Learning Through a Computer Screen; An Odyssey in Online Learning

Amanda Marochko

Are you ready to go Online? 

‘Online learning’ was a term I was afraid of.

Having completed my Bachelor’s and Post Graduate degrees in a conventional classroom setting, I approached my Master’s degree with the utmost skepticism. My current studies would be done utilizing the newly integrated distance learning through Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK – the programme had been functional and recognised in its traditional format for years within the industry.

Though online learning is not a new concept by any means, it is definitely becoming more widespread.  It is estimated that roughly half of all college classes will be online by 2019, allowing for a more accessible education regardless of location – a figure which is also supported by this tidbit of information:

“Over 41.7% percent of global Fortune 500 companies now use some form of educational technology to instruct employees during formal learning hours, and that figure is only going to steadily increase in future years.”

 Here is why I registered:

  1. Many institutions that offer online classes do not segregate international and domestic students. This allowed me to enrol at my current institution at a standardised price.
  2. Tuition was cheaper than “in-person” studies. This is because they did not require as many professors and learning materials for the course as everything was online.
  3. Flexible learning. I am able to keep my full-time job while completing my MSc simultaneously, meaning I don’t have to accrue more debt in order to finance my studies.

My main concerns with the virtual campus were ones which resonated with many people who were considering the same path:

Q: How can I ensure that I am getting the same quality of degree as those learning in a classroom?

A: Online programmes often require a more strenuous workload than traditional studies because they don’t get a chance to monitor your progress in a face-to-face setting. This is particularly empowering for those who may be too shy to contribute to in class discussions. In my current course, we have approximately 3 assignments and 1 test every week, with a report due at the end of the semester. This may seem daunting, but it is rather flexible in itself. With my course in particular, you can work at your own pace – completing however many weeks’ worth of work in one sitting, allowing you to get caught up or stretch ahead whenever needed. Having a high amount of small assignments and tests prepared the class for the summative which incorporated each week’s material. Online degrees often have the same application process – you still need references, the grades and the vision for your thesis. Online courses are usually open to anyone but may not be as structured as a degree.

Q: What about the learning materials? Are they even comparable?

A: Our learning materials are offered in a range of ways. We have interactive PowerPoint presentations, audio guides, videos, discussion groups, databases and traditional readings/case studies. We are marked on our participation, just as if we were sitting in a classroom.  And, since all of our materials are online, it is included in our tuition – so long textbooks!

Q: How will I find the motivation to coursework online, by myself?

A: Since the material is produced in a variety of ways, it appeals to many learning styles. However, we still abide by deadlines, and there is still a structure in place. Self-motivation isn’t the easiest of tasks, but that is the reality of the working world (as harsh as that may sound).

Q: Will I be able to make friends?

A: Although it isn’t the same as face-to-face contact, we have established lines of communication amongst the 30 MSc candidates. Online, we’ve developed our own Facebook group where we discuss our in-class work, but also personal and professional successes. It is a liberating feeling to have met all of these connections, most of whom are professionals within my industry, who live all over the world. The struggle is real – we are all in this together, and we have bonded despite responding to each other from different time zones.

While my studies are still in its infancy, I am satisfied with my decision to study online. In two and a half years, I will still be crossing the stage to receive my degree, which will hold the same weight as any traditional degree would.  However, don’t let my experience limit you either. There are numerous ways you can learn online –The Khan Academy, MIT, Harvard and Coursera (online class database) all have online open courses, many of which are free. While this may not get you an accreditation in the form of a degree, this could certainly expand your knowledge in an area of interest and you could leave with a verified certificate.

Additionally, gamification has become a huge proponent of online learning., which specialises in web development, offers hands on courses that also provide the subscriber with easy to follow, editable code. Duolingo is also a way in which users can learn a language by playing a series of word games. The point is, we have decided as technology users and consumers that knowledge needs to be more accessible. One of the most fascinating things about our generation is that we have re-defined the way we learn – an idea that will continue to develop for years to come.