Introduction to Online Learning
Online learning has been knocking about since the 1980s but is still in bloom. Just as online dating didn’t really become a completely acceptable way to meet people until the Tinder revolution, online learning is rapidly becoming an accepted and respected method of gaining qualifications. Employers are recognising that as well as the knowledge gained during the course, candidates are also showing initiative, time-management and tenacity by juggling online learning with full-time work.
Current Trends in Online Learning
According to this report from May, online learning is becoming not only a popular education tool but a more effective one than traditional physical classrooms. The increasingly busy modern lifestyle and considerably higher understanding of IT mean that the modern student or professional is using online learning more efficiently and productively than a decade ago.
The Future of Online Learning
The Harvard Business Review published an article on this topic this month. It was hugely positive about online learning and suggested universities and colleges offering online courses should develop a global ‘ecosystem’ for the benefit of education worldwide. At the same time, Forbes was extolling the potential inclusion of more artificial intelligence in online learning that could solve issues such as language barriers. There is certainly plenty of potential still to fill for online learning. One day in the not too far future we may be able to sit in virtual lectures using digital avatars. Notes might be automatically generated from the lecturer’s voice. We might even be able to network with like-minded students and professionals all over the world in virtual study sessions. Online learning could not only educate more people but result in brand new ideas and innovations that benefit the world.
Advantages and Disadvantages
There are plenty of arguments for and against online education. Online learning is designed for people in different situations to those who attend traditional universities or colleges. Emphatically, online learning suits some and not others. Meanwhile, some online course providers are better than others.
Study when and where you want
Online courses are generally designed with students’ other commitments and responsibilities in mind. Therefore, classes usually take place in evenings or weekends and consist of a manageable number of study hours per week. Add to that the fact that you can study from the beach, the pub or your bed and online learning becomes more like a hobby than labour.
Many have a rolling entry
While may online courses have particular start dates, others have rolling entry. This means you can start whenever you want and/or take modules in whichever order you find best for you. Increasingly sophisticated technologies and lecture recordings allow students with diverse schedules to run alongside each other and gain life-changing qualifications together.
Take up less of your time
Online learning is time-efficient. There’s no need to spend time travelling to lectures and you don’t need to dedicate 3 years of your life solely to education. Every minute dedicated to online learning is spent either learning or demonstrating what you’ve learned in order to gain your qualification.
More lenient on entry requirements
In general, online courses don’t require such stringent entry requirements as traditional roles. This is because the maximum number of students they can take is higher and so places aren’t as competitive. As long as a candidate can demonstrate that they will be able to keep up with the course then they have a good chance of being accepted. For example, Oxford University’s online Certificate in History of Art is equivalent to the first year of a degree and only requires proof of English language capabilities and a 300 word personal statement. Meanwhile, their BA in History of Art requires 3 A-grade A-Level and only 10% of applicants are successful.
Good for mature students
Attending university can be an intimidating experience if you’re over the age of 25. Spending nigh-on 24 hours a day with 18 year-olds is an uninviting prospect, not to mention many older students have other commitments. Mortgages, childcare, elderly parent care and any other commitments that come with being older can serve as a barrier to potential mature students. Online learning allows these students to get the qualifications they need without struggling to keep up with pub crawls, teenage slang or their adult responsibilities.
You don’t need a visa
Online learning offers many international students the opportunity to gain qualifications that would otherwise be unavailable to them. To study in Britain requires a Tier 4 Visa and this itself presents financial problems. Not only do hopeful students need enough money in the bank to pay for their course and costs of living, they also aren’t allowed to work more than 20 hours per week. For many this isn’t financially doable and online learning gives them the chance to gain British qualifications without waving goodbye to their homes, families and life savings.
No travel or accommodation costs
The course costs are just part of the expenditure that goes into getting qualifications at a traditional college or university. Accommodation, food, travel and partying all add up. In England, the average undergraduate student (for the 2017/18 academic year) borrowed £13,900 per year, which will leave them £41,700 in debt in return for their Bachelor’s Degree. The vast majority of students work part-time on top of this to subsidise their income.
In contrast, online learning removes this financial burden, with students paying only for their course.
Without utilities, the course is cheaper
Traditional universities take a lot of maintenance and that costs a lot of money. Buildings and campuses of that size not only need to pay the colossal cost of utilities but also an enormous body of staff, from IT staff to cleaners. Naturally, students themselves cover most of these costs. In contrast, online colleges and online courses require a fraction of the maintenance. Therefore, they can provide their courses for considerably lower fees.
You can work full time
Significantly, online learning fits in neatly alongside full-time work. The benefits of this are obvious – you can keep making money while you earn a qualification that will help you to make even more money. So good news all round.
A big criticism of online learning is the lack of interaction. This applies to both student-teacher interaction and the social aspect of the classroom. Being able to ask questions during lectures and become fully immersed in the classroom learning environment is really important for knowledge retention. However, this does vary from student to student. It’s widely acknowledged that social anxiety is on the rise in the digital age. Many students choose online learning because they don’t have to be concerned with social status or being heard in class. Additionally, a few courses now cater for those who want to learn online and have the social element, such as the College of Contract Management’s live online courses.
Stress and Motivation
It can be hard to motivate yourself to study after a long day at work without the image of a lecturer’s disappointed face swimming across your mind. Juggling work and online learning can also be stressful, especially if the lack of motivation has left you behind on your workload. The College of Contract Management offers dedicated course administrators in the UK office who build nurturing working relationships with their students. They are on hand to answer any questions, approve extensions if needed and help with setting up a payment plan for the course. Additionally, the College provides a Moodle platform where students can message each other and their lecturers, thereby building a strong learning community.
Online Learning Platforms
Dive into the depths of the internet and you’ll find a treasure trove of online learning sites. There are a vast array of courses available; from Literature and Science at Oxford University to online parenting classes to a full Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies. Whatever you want to learn, there is probably a course for it somewhere online. This is all well and good if you’re simply wanting to gain knowledge. But, if you’re looking for a useful qualification then you need to be a little more savvy about which course and the provider you choose.
Online learning is increasing in popularity and thus online qualifications are becoming increasingly recognised. Here are some of the best on offer:
If you work in construction, engineering or management and need to upskill:
The College of Contract Management offers online learning courses specifically for those in these industries. Most candidates are driven by a purpose rather than a love for academia. The College is accredited with the major Chartered Institutes in the industry and offers live online interactive lectures in order to make getting qualified as enjoyable and effective as possible. Whether you want a Chartered Membership or need an NVQ to get a promotion, it’s well worth having a browse of our courses to see what we offer.
If you want a degree:
Maybe you missed out on university earlier in life. Maybe you are simply looking for an alternative that allows you to work full-time alongside your course. The Open University is the most famous online learning provider in the UK. It offers recognised undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in disciplines from Law to Physics.
If you want beginner level practical training:
The Open Study College is a gold mine of short, specified courses teaching practical skills. From a Diploma in Spray Tanning to Chess Level 2, these courses are about specific skills that you can really use.