Lately, Jenna Sherma feels her classes have become more engaging.
Not exactly what you’d expect to hear from one of the hundreds of thousands of university students worldwide who now find themselves earning their degrees completely online.
No doubt, the transition to online learning due to COVID-19 was sudden and hasty. But the Master in Public Health student at Harvard University told Study International that all things considered, it’s been a positive experience.
“In many ways, it feels like we’ve been on track for this for some time, with virtual events, growing ubiquitousness of online spaces, and such,” the part-time student said.
“Overall I think it’s been pretty successful; in some cases, I actually feel more engaged given that I can see everyone very closely and vice versa. The discussion is also more interactive.”
With the current COVID-19 pandemic grounding flights and temporarily stalling travel, many students have put their study abroad plans on hold.
While you may not be able to be somewhere physically right now, it doesn’t mean you can’t earn an online degree or certificate from an overseas university.
And as Jenna attests, it doesn’t mean classes will be any less interactive or engaging either just because they are no longer conducted in 100-person lecture halls or laboratories.
When done right, online learning comes with many benefits. Considering that universities may not be going back to in-person classes for at least a couple more months, with some experts estimating it would take up to a year before a coronavirus vaccine becomes commercially available, this should come as welcome news for all those planning to go to university in 2020.
Read on for more major benefits of online learning:
This is a major draw for those who need some wiggle room when it comes to doing an online course. Indeed, the 2019 Online Education Trends Report found that for the third year in a row, convenience and flexibility topped the list of reason for students opting for an online programme rather than on campus.
If you’ve got a full-time job, family obligations, or just study better on a flexible schedule instead of a fixed one, online degrees lets you save commuting time and complete modules at your own pace and schedule.
You can study in the morning, afternoon, evening or night — whatever works best for you, instead of adhering to a class schedule.
You have your own learning environment
Being able to study in your own environment is one of the major benefits of online learning. Source: Apu Gomes/AFP
One of the benefits of online learning is that can create an environment that works for you when you’re an online learner.
Instead of having to soundproof your room because of noisy housemates or having to hunt for a spot in a crowded university library, you can set up your own quiet space in your room or another area of the house.
If you aren’t feeling productive at home, you can also study in a community library or a cafe, whatever is best for you. Some people find in-person classes distracting, so if you’re one of them you don’t have to worry about this with an online programme.
Some people also learn better in online environments compared to traditional classroom settings.
James Healy, another student in the Master in Public Health programme at Harvard Medical School, observed that the transition has been pretty easy as they had been using Zoom for some classes in the past.
While he feels it detracts from the university experience, it’s a pretty good alternative due to the circumstances.
He said, “Interestingly, I have noticed that it is easier for some students to speak up in class as they are not as intimidated by being in a lecture hall with over one hundred people and are instead at ease by the comfort of their room.”
Today’s online students also have the benefit of using social media to interact with one another.
In the book Social media: the new tool in business education, researchers wrote: “Online learning environments offer an educational domain that is unique in terms of the potential for interaction, participation and collaboration.”
“The use of social media can also create a unique learning experience by enabling students to engage in networks that extend beyond the traditional confines of the classroom.”
Online degrees are more affordable
You can save a lot of money when undertaking an online programme. Not only are your housing and commute expenses eliminated, online programmes are generally more affordable.
According to a survey by Learning House and Aslanian Market Research, “The most important factor for students choosing a school for their online program continues to be tuition and fees, specified by 34 percent of respondents. That has been the top-ranked choice for the past four years, according to the researchers.”
There is also a wide range of online programmes available. You can choose to apply to one from an accredited university (which is still cheaper than traditional degree programmes) or choose an online course from platforms such as Coursera and EdX
This means there are plenty of courses available that suits your budget – some are even free!
It’s good for career advancement
One of the benefits of online learning is that you get the opportunity to advance your career. Source: Alain Jocard/AFP
The Global Learner Survey by Pearson last year found that there is a major shift to “DIY education”.
According to the report, “With ready access to technology and a changing global economy, people are taking matters into their own hands. They are patching together their education from a menu of options and they believe that self-service learning will become even more commonplace as people seek education across their lives.”
Being able to advance your career without too much disruption in your daily schedule is one of the top benefits of online learning
Looking to upskill yourself, or learn a whole new skill but can’t afford to take time off your job? That’s when an online course is the best option for you.
You can advance your career by picking up new skills or taking up an online Master’s degree — earning you a higher salary and career growth — without needing to sacrifice your fixed income.
You develop important skills
Studying online requires certain skills such as self-discipline, self-motivation and communication. When you’re an online learner, you’ll find that you will quickly hone and develop these skills which are important for the workplace.
For example, you’ll need to communicate – whether verbally or written – with your professors and peers regularly. This will sharpen your communication skills.
You will also need to motivate yourself to complete an online course and turn in your online assignments as there is much less hand-holding in online courses compared to in-person ones.
According to the study, “Incorporating web-based engagement and participatory interaction into your courses”, online learning offers more opportunities to foster critical thinking skills.
Unlike face-to-face setups, where it can be hard to offer critical comments, an online environment gives one more time to really study the modules and make considered comments.
“Not only do they make good critical comments, they tend to ask questions, such as ‘How did you do that?’ and ‘What was your thinking behind the validation of that dataset?’, thus setting up a conversation not only with the original presenters, but with the rest of the class who offer further insights and suggestions.”
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