The Serendipitous, Eco-friendly Rewards of e-Learning

Some ideas just shine brighter.

In 2016 we at The Interpreter’s Lab (and parent company Shifting Pictures Inc.) made the decision to move our courses online. I had never really been a fan of self-directed, online courses for interpreter education and training. At the time that online learning started gaining popularity, the majority of programs for interpreters working in specialized settings (community, health, legal, education, err.) did not include an actual live instructor, just student-directed content. For orientation and professional development topics, self-directed courses make sense, of course, but for genuine education and the acquisition of essential skills and knowledge, instructor-led and classroom-based programs were the only way to go – in our view. So, while we saw a lot of promise and potential benefit in virtual courses (personally, I have always been a big technophile), at the time we did not see how it could be done without losing some of our programs’ value that came as a direct result of the live interaction with between students and our expert instructors, the engagement and interface within the student cohort, and the opportune, and often unanticipated, outcomes emerging from the free form discussions of an adult-centered classroom.

However, in 2017 we discovered a platform that was simple to access, free for the students to utilize and did not demand that users be technological wizards or internet experts. Moreover, after some investigation we learned of an online, e-learning management system that once again made sense for our students – adults that came from diverse educational and occupational backgrounds. We then combined these two platforms in order to be able to deliver quality educational programs in a virtual space – without sacrificing any of the benefits of “face-to-face” instruction and student-focused, classroom method teaching. And not only did we not lose what we had in intrinsic value; the programs gained even more benefits. Online means that we can blend so much more into the learning modules – connecting students to global resources and international speakers and thought-leaders of the industry. Online also means that students get more – more content, more depth, and longer engagement with the course and the instructor. Table 1, at the end of this article, outlines how the e-learning space offers so much more to students – especially adult students that are already juggling family, work, and other commitments and that are seeking to make a career shift to interpreting – as many of our students tend to be.

We knew that moving our courses to the virtual classroom environment would bring great advantage to the operational capacity of our programs, and of course, advantage to both our instructors and students as well, but we were surprised to discover one other, very important recipient that also benefited – the environment. Since we moved our programs online, we have substantially reduced the carbon footprint of our courses in so many ways (substantial is relative as we are a small organization, so substantial to us):

  • Students and instructors no longer have to drive to the course – saving on fuel and emissions (to date this has resulted in the elimination of 100 people from driving for an estimated 60,000km and a savings of 13.2 – 16.4 tonnes of emissions or CO2e*).
  • The student manuals and other handouts are distributed via the online content and students are encouraged to NOT print anything unnecessarily, but to file the documents on their computers (savings of approximately .5 trees**).

Online also means more family time for our students – turning on their computer versus getting into their cars to come to class – allows for a quick “commute” back to family and friends.

The NOSA blog found 4 environmental benefits to online learning. These are:

  1. Fuel cost savings
  2. Reduced pollution and carbon emissions
  3. Reduced drain on natural resources
  4. Savings on paper and printing/copying

And a further benefit, that came to light due to a recent heavy snowfall in our area, is no snow days! This means no down-time in learning, no missed lessons, no extended course duration or cancellations and no dangerous commuting for students and teachers.

The shift to our e-learning, blended programing has not only provided all of the benefits to our students that we foresaw but has also demonstrated serendipitous rewards to our environment. While our new e-learning program model has only been in operation for just under a year, we eagerly anticipate its enduring benefits. Perhaps serendipity will manifest again, in new and wonderful ways.

TABLE 1: The traditional versus the e-learning classroom

*Emissions calculator used: https://www.saanich.ca/EN/main/community/sustainable-saanich/green-at-home/carbon-fund-calculator.html

** Source: https://ribble-pack.co.uk/environment/much-paper-comes-one-tree