E-Learning: Is it Environmentally Better?

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A study by the Open University, “Towards Sustainable Higher Education: Environmental Impacts of Campus-Based and Distance Higher Education Systems,” found that on average, the production and stipulation of distance learning courses consumed nearly 90 percent less energy and produced 85 percent fewer CO2 emissions per student than conventional campus-based university courses. The main savings were due to a reduction in the amount of student travel, economies of scale in the use of the campus site, and the elimination of much of the energy consumption of students’ housing. In other words, studying from home and using a home computer was far more energy efficient.

As your learner or employee base grows you need to expand your physical classroom or training area space to accommodate the increased demand. With e-Learning you can “expand” in an environmentally responsible way as there is no need to build new facilities, renovate existing areas, or acquire additional spaces. Construction of new structures requires the usage of various materials (some of which could be environmentally harmful) and at times requires the removing of natural vegetation and trees to erect the structures.

E-learning can also save trees by saving paper. Many e-learning courses are entirely self-contained, presenting all learning content online, or providing alternatives to paper-based forms of communication through such tools as email, PDF manuals, synchronous classrooms, and other web-based tools.

So while e-Learning does involve computer and energy usage and as such does not completely eliminate harmful effects, it goes a long way in reducing these effects and completely eliminating others.

As a final example of this point we will leave you with the findings derived from a study conducted at the Open University titled “Designing low carbon higher education systems: Environmental impacts of campus and distance learning systems”

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