The Internet has changed the way we work, the way we interact and the way we learn. Here I’ve put together a list of five ways I see the Internet having re-invented the learning process.

1. Information about everything and anything, readily available
The two biggest contributors to information access are Wikipedia and Google. While both receive plenty of criticism for inaccuracies or for rewarding bad information, there is no doubting that on balance, they both do a good job of making authoritative information easily accessible. This makes the initial stages of research go much more quickly and can be a spring board to find the sources to go in more depth. Plus, with Google, we now literally have access to thousands if not millions of living experts in various fields.

2. Free software makes work more efficient and productive
With the Internet, there are now boatloads of free or open source software for students to help with research, collaboration, communication and everything in between. Free software gives us the opportunity to learn new skills, and get hands on with our projects. The best software helps people do things that weren’t even possible in the past. Plus, it makes jobs that were hard in the past, accessible to everyone.

3. Online learning tools customize the learning experience
New, more dynamic learning tools are available online then ever before. Everyone has a different method of learning, and different tools tap into different learning styles. Plus, learning has never been more engaging and interactive. Sure, sifting through the good ones from the bad ones is a chore, but that becomes much easier thanks to lists like this one from MakeUseOf.

4. You can get educated from the comfort of your home
First of all, there is self-study. People use the Internet all the time to listen to free lectures, read free books, take free classes and everything in between. But now, more than ever, people are actually doing their full college education online. As more reputable colleges enter the online fray, more employees will see online degrees as legitimate, and more students will avoid the hassle of commuting or paying room & board. Online learning adds an amazing amount of efficiency to the education system by removing various inefficiencies like traffic jams, walking between classes, and accommodating the lowest common denominator. Plus, you get to customize the amount of time you put into learning based on your own learning patterns.

5. Plagiarism and laziness
A list about how the Internet changed education couldn’t be complete without reference to the negatives. In my experience, the biggest negatives about the Internet are that it removes structure from the learning process and encourages laziness. Obviously, a self-motivated person can overcome these obstacles and reap all the rewards that the Internet provides. However, on average, I suspect that most people are like me and inclined to the principle of least action. The Internet provides so much information about any topic that we might be inclined to not take the time to understand what we are researching. Even worse, we might be tempted to simply copy someone else’s ideas. This isn’t bad just in principle. It’s bad for the learning process. Why? Because learning requires understanding, and understanding requires engagement. Plagiarism is a short cut that undermines the process of learning.

Ryan is the co-founder of The Firewall Blog.

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