Environmental benefits of online learning

2020-08-13

 |  The Starfish


Photo by  Michael Sturgeon  from Unsplash

Photo by Michael Sturgeon from Unsplash

As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, education has been significantly changing. All across the world, many schools have shut down. Face-to-face classes have been cancelled and transferred to online ones. More specifically, students watch lectures, take part in class discussions, submit assignments, and meet instructors from home, via digital platforms.

Before the pandemic, I was not a big fan of online classes. However, since I acknowledged its associated environmental benefits, I have taken a positive attitude to this instructional format.

Followings are some outstanding environmental advantages of virtual learning:

Online learning reduces paper waste and saves trees

From in-class handouts, textbooks to hard copies of assignments, tests, projects and more, in-person classes have substantially consumed a huge amount of paper. Due to this, a lot of paper waste inevitably piles up in landfills, at the end of semesters. 

Particularly, according to the National Wildlife Foundation, 60 percent of school waste is paper. And one ton of paper waste is equal to around 16 large trees. This means traditional classes require the use of many trees.

Meanwhile, when learning virtually, students primarily get readings and class information electronically; besides, all learning resources are assessed and stored online. Therefore, this helps cut down on paper waste and saves millions of trees every year. 

Moreover, when online education grows, the need for infrastructure expansion, buildings, and lands would reduce considerably. Hence, lots of trees can be saved.


Photo by  Lucian Dachman  from Unsplash

Photo by Lucian Dachman from Unsplash

Online learning reduces emissions from transportation/travelling

Taking virtual classes enables students to stay at home and learn with comfort while avoiding wear-and-tear on vehicles and local roads. In addition, students can avoid the need to drive cars or take public transits to the place of study, which can help reduce fossil fuel use and lessen detrimental effects on the environment.

By eliminating the need for daily commutes, we, students, can reduce our carbon footprints and minimize our impacts on the Earth. Furthermore, we can also save money on gas.

A study by the University of West Georgia indicated that for every 100 students who did not commute to school, CO2 emissions were cut by 5-10 tons per semester.

Another study by the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI) proved that online learning courses could help reduce 90 percent of CO2 emissions. Specifically, the study found that everyday, a full-time student taking traditional classes emitted roughly 180 pounds of CO2, in comparison with only four pounds of CO2 produced by an online student. 


Photo by  Callum Shaw  from Unsplash

Photo by Callum Shaw from Unsplash

Online learning cuts down on energy consumption

When doing virtual courses, students do not have to sit in physical classrooms to study. As a result, electronic devices are off in rooms that are not in use. This means schools would use less energy for power, electricity, heating and cooling systems, which is better for the environment. 


Photo by  Rubén Rodriguez  from Unsplash

Photo by Rubén Rodriguez from Unsplash

The U.K.’s Open University Design Innovation Group (DIG) found that virtual education consumed nearly 90 percent less energy compared to in-person classes.

Besides, in-person classes increase the need for plastics, woods, metals, and other building materials to construct schools and educational institutions. Meanwhile, online learning reduces the demand for these raw goods. This can not only help protect the environment but also help governments save money on building educational institutions to support other meaningful purposes. For instance, governments of developed countries can use the saved expenses to assist developing or under-developed countries or other areas in gaining access to technology advances; so that they can enter online education.

Even though switching to online learning has been such a difficult transition for me, I am getting used to it. More than that, I feel so grateful as I have a chance to learn more about the environmental benefits of e-learning. 

Personally, since the COVID-19 pandemic, my carbon footprint of travelling has reduced by half. My demand for paper consumption has gone down to zero. I do realize that studying online is an optimal option to help lessen adverse effects on the environment, which comes from construction and transportation. Studying online can also drastically reduce energy consumption and CO2 emission. 

Although online education cannot totally replace the traditional form of education that is in-person classes, virtual learning is an essential part of sustainable development and should be encouraged to grow further as green education.