How The Cloud Is Changing Online Education

Online Education Growth

There’s no doubt that the internet has changed the face of education over the last two decades. In fact, by some estimates more than 80 percent of college students expect to take at least some — if not all of their courses — online. Thousands of people have earned degrees without ever setting foot on a campus, and the number continues to grow.

Online education’s explosive popularity is due to a number of factors, not the least of which is the convenience of taking courses on your own time and from the comfort of home. Much of online education’s growth is also attributable to the cloud, which has created opportunities and efficiencies that make online learning an appealing and affordable option for both students and universities — and it continues to change the learning landscape for the better, particularly those studying in the technology disciplines.

2016_Learning_Landscape

(Infographic source: Degreed)

1. Significant Cost Savings

No one can deny that college is expensive. A four-year degree at a private college can cost well over six figures, leaving students with extreme debt after graduation. Most universities are looking to trim budgets and operating costs wherever they can to ease that burden, and the cloud is part of that effort. In fact, more than half of universities believe that the cloud can help improve efficiencies. More specifically, the cloud can reduce costs by:

  • Providing more computing power via virtual servers for less cost than investing in more infrastructure.
  • Providing lower cost collaboration tools for both students and administration.
  • Reducing textbook costs. Rather than purchase expensive textbooks that are quickly outdated, students can access cloud-based texts for much less, and access them on Multiple Devices.
  • Reduced computing costs for students. Most cloud-based education applications can be accessed on any device, meaning that students aren’t required to purchase expensive computers or other equipment for their studies.
  • Low cost applications and storage. SaaS models allow students to purchase subscriptions for cloud-based versions of software, which is often more affordable than a traditional license. In fact, many universities offer students access to cloud-based software for free or a nominal fee, giving them access to the tools they need without spending hundreds of dollars on licensing fees.

While the cloud may not be a cure for skyrocketing educational expenses, the tools and capabilities that it offers can help keep them in check.

2. Improved Communication and Collaboration

The communication and collaboration benefits of the cloud extend well beyond cost savings. The cloud offers opportunities for students to work together in ways that weren’t possible in the past. Teachers and students can have discussions, work on group projects, and share resources more efficiently through cloud services. Within the realm of computer education, the cloud allows students to create and share projects, which teaches both technical skills, but also supports problem-solving, communication, collaborative learning, and project design, all “soft skills” that are in demand for IT professionals. And of course, the cloud allows students to learn from others in geographically diverse areas, but it also improves access for students who might otherwise have barriers to higher education.

3. Better Security

Under federal laws, much of what happens in higher education qualifies as personal and confidential, and is therefore protected by privacy laws. Storing important documents on a personal computer or maintaining hard copies increases the risk of a FERPA violation. Using a secure cloud service to manage class work, grades, and other student information help reduce the likelihood of a violation. That doesn’t mean that university cloud services are impervious to attacks, but the security protocols used for online education applications and storage are generally much more advanced than typical consumer security.

This is important for student’s seeking an online master’s in computer science, who may be working on projects that could form the basis of a future business or development opportunity and do not want to lose their intellectual property. At the very least, for students studying computer science, IT security, or other related fields, cloud-based environments give them more hands-on, real-world experience that can be valuable in a future job search.

4. Real-Time Updates

One of the challenges of education is keeping materials and learning up-to-date with current trends, technology, and developments. Computer science students expect to have the most current resources and tools to ensure their degree is marketable. With the cloud, instructors and program developers can make real-time updates to the curriculum, add new resources, change textbook options, and do everything possible to allow students access to the most recent and relevant information.

5. Going Green

Environmental sustainability is a significant concern on college campuses these days, with some students choosing schools specifically because of their green initiatives and commitment to sustainability. Employing cloud services is a major part of green efforts; not only does using the cloud reduce the need for resources paper and ink, but cloud servers can be run more efficiently than typical on-site computing tools. By locating servers in a data center, institutions can lower energy consumption and costs, thereby reducing their overall carbon footprint.

Cloud computing has become a part of everyday life for most people, whether they even realize it or not. It’s already changed higher education in several ways — and will undoubtedly continue to do so as we move into the future.

By Glenn Blake

Mark Barrenechea

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