Venturing into the world of online learning: Is it for everyone?
With digital trends on the rise, studying online is becoming an increasingly viable and popular option for education. In considering learning through an online platform, it is important to first understand its mechanisms and what it offers. This will help you make an informed decision and know what to expect from your education programme. Here’s our guide to how online study actually works.
How are online courses conducted?
The main delivery method for online course content is through online lecture theatres and classrooms. As an online student, you will be able to log in to a learning management system (LMS), where you can access your syllabus, study materials, instructions and assignment submission portal. Course materials typically come in the form of recorded lectures, slideshow documents, readings and videos, all of which you can listen to or view at your own convenience.
An institution’s LMS also allows you to engage in conversations with other students, your tutors, or both, through virtual classrooms, discussion boards, videoconferencing as well as phone and email. This means that online learning is not an isolated way of studying, but a collaborative experience - online courses are designed to encourage interaction and communication within the learning community. Unlike onsite classes, however, you will have more time to reflect upon the questions and answers as well as to develop your own ideas for sharing.
Despite certain misconceptions, online courses aren’t actually “easier” than on-campus programmes. Assessments do exist for online education - and they often require as much rigour and time. Like any traditional higher education system, students are assessed through exams and various forms of assignments, including written tasks, case studies, reports, online discussions and engagement. Nonetheless, there are also some universities that choose to forego exams and focus on work-based assessments instead to ensure practical applicability. Proctored exams take place in a supervised environment either at a designated location or with an online proctor. As for assignments, some are to be completed online and others offline before being uploaded to a submission portal, all according to their own deadlines. Some courses may also require work placements at particular locations.
As you can see, online learning isn’t an entirely different experience than traditional on-campus courses. If you’re worried about not being tech savvy enough to study online, fear not - there are always campus IT support teams available to any students in need of help and advice. As long as you have access to a computer and a steady internet connection, education is never out of reach.
How is online study different from blended and distance learning?
In your venture to discover what “online learning” is all about, you may have come across terms like “distance learning” and “blended learning” as well. Being able to differentiate between them is key to supporting your decision on which method of study works best for you.
While the terms “distance learning” and “online learning” are sometimes used interchangeably, there are some significant differences between the two. With the advent of technological advancement, online study can be considered as one option under the broader category of distance learning. Traditionally speaking, however, distance learning consists mostly of self-study. Students receive materials and learning resources via post or email and complete any coursework according to a fixed schedule. There is also minimal interaction that occurs throughout the learning process; students rarely communicate with one another and email correspondence with tutors are usually for coursework submission purposes only.
Blended learning, on the other hand, incorporates online learning, but is not limited to it. This approach combines studying online with on-campus learning, so students will have to visit a campus at times to attend some classes or workshops, aside from planning their own schedules for online lectures and assignments.
How do support services for online students look like?
Student support services are vital in determining the efficacy of online learning. It has been found that placing emphasis on a culture of independence in higher education does not necessarily benefit students, but may undermine their performance instead. In fact, a 2016 survey by higher education research group Eduventures reported that support services are now one of the main aspects that online education providers are working on in order to improve student satisfaction and performance.
Therefore, institutions have now made support services more readily available to online students, providing them with the same resources that on-campus students receive - including academic advising, tutoring and financial aid assistance. You will also be assigned a personal study advisor, from whom you can acquire a more direct and individualised form of guidance through counselling and feedback.
Is online study worth the effort?
Online learning may have its limitations, but it is still considered a great alternative to on-campus study programmes. Here’s why:
Comfort - With courses being conducted entirely online, distance and travelling are no longer concerns in pursuing education. You can now find your best study environment to maximise your learning.
Career enhancement - Taking online courses strengthen your qualifications. Most hiring managers recognise online degrees to be just as accredited as traditional ones.
Self-paced learning - If you are currently employed, you can easily plan your study time around your work schedule. Of course, this requires a large sense of commitment, responsibility and self-discipline, but these qualities will reflect well on your resume too.
More choices, lower cost - With geographic location no longer a barrier, online students can choose from a wider variety of courses, which are also available at a cheaper rate. Studying online further removes the need to incur any additional transportation and housing costs.
Online study opens doors for learners of all ages. As long as you have the passion for learning, education is only an online search away.
Interested in studying online? Check out the wide array of online courses available at RMIT or call the enrolment team on 1300 701 171 to find out more.