The eLearning market has technically been around for over 20 years, but it wasn’t until recently that it really started to take off. Now, the industry is growing exponentially, with Technavio forecasting a $21.64 billion growth by 2024.
The numbers are not that surprising. Online learning is convenient, inexpensive, and accessible to anyone with a computer (in some cases, you don’t even need that!) Why would anyone want to sit in a classroom when they could sit in their pyjamas on their couch and learn the same materials?
Between online workshops, certification programmes and online degrees, just about everyone uses eLearning in some way. But is online learning environmentally sustainable? Everything we do has a carbon footprint, including taking online courses, but being conscious of the impacts of our decisions can help us manage our footprints.
The environmental impacts of eLearning
The internet is one of the world’s largest polluters. The data centres required to power the internet require huge amounts of energy to function. Over 40% of that energy is used solely on cooling systems to prevent the servers from overheating. Online learning requires the internet to function, and therefore, the more people enrol in online programmes, the more power the data centres have to generate.
That said, choosing online learning over in-person courses does have its environmental benefits. Students don’t need to commute to a physical learning centre, which helps reduce carbon emissions from transportation. On top of that, in-person learning requires physical facilities, which require energy to function. Lights, computers, projector screens, air conditioning, heating etc., all require a lot of energy to power, especially in large educational facilities with auditoriums and lecture halls. The environmental impacts do depend on the nature of the class, though, as an in-person class on mushroom foraging done in the woods would likely have lower emissions than taking the same online course.
The accessibility of online learning
The primary reason that so many people choose online classes over in-person classes is because of accessibility. People can instantly access millions of eLearning programmes on just about every topic imaginable. As long as you have internet, you can sign up to eLearning marketplaces to access huge banks of courses or enrol directly with course creators.
Online learning is an inexpensive way to gain skills and become certified in different topics. If you want to become a vegan health coach, you don’t need to go to university and end up with tons of debt as a result. You can become certified online for as much as you’d pay for a nice meal. Because the cost is so low, online learning is available to those who may not have traditionally had access to continued education opportunities. It’s no surprise the online learning industry is booming and will continue to grow exponentially in the coming years. But the more people taking eLearning classes, the greater the energy consumption and the higher the impact on the environment.
So, is there a way that online learning can be sustainable?
1. Make informed choices
Online learning is hugely beneficial to society, but its impact on the planet is concerning. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way. Online learning CAN be sustainable, but a collective effort is required. Online course creators and marketplace owners need to make informed decisions about where they host their courses to minimise the impact. Users also need to make informed choices about which classes they take and where they choose to take them.
The best place to start is with green hosting.
2. Green hosting
Green hosting is a catchall for internet hosting that seeks to reduce its environmental impact by using green technology. Some green hosting services can power data centres themselves through green energy like solar or wind. Others participate in carbon offsetting by determining how much energy they consume and offsetting that by investing in renewable energy projects, tree-planting initiatives, or companies making energy-efficiency improvements.
Here at MycoLearn, we work with GreenGeeks, who match energy consumptions by 300% and deliver all that energy back to the grid. That’s covering their total energy usage PLUS that of two other companies of the same size. If every web hosting service implemented green hosting initiatives, then online learning would most certainly be sustainable.
Many people are unaware of the environmental impacts of web hosting and green hosting services, and their customers (like us) are looking to change that by building awareness. When the information is there, online learners are likely to make the right choices by choosing the green option over the not-so-green option.
3. Online learning that gives back
The online learning industry is worth hundreds of billions of dollars with the potential to make some huge waves if allocated appropriately. It’s up to the individual course creator or hosting platform to determine what they do with their profits, but there are many going beyond just green hosting and giving back in other ways.
We know the internet has a negative impact on the environment, but other environmental initiatives are also worth supporting. Choose to invest in eLearning opportunities that are committed to environmental preservation beyond just being carbon neutral.
We donate 5% of our profits to two amazing initiatives we are really passionate about, which are doing game-changing work for the environment and the animals: Durrel Rewild Our World focuses on rewilding animals and ecosystems and Surge Animal Sanctuary, which provides a haven for abused and unwanted farm animals.
By taking classes on our platform, you are directly benefiting both of the fantastic charities we support while also learning new skills at the same time. It’s a win-win.
Keep online learning sustainable
Before you enrol in an online class, do your research to determine how your eLearning platform of choice is doing its part to keep online learning sustainable. By investing in course creators and platforms that care just as much about the planet as you do, you can help keep eLearning a beneficial industry for us and the environment.