus the fancy gadgetry. The university still exists to this day, making it the oldest in existence according to Guinness World Records.

In short, many of the methods and tools of teaching and learning for higher education have not changed much since the days of Plato. The majority of us still attend physical classrooms on campus. However, now there are online classes fully accredited by universities that allow students to attend from the comfort of their bedroom or even access from their smartphone. Students are given the flexibility to manage their time easier by removing the need to go to a physical location away from where they live or their current location during the scheduled time of the class. For example, a student can save time by attending an online class via a computer after his physical attendance of an extra-curricular activity. This removes the need to rush around the campus to attend classes.

Online classes allow students to practise self-directed learning, allowing them to become more independent and responsible. Students learn to rely on their ability to find materials and study on their own — a great way to nurture proactivity, a useful trait in the workplace. Online classes also provide benefits such as the ability to easily record lessons and revisit them when necessary. It helps less tech-savvy students to adjust to a digital world by placing a reliance on technology rather than pen and paper. While the traditional methods and tools of teaching and learning will most likely never go out of style, we do have a generation that is being engulfed by an increasingly digitised world. This is a quickly evolving world that will likely require basic tech literacy in the same way the ability to read and write is necessary.

Online learning has also evolved past being a mere stepping stone to be accredited a college degree. In recent years, many companies have emerged to provide quality online classes at college level and even masterclasses. There is a potent increase in the number of industry experts who share their knowledge and experience in online classes such as the Khan Academy which has enlisted Pixar to provide a full syllabus for The Art of Storytelling. Masterclass.com focuses on individual industry experts such as comedian Steve Martin, composer Hans Zimmer and music producer Joel Zimmerman. The best part? Most of these classes are available at a fraction of the cost of an actual college class and give a similar, if not better, education — all on your own time. Some services are even free. These services can be a great supplement for the college classes a student already attends to help him learn better.

My experience of online classes has been great. I’m able to study efficiently and I save up on buying college textbooks since all materials are provided digitally. It is a bonus for the environment as well. Every student should at least give one online class a try during their time in college. Higher education is all about learning the cutting edge of information regarding a subject and passing it on to the next generation. Online classes are a step in the right direction to make teaching and learning easier and more accessible.

While still in its infancy, I hope that online classes can perhaps evolve into bringing quality education to areas without the right experts on site to teach but have access to computers. After all, UNESCO outlines education as a fundamental human right essential for the exercise of other rights. In an increasingly digitised world, online classes can play a larger role in maintaining that human right.

**The writer is an adventurous English and Creative Writing student at The University of Iowa in the United States. Email him at education@nst.com.my

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