This article looks at the benefits of online learning for students preparing to move into higher education. It also looks at some of the areas that students find difficult when studying online, and how these can be overcome. This article has been prepared to give a better understanding of online and distance learning. If you or someone you know is thinking about taking an online course and is trying to decide whether it is right for them, read on.
Online Courses as the Future of Education.
If you’re interested in online courses then you’re not alone – more than 6.7 million students are now learning online, according to a 2012 Survey of Online Learning. The global educational landscape is undergoing enormous changes, and learning is now no longer confined to the traditional classroom. Just last week [Thurs 18 Sept] Time magazine’s editor Fareed Zakaria, speaking at Time’s Higher Education Summit, stated that online courses are ”achieving scale on an unimaginable level. Hundreds of thousands of people able to take a single course but also customization on a scale that’s unimaginable.” For a further discussion see here.
The internet has given us the ability to disseminate the most up-to-date information globally and in vast quantities. Alongside this huge transmission of information comes the ability to learn and to teach without the need for face-to-face contact. Information can be passed directly from lecturers to students wherever they are and at all times, through videos, slideshows and activities – all online.
Therefore one of the most important questions you can ask yourself is:
Is Online Learning Right for Me?
A recent UK government report touches on some of the benefits available to online participants – mentioning themes such as access, empowerment, relationship building and community – and we’ll look at a few of these themes in-depth below.
Convenience and Flexibility:
Online learning and distance courses essentially bring the classroom to your home computer. This is one of the great benefits of the system – it effectively gives you access to the lectures, lecturer and materials without the need for travel and can be fitted in to suit your day. Courses can also be accessed on-the-go from smartphones, laptops and tablets. You make your own schedule and don’t run the risk of missing class, and the opportunity is there to view classes multiple times, to make sure you have a good grasp of the topic.
You can also study at any time you want without needing to make frequent trips to a campus or school. There is the opportunity to choose from schools or programs that are not available in the area where you live, and can even connect with the most renowned professors in the world.
Within a classroom or a full lecture hall, it’s you who has to adapt to the learning and teaching methods within the group. With online courses, your individual style of learning becomes one of the most important features. You may be the sort of person who finds listening to audio or watching a video more engaging than learning from a textbook. Online courses include interactive presentations with many different delivery methods – allowing you to choose the style that suits you best. They will also have digital activities that are much more involved than the usual ‘textbook tasks’. For example an online course may have a quiz requiring a ‘click and drag’ response, or typed input. Similarly the courses are split into manageable chunks, without the need to sit through lengthy lessons, so your time can be allocated as you prefer.
Stephen Downes, the co-creator of the first MOOC in 2008, emphasises the important role of the individual in online learning: “It’s about actually empowering people to develop and create their own learning, their own education. So not only do they not depend on us [academics] for learning, but also, their learning is not subject to our value-judgements and prejudices.” (See more here).
There are tangible financial benefits to having your teaching environment in your own home, particularly as you can escape the costs associated with travel and accommodation that often accompany campus learning. Online educational programs also often charge less than traditional schools, and because the materials are available online you can avoid having to buy high-priced course textbooks.
Online learning offers increased online social participation through message boards, chats and hang-outs. This includes the opportunity to collaborate with students who may be in different continents, not to mention excellent opportunities to network and to establish professional relationships early on.
Will these Skills Help in a Career?
Beyond higher education, online courses will be a requirement for many professionals to hone their expertise. Whatever your profession it will be essential to keep up-to-date with current knowledge, business updates and to improve your own skills. Online learning will be the most direct and effective means of doing this, so it is important to develop the skills and motivation necessary to complete online courses early in your academic and professional life. Importantly, this week (20 September) the BBC has reported that online examinations are predicted to soon take over from the traditional paper examinations in many areas, so familiarisation with online courses and activities will be enormously beneficial for examination success once these changes take hold.
So What are the Downsides?
There are some disadvantages to these systems, for while initial registration rates are usually very high, the completion rates are typically low. This can be due to a number of factors as people are less invested in the course. The emphasis is on self-study and it is necessary to have the motivation and time to see a course through. There is no responsibility to turn up to class and no penalties or academic commitments other than those you put in place yourself. People may also find they have received the benefit of the course without the need to take any final completion exams. Coursera, the leading provider of MOOCs with the most University partnerships, only reports a completion rate of around 7 – 8%, which is the average across the major platforms.
There is also at present no formal accreditation system in place and so no ultimate ’goal’ other than your own enhanced knowledge. Accredited MOOCs will become part of the educational future though this will take time to implement, particularly as it is hard to authenticate the identities of students taking the course online. Online courses are therefore a means of expanding knowledge, to prepare for and complement higher education and beyond.
To Sum Up:
Online courses have become educational delivery systems par excellence. They can be customised for each student, can be completed at your own pace, with the level of involvement you choose, and are available 24/7. They system has its disadvantages – it requires some self-discipline to make the most out of the course, however the advantages are numerous. Online learning is a powerful tool when used in conjunction with the more traditional models, and one that will inform and strengthen your progress through higher education.
ORA Prep has considered these advantages very carefully and has developed its courses so participants can get the very best of these aspects. If you have read this article and wish to give it a try, why not enrol on one of our free taster courses to experience the benefits of online learning directly.