Online education is becoming increasingly prevalent the field of learning, as a standalone solution or as part of a blended learning strategy. It’s accessible, convenient, and likely to be less expensive than traditional, face-to-face education methods. Most of us are fast becoming aware of these advantages, but you may be less aware that there are eLearning benefits to environment protection too. Digital learning can help you to reduce your carbon footprint.
Your carbon footprint reflects the carbon dioxide emissions which you cause, during your day-to-day activities. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas, which means that it traps heat in our atmosphere. Reducing your carbon footprint is therefore an important way to protect our environment by combatting climate change. Carbon dioxide is released when we burn fossil fuels and much less so through natural processes like breathing. Obviously, we need to keep breathing, but we can reduce our carbon footprints by reducing the amount of energy we use, so that less fossil fuels are burned. This is where eLearning makes its contribution.
In a study published in the International Journal of Sustainability, the environmental impacts of traditional, campus-based learning were compared with those of distance learning, in higher education. The study found that per student, per 100 hours of study, distance learning courses involve 87% less energy and 85% lower carbon dioxide emissions than campus-based courses. These reductions were found to be largely due to the reduced requirements for students to travel, which are inherent in distance learning. Because it is so convenient and flexible, distance learning, which is usually provided via online learning platforms, allows learners to study wherever they are in the world, without requiring them to commute to a campus. This contributes to a huge saving in travel, and consequently in energy usage and carbon emissions.
Other reasons why distance learning consumes less energy are related to the reduced need for campus buildings and their maintenance. Online learning can reach high numbers of students, without the need for them to visit a campus. The only drawback with this approach, in terms of energy requirements, results from extra time spent on computers. We can take the following steps to mediate the effects of computing and promote green education:
- replace old computers and equipment with new, energy-efficient equipment
- check settings like monitor brightness and sleep mode, to keep computing energy-efficient
- turn off devices when they are not in use
- don’t print if you don’t need to
It’s well recognised that teaching online carries benefits for both learners and instructors, allowing them to engage with each other across any distance, but since virtual learning environments also reduce the need to commute, or to maintain campus buildings, they can contribute to promoting the health of our entire planet. All you need to do to make the most of this aspect of online learning is to follow the steps mentioned here to achieve energy efficient computing. Incidentally, but rather importantly, by increasing your energy efficiency you’ll also be cutting your costs.