For many students who are in higher and further education, it can become increasingly difficult to attend a study programme in person. Travel and time constraints are common issues, particularly for those who are adult learners juggling their studies with work and family commitments. And, for many, the cost of education can become a barrier. The tuition fees as well as the additional expenses of commuting, taking time from work to attend classes, and purchasing textbooks and other study materials can easily add up to a substantial amount over the course of a programme. However, fully online courses are now offering a viable and popular alternative to traditional learning.
Educational institutions who are looking to maintain enrolment numbers whilst keeping budgets tight have also found online courses to be a viable option. In the UK, there are now around 380,000 students enrolled in long distance or online education, 70% of whom are undergraduate students. Coupled with the sharp rise in technology-based learning that we are seeing these days, it’s no surprise that studies conducted by Navitas Ventures in 2017 found that at least half of respondents expected the traditional university model to have changed by 2025 and that nine out of ten university leaders expect significant disruption by 2030.
Learning has become more attainable:
One of the main reasons for the spike in popularity of fully online learning courses is that they have made studying more attainable for those who may not have had the option to study for a degree or other qualification without the option to do it online. Online learning is offering an ever-increasing level of flexibility and choice, with both educators and students realising that ‘one size fits all’ does not usually apply to learning. Students will often need to devote differing amounts of time to various topics in order to best understand them.
Adult learners in particular tend to hold a wide variety of skills and knowledge that they have earned from previous study and work experience, which they can bring to their current studies. Many adult learners find that when it comes to different modules, some barely need any time dedicated to them whilst others require more effort, especially if they are studying for a qualification that is relevant to a current or past career.
Students working towards distance learning MSC courses, for example, are able to better learn at their own pace. Not only does this keep chances of success at a maximum, but it also encourages students to stay engaged with the programme and keeps them motivated to study. Online learning has allowed for a far more personalised level of learning, with programmes shaped around the student rather than vice versa.
Online courses are optimised for student success:
Fully online courses are able to bring down several barriers to learning, but in order for them to be truly successful, it’s imperative that both students and educators recognise the set of unique challenges that can be presented by this learning style. When learning is fully online, many of the motivational and supportive aspects of traditional, classroom-based learning establishments are at risk of being lost. The most obvious reason for this is that students are mostly working alone – they do not get face-to-face time with tutors or come together in groups in-person for classes.
Thankfully, there is much that institutions offering online learning can and are doing to overcome these potential issues. Peer groups can be highly influential when it comes to maintaining motivation for learners, and with the right technology in place, this can be replicated for online learners. Indeed, many online student groups will have social media discussions, online discussion forums, and more way they can come together virtually. And a good online learning platform can provide a range of features, including live video interactions and chat room lessons to help create a virtual classroom experience and ensure that students do not feel isolated whilst studying. Video feedback can be incredibly beneficial for both the student and the tutor, allowing for personalised, descriptive assessments in the absence of face-to-face meetings.
Online learning is shifting educational finances:
From an economic perspective, online learning and its rise is creating an additional income stream for many learning institutions, where costs may shift from upholding and supporting a physical campus infrastructure to providing coaching and quality tutoring at a distance.
In addition, online learning has often proven to be a financially sound decision for students to make, with many online learning programmes and courses costing less in terms of tuition fees in comparison to traditional, classroom-based options thanks to the reduced cost of operations for universities and colleges who offer them. Students who learn online may benefit from reduced tuition fees and be able to avoid many of the associated costs that come along with studying. Textbooks tend to be freely provided in PDF format or, at some solely online learning institutions such as the Open University, included in the overall cost of studying for the course.
Adult students who study online do not need to reduce their work hours in order to fit their lives around a set class timetable, and they save money by studying from home rather than having to commute to a campus where public transport, fuel, car maintenance, and parking charges can easily add up to a substantial amount over the course of the programme. And studying online means that relocating to the university that you have chosen is no longer necessary. Students can continue to live in their own homes or with parents while studying at a university that is hundreds of miles away.
There’s no denying that the rise in online learning has been and will continue to be extremely beneficial to both students and educational institutions alike. However, it has required a shift in mind-set from students, tutors, and others in the industry when it comes to the teacher-learner dynamic, and this must be managed carefully in order for the maximum benefits of online learning to be reached.