Online Learning Hasn't Fully Democratized Education, Yet

Online learning has set the stage for the start of democratized education, but some argue that total equality is still a long way off.

Online learning sites, like Khan Academy, Duolingo, Udemy, and Coursera, have helped provide anyone with access to an internet connection to a college-level education. Anything that you would ever want to achieve or learn is at your fingertips — regardless of your race, gender, or socio-economic status.


Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, believes that in order to benefit from online learning, people need to take ownership of their education in order to make an impact. Not just passively listening to a video, assuming you'll learn something through osmosis, but by engaging in the content that's being lectured.

This idea is all well and good, but Marc Sollinger from PRI argues that there are still quite a few barriers that prevent Khan's vision of democratized education from becoming reality. Sollinger interviewed Mimi Ito, a cultural anthropologist at the University of California Irvine, to get her take on whether e-learning is the revolution everyone is making it out to be.

She explained:

“Often, when we think of the open internet and resources being freely available, we assume it has a democratizing function. That anybody can access this stuff; it’s free and open, so therefore it must be more equitable. The sad fact is that we know historically, that when you provide fancier technology, it actually increases inequity.”

She cites one barrier being access to new technology: the haves and the have nots, if you will. But even if we lived in an ideal world where everyone had a laptop, iPad, and smartphone, she says it doesn't make a difference if the people most in need do not have context for using this technology. A great example of this is the difference between girls and boys growing up in the computer age during the 1990s. By the time both of these groups got to the classroom, most boys already had context for how this technology functioned.

Online learning still has a long way to go before it's an equal playing field, but Ito says that educators are determined to help it get there:

“The sector around educational technology is very progressive and quite aware of these issues, and is grappling with them in a serious way.”

Read more at PRI.

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