eLearning goes a long way to helping educators and institutions significantly reduce the overall carbon footprint of the courses that they offer. While scientists agree that the effects of global warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions are threatening the world in alarming ways, they also agree that we all can do our part to reverse this trend by limiting our carbon footprints.
Is the age of the classroom coming to an end? Students and educators alike have been increasingly embracing online learning for a number of reasons. When compared with the traditional classroom model, eLearning is considerably more accessible, definitely more convenient, and typically less expensive. But students and educators aren’t the only beneficiaries of this new form of educational delivery. Its positive environmental impact benefits every global citizen by fostering a healthier and sustainable planet.
The Big Picture
Although its green value is often overlooked among its other benefits, eLearning goes a long way to helping educators and institutions significantly reduce the overall carbon footprint of the courses that they offer. While scientists agree that the effects of global warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions are threatening the world in alarming ways, they also agree that we all can do our part to reverse this trend by limiting our carbon footprints.
eLearning solution may just be a surprisingly important piece of the overall reduced carbon puzzle. National Wildlife Federation (NWF) calls eLearning “one of the most unexploited means of achieving a smaller carbon footprint.” As cited by the NWF, a joint study entitled Towards Sustainable Higher Education: Environmental impacts of campus-based and distance higher education systems is serving as a rallying cry among environmentalists.
Conducted in 2007 by the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI) and the United Kingdom’s Open University Design Innovation Group (DIG), this study examined 13 campus-based and seven online distance learning courses to identify all instances of direct and indirect energy use and measure the overall carbon footprints of each course.
The final results of the SEI/DIG study were remarkable. Overall, it found that distance learning courses:
- Consumed approximately 90% less energy than traditional campus university courses
- Produced approximately 85% fewer carbon dioxide emissions than traditional campus university courses.
Why is online learning greener?
- Eliminate your commute – Laying the groundwork for his praise of eLearning’s green capabilities, iGrad contributor Chi Norris in his article “Our World/Your Wallet: Go Green, Save Money with Online Education” points out that cars and other forms of transportation produce approximately a third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Online learners face absolutely no physical commute. It is perhaps unsurprising then that the SEI/DIG study mentioned above registered a 92% reduction in “travel-related environmental impact” in connection with e-learning programs.
- Stop using paper – Epic account manager Sarah Axon, in her extensive white paper on carbon reduction and e-learning, reports that each ream of paper that we use releases 2 kilograms of carbon dioxide into the environment. E-learning employs no textbooks or hardcopy quizzes, tests, syllabi, or assignment sheets. Students take notes, submit essays, and take exams entirely on their computers. Quoting the SEI/DIG study, WorldWideLearn contributor Clare Kaufman reports that “electronic delivery of distance courses more than halves paper and print consumption.”
- Avoid all the building, equipment, and maintenance costs associated with brick-and-mortar institutions – Thanks to online learning, fewer and fewer people are physically showing up on college campuses. Drawing upon SEI/DIG figures, Clare Kaufman reports that the energy resources required to maintain, power, and heat classrooms adds approximately 9.25 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere on an annual basis. In stark contrast, online education “involves very little additional impact compared to that arising from general living and consuming.”
- Distribute resources to more students – eLearning’s ability to reach large numbers of students in real time is also a tremendous boon to the environment. As Epic’s Sarah Axon points out, after an instructor develops an online class, it can be scaled to serve nearly limitless numbers of students with a minimal impact on total energy expenditure and consumed resources. This is because an online class occupies virtually the same amount of server space for one student as it does for one hundred.
Optimize Your Impact
When compared with all of these benefits, eLearning faces only one significant drawback when it comes to reducing your overall carbon foot: the extra hours that the instructor and their students spend on their individual computers. However, as Sarah Axon reports, these additional hours of computer operation consume a mere fraction of the energy that is typically consumed by an institution of higher learning and all of its equipment, computers, and servers.
If instructors want to go the extra mile to optimize the green benefits of eLearning, they can pay close attention to the following energy-saving tips and pass these tips along to their students.
Replace old computers and digital equipment with newer, more energy-efficient models – Thanks to the constant march of modern technology, our computers, and mobile devices are consistently doing more while requiring less power. By upgrading your equipment, you aren’t only strengthening your capacity to work and play; you are lending a considerable hand to the environment.
Check all computer settings – Quoting a study by the National Energy Foundation (NEF), Sarah Axon reports that your monitor consumes roughly two-thirds of the total energy that is required to power your computer. Save your eyes, your pocketbook, and the environment by making sure that your monitor’s brightness level isn’t set too high. Other tips to save money include checking your “sleep mode” setting to ensure that it kills power to your monitor in a timely fashion when your computer is not in active use.
Turn off your devices – It may sound obvious, but a computer that is switched off consumes NO power. But doesn’t booting up a computer take a lot of energy? Well, yes and no. The NEF study determined that, as long as your computer remains off for just 16 minutes, it is more energy efficient to shut it down and restart it than to keep it running simply.